It happened again. Family members say someone in the midst of a mental health crisis dialed 911 seeking help.
Matthew Pollow, 28, got a death sentence instead.
That's the blunt way to describe the events of last Wednesday at a West Boca apartment complex.
Pollow was shot and killed by a Palm Beach County Sheriff's deputy after things went spectacularly wrong. The Sheriff's Office says Pollow charged at a deputy with a screwdriver. Pollow's family doesn't understand why deputies didn't use a Taser or non-lethal force to subdue Pollow. It's a tragedy for all involved — Pollow, his family, and Evan Rosenthal, the deputy who fired the fatal shots.
It's a tragedy that's all too common — in South Florida and beyond — when mental disorders collide with law and order.
According to Pollow's relatives, Matthew called 911 on his mother's cellphone while paying her a visit. He apparently wanted transport to a nearby mental unit under the Baker Act, Florida's commitment law. He apparently had spiraled into a crisis after a disruption with his medication. He lived nearby with his younger brother Jonathan, 26.
As of late Friday, the Sheriff's Office hadn't released any 911 tapes related to the shooting.
"I'm just in such a state of shock," Jean Pavlov, Matthew's mother, told me before the family held a news conference.
"It makes us fear calling the police," said Matthew's younger sister Jessica, 20, a student at Florida Atlantic University.
On Friday, I couldn't get simple answers to two simple questions from the Sheriff's Office: Who placed the 911 call that brought deputies to the complex? And did those deputies have Crisis Intervention Team (CIT) training? CIT officers specialize in dealing with the mentally ill and de-escalating tense situations.
A Palm Beach Sheriff's Office spokesman couldn't tell me if Rosenthal had CIT training or if dispatchers flagged the call for CIT response.
Either way, the Sheriff's Office has some explaining to do.
If it turns out the responding deputies had CIT training, it apparently didn't do much good. And if it turns out Pollow made the 911 call and it wasn't routed for CIT response, then what's the point of having the program?
Last July, Palm Beach Sheriff Ric Bradshaw touted his commitment to the CIT program on his Facebook page, saying some 1,200 deputies in Palm Beach County had undergone training and that "these deputies maintain 24 hour, 7 days-a-week coverage across the county." Bradshaw wrote: "The training encourages police to offer a more humane and calm approach…As a result, deputies learn to reduce the likelihood of physical confrontations."
I underwent the 40-hour CIT training offered to Broward deputies earlier this year. As someone who has dealt with the ravages of mental illness firsthand — my late older brother David had schizophrenia and had a few tense encounters with police in New York — I felt for Pollow's family as they shared their anguish.
"We don't even know how many times he was shot," said Matthew's sister Meghan, 24.
Matthew's family described him as sweet (when he was on his medication) and intelligent. He liked playing basketball and drawing. He went to FAU and had an internship with a marketing firm. Then his life was derailed by mental illness. It's a sad, familiar story.
On Friday, his grieving family was left waiting for answers. And for the release of his body from the morgue.
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