MONTPELIER, Vt. — The attorney for a mentally ill man who was shot and wounded by a Vermont police officer more than three years ago said Tuesday he’s hopeful police officers will do a better job of showing consideration for mental health people they come into contact with because of the case.
Attorney Robert Appel made the comment a day after he and his client reached an $82,500 settlement with the city of Winooski.
The importance of the case goes beyond the monetary settlement. It brought guidance from the Civil Rights Division of the U.S. Department of Justice emphasizing that people suffering from mental illness are protected from discrimination by the Americans with Disabilities Act, Appel said.
“Unfortunately, there are too many of these cases, and my hope is these legal principles will get police agencies to redouble the training of their officers to engage in de-escalation when dealing with people with mental health issues,” Appel said.
The settlement cleared the city and the officer who fired the shot of any liability.
Attorneys for Winooski did not return calls seeking comment on Tuesday.
The mother of Isaac Sage filed the complaint in April 2016, three years after her son, who was suffering a “serious mental health crisis,” was shot in the leg by a Winooski police officer.
The shooting came after police had received a complaint saying Sage was trespassing. The settlement cleared the city and the officer who fired the shot of any liability. The officers confronted Sage on the street. When one opened his handcuff case, Sage punched the officer in the face.
The unarmed Sage was shot once in the leg. Criminal charges against Sage were eventually dismissed because of his mental illness.
Court documents say officers should have known Sage was a person with a disability because he told officers he was living in a home for people suffering from mental illness.
The officer who fired the shot later pleaded no contest to charges of reckless endangerment and lying to investigators. He is no longer a police officer.
Appel said many police shootings or other violent encounters in Vermont are due to mental illness.
“It’s a problem,” he said. “Hopefully this decision and the principles that undergird it will help change police practices to not resort to violence, excessive force, and being more restrained in their responses to people in our community who have psychological issues.”