Lt. Patrick Kelly, a former Bronx police officer who now has a much less stressful role as a public safety officer at South Carolina Medical University, received the call at home as he was settling down for the evening.
“Chief Kerley said he was told of a man barricaded on the roof of one of the garages threatening to kill himself. So I went in. The chief called back and said: ‘He’s barricaded with a gun, and he set a deadline of midnight. ‘ “
The man, Kelly learned, was terrified that a loved one in the hospital who needed an organ transplant would not get it on time and die. The man therefore decided to donate the organ himself – by committing suicide or asking the police to shoot him.
Everyone at the scene was on the alert. “The guy has a gun, you know, so the officers over there wary of it, and they were in a defensive position, behind pillars, just to make sure,” Kelly said.
“He was in his truck in the back corner. He left, briefly, and returned. So I got a little closer. I asked if anyone had ever tried to talk to him. And no one was sure there had been a lot of dialogue.
The man was screaming about his sweetheart, Kelly said. “I tried to strike up a conversation with him, to calm him down a bit. And I learned that he had been researching what might happen to a family member if he didn’t get a transplant right away, and what he saw online made him panic. He was afraid they would die without his help.
Kelly urged the man to talk to doctors and not believe anything he saw on the internet.
“He said, ‘I can’t see my loved one die.’ I said, ‘I understand that. I lost my wife to cancer. I lost a son. As I was telling him, I choked, then he started to cry. I think that connection helped him – that someone figured out what his pain was.
Another family member called and urged the man not to injure himself, stressing that he was not even sure if his organ would be compatible with the patient. And Kelly continued to talk.
“I said, ‘There is still time for a miracle here. Let’s see what the doctors have to say. Your family needs you. It won’t help.
The man eventually surrendered his gun and Kelly accompanied him to the hospital for mental health help. And the man’s family member got an organ transplant – from someone else.
It was a relief and another success for a public safety team that made the choice a few years ago to change direction, said Chief Kevin Kerley. “We are fighting crime, we will put people in jail and we do regular police work. But we took a look at what we were doing and realized that we are here to help people.
MUSC, a university medical center, has many public spaces. Anyone can walk around the campus. He also has a lot of visitors who have friends and family at the hospital.
A few face mental health crises, like the distraught man in the parking lot. There are also homeless people and people with chronic psychological problems who need to be supported, not stopped, Kerley said.
Kelly is responsible for providing him and his fellow officers with the training they need to help them. He therefore called on experts such as Shayna Epstein, head of clinical operations at MUSC, who specializes in helping people facing mental health crises. She organized three training sessions to make sure all officers were reached.
“We discussed various mental health diagnoses and strategies that work to defuse and strategies to avoid. Law enforcement has not required specific training in mental health de-escalation, but it is a skill that is often used in their career field, ”said Epstein.
She also enrolled officers in Crisis Intervention Training, a week-long program run by the National Institute of Mental Health specifically for law enforcement and security to learn about mental health and mental health treatment.
For help working with the homeless, Kelly asked the Charleston Homeless Outreach Coordinator to speak to his team. “He’s trained everyone here, all the cops, all the supervisors, what resources are available and who to contact. “
Normally, officers use their training outside of the spotlight. But Kelly’s job to help the man in the parking lot caught the the attention of his colleagues, which earned him the Life-Saving Award. Her boss said it was well deserved.
“He sees his job as caring about people, trying to help people. It really is what he does day in and day out. Whether it’s another cop, whether it’s a nurse, whether it’s homeless, whether it’s anyone, he sees his role here as trying to help them.
Kelly is happy to have been able to help out on a night when things could have gone very differently. “I felt like I was very calm going up the stairs. I’m just going to talk to this man. No apprehension, no nothing. I have someone in my life now, and she is convinced that it is the hand of God.