Psychiatric patient Adam Daniel Lopp was being transferred to the hospital in a police vehicle when he was killed by an officer in Iredell County, North Carolina this week.
Sgt. Scott Culler, a Davidson County deputy, said he he shot and killed Lopp on the side of Interstate 40 because he was under attack. Lopp, a 41-year-old patient who was involuntarily committed, has no known criminal history — not even an arrest, and other deputies did not report any other trouble with Lopp, according to local reporting by NBC Charlotte.
The Iredell County Sheriff’s office said there was a confrontation betwen Culler and Lopp after Culler pulled over, and that it’s not clear whether the exchange started in the vehicle, which did not contain a partition sometimes used for transport in police cars. Culler called for back-up, but he shot Lopp before other officers reported to the scene. Culler had no injuries. A spokesman for the department declined to comment to ThinkProgress on whether Lopp was armed or was restrained during transport, but there is no indication that Lopp had access to a weapon.
The North Carolina State Bureau of Investigation is assessing whether criminal charges will be filed, and Culler is on administrative leave. But as a matter of department policy, Maj. Marty Byers of the Iredell County Sheriff’s Department told local news outlet The Dispatch that it’s not recommended “at all” to transport patients who are admitted to psychiatric hospitals without a partition because it can threaten the safety of either the officer or the patient. He says his department advises officers to transport patients with a partition whenever possible. The deputy transporting Lopp was from nearby Davidson County, and a representative from that office declined to share their policy on partitions in vehicles.
Vehicle partitions are just one of a number of policy issues concerning police and the mentally ill. In many jurisdictions, investigations have found that mentally ill individuals are much more likely to be the victims of excessive force or even death at police hands, and police are ill-prepared to respond to the mentally ill. A study by the Portland Press Herald in Maine found that nearly half of people shot by police between 2000 and 2012 were mentally ill, and that police lack proper training on defusing deadly conflicts. A review in San Francisco this year found a similar proportion of mentally ill victims. In several other cities including Portland, Oregon, and Albequerque, New Mexico, Department of Justice investigations have concluded that officers have systematically used more force than necessary against the mentally ill, leading to deaths or serious injuries in many instances.
Lopp’s case raises questions about how officers are trained to handle the even less adversarial scenario in which deputies gain custody over those who have been involuntarily committed.