Police Advised to Use Caution with Mentally Ill
Halton, Beau, Gardiner, Sean, The Florida Times Union
Shirley June Ansley's sister thinks Jacksonville police should
have convinced the mentally ill woman to surrender following a
chase that ended when an officer fatally shot her.
Mental health experts, however, say they aren't so sure a
different ending was possible.
"It's difficult for the public, especially police officers in a
situation such as this, to determine how to perceive these
folks," said Bill Retzer, president of the Jacksonville Alliance
for the Mentally Ill.
"They see the immediate behaviors, and their responsibility is
the public's safety, their own and others around them," Retzer
said. "A person may be acting bizarrely. It's extremely
difficult to come upon a situation and make an assessment
accurately on that basis. Officers have to deal with each
On Jan. 7, Ansley went into Yarbrough Corp Security in
Baymeadows, where she was employed, playing a stringless guitar
and singing. Her manager called the police and asked them to
issue a trespassing citation. She drove off, and police
followed, later trapping her vehicle in a parking lot.
She struggled to free the van and struck one of the officers,
police said. She aimed the van at another officer, who shot her
four times, killing her.
Lula Stevenson said her sister had a form of schizophrenia that
made her lash out, become abusive and destructive. Relatives and
court documents said Ansley's condition was becoming
progressively worse and that she had shown that, without proper
medication, she would cause serious bodily harm to herself and
"Her condition was escalating," Stevenson said. "She became
more violent toward family members, but usually not to
The shooting raises the question of how well Jacksonville
police are trained to handle mentally ill people.
While officers receive three hours of instruction at the police
academy on dealing with mentally ill people, the Jacksonville
Sheriff's Office says most officer training is done on the job.
The Sheriff's Office policy on mentally ill people addresses
when to make involuntary mental examinations and how and where
people who are mentally ill should be transported.
The section of the policy about how officers should act when
encountering a mentally ill person is a brief directive:
"Officers who come in contact with suspected mentally ill
persons will handle them in the least restrictive manner
possible while protecting the patient, themselves and others."
Police say it's impossible to write a how-to manual on dealing
with mentally ill people, because the situations can vary so