San Antonio – A man shot and killed by a Bexar County sheriff’s deputy on Thursday had been taken in multiple times for mental health care, said Sheriff Javier Salazar, prompting him to ask, ”why was he even here for us to make contact with him today?”
Nicholas Norris, 38, was shot near the intersection of Potranco Road and Sundance Crest, just outside of Loop 1604 on Thursday after a pursuit.
Salazar said a deputy who had stopped to take a break at a convenience store was told by a clerk that there was a man outside who had been “scaring” customers the previous few days.
When the deputy went to talk with Norris, he sped off in an SUV, Salazar said. The deputy chased him at first but the pursuit was called off.
However, Salazar said deputies later saw Norris driving erratically on Potranco Road, and they made contact with him. There was a struggle, though, and a deputy shot Norris in the side.
Norris later died on the way to the hospital.
Salazar said law enforcement had brought Norris to the hospital before - for mental health assistance - and seemed to question why he wasn’t still there.
“We believe we know who he is,” Salazar told reporters on Thursday before the release of Norris’s identity. “If it’s him, we have got evidence that he’s been in contact with mental health units and mental health issues several times over the course of the past couple of weeks.
“I know that our SMART Team has dealt with him at one point and we believe that he was taken to the hospital at that point, self-surrendered,” Salazar said Thursday, referring to the county’s mental health team. “We do believe that another agency, I think it was SAPD, may have E-D’d him over the course of the past couple of weeks. Which begs the question for me is ‘why is he even out here if law enforcement has done what we’re supposed to do?’ We’re supposed to take these people to get help. It appears that’s been done at least twice. Why is he even here?”
An “E-D,” or emergency detention, is a procedure that allows law enforcement to take someone into custody for evaluation at a mental health facility, without a warrant, if they believe the person is mentally ill and is an immediate danger to themselves or others.
While his comments seemed to indicate Norris had gone to the hospital voluntarily with the SMART Team, Salazar later referred to Norris as being “E-D’d” by both the SMART team and SAPD.
The specific details in Norris’s case are unclear beyond what Salazar told reporters on Thursday.
The BCSO public information office did not respond to a request Friday for more detailed information on Norris’s previous contacts with law enforcement, nor did the SAPD public information office confirm whether its officers had brought Norris to a hospital under emergency detention as Salazar said.
Even if they did, there was no sign in online Bexar County court records of a judge allowing him to be detained, which indicates doctors must have released him within 72 hours.
Doug Beach, the president of the San Antonio affiliate of the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), says the decision on whether to keep someone for treatment is a medical one.
“So the sheriff’s question is, ‘well, once they went in, why are we letting them out again?’ Well, again, that’s a medical decision on the part of the medical staff. And if they feel like that person doesn’t need to be held, they won’t,” Beach said.
Once police or deputies bring someone to the hospital - the rest is out of their hands. Doctors determine if they want to discharge or detain someone for more treatment, based on whether they believe the person is both mentally ill and a danger to themself or others.
To keep them detained on that basis, the facility has to submit paperwork within 48 hours of applying for an Order of Protective Custody. For the patient to be detained past 72 hours, a judge has to agree to it in a probable cause hearing.
Mental Health Public Defenders represent the people in these hearings, focusing on what their client wants, even if it’s not what their doctor is recommending.
“We represent the person’s of interest, not the best interest of the community or the best interest of the patient,” said Chief Public Defender Michael Young.
Even if the order is granted, the head of the San Antonio affiliate of the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) says most people end up being discharged within 14 days.
“There are some provisions where a person can get longer term care. But, you know, it’s not that common, and it’s harder to get,” Beach said.
Once someone is discharged, Beach says, they’ll still be assigned a follow-up plan.
“If they don’t follow through on that, of course, you know, they may end up back on the street or causing a problem,” he said.
Quite possibly starting the whole process over again.
CLICK HERE for a more thorough walk-through of the emergency detention and long-term commitment process.