About 6:15 p.m. on a Friday, police responded to a call that a 30-year-old man had barricaded himself in his southwest Killeen home. The Killeen Police Department and the special weapons and tactics team engaged the man for nearly 10 hours before the standoff ended around 4:30 a.m.
While Army officials confirmed the man in the Feb. 10 standoff with Killeen police was a former Fort Hood soldier, information regarding the mental health status of individuals involved in similar incidents cannot be released, as it is protected health information, Fort Hood spokesman Christopher Haug said.
The man was taken into custody for evaluation after the standoff ended, according to Killeen Police Department spokeswoman Ofelia Miramontez. That’s not an unusual outcome for people who threaten self-harm, as long as there is no one else involved in the incident, she said.
Standoffs with police that involve either active-duty soldiers or veterans are nothing new. On Aug. 3, police shot a man in Copperas Cove after he aimed a rifle at them. On May 2, 2016, KPD was involved in a standoff from 8:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. with an armed and suicidal active-duty soldier about 4 miles north of the Feb. 10 standoff. On March 23, 2015, KPD responded to a standoff in northwest Killeen with a man who neighbors said was a veteran. KPD handled these situations without incident.
That’s not as simple as it may seem, because police have to deal with a medley of factors. Everything from post-traumatic stress disorder to how long a veteran served is taken into account in an effort to carry out the preservation of life.
With the rise in awareness in post-traumatic stress disorder comes the increased attention police give to it. When KPD’s SWAT team learned the man who had barricaded himself in his home Feb. 10 was a veteran, crisis negotiators reached out to family members. Negotiators learned the veteran suffered from both PTSD and alcohol abuse problems. The team adjusted appropriately, utilized SWAT in ways that guaranteed it wouldn’t trigger the man’s PTSD, and convinced the man to voluntarily leave his weapons in the home.
Dr. Thomas Newton of the Veterans Affairs hospital in Houston spent about a year and a half with soldiers who came back from the Middle East. When the Feb 10 incident was described to him, he classified it as one of two examples of PTSD that he sees most often.
“It’s a case where the individual has bad PTSD, so confrontations bring back previous confrontations with the enemy, and there are proponents of a flashback that drives back their current behavior,” he said. “Those are the sad ones.”
The other cases deal with veterans and soldiers who may have encountered problems with police officers before they entered the military. They might have had problems with authority while in the military, and now that carries over to problems with police officers.
“Was it PTSD, or does that veteran just not like cops,” Newton said. “It’s always really hard to say. You can’t separate them until you know that person’s past history with PTSD. That’s always the trouble when you hear the story, you don’t know any more than that. You’re left trying to interpret stuff based on no data.”
Not every soldier or veteran who gets into an altercation has PTSD though, and not every person who has PTSD can attribute that as a reason a standoff has occurred. Newton said it’s important to identify the event or events that led to a soldier’s PTSD. For example, if there’s hand-to-hand combat involved, it’s likely to trigger PTSD in civilian life in a similar event, like if a police officer gets too physical. PTSD that’s triggered by a roadside bomb, however, will not likely have any connection to a fist fight. That method isn’t foolproof though.
“You never know that when you’re trying to interpret what just happened,” Newton said.
Much like the Feb. 10 incident, drug and alcohol abuse must be taken into account. Newton said that alcohol is normalized in the military, and the Army recognizes that. Army officials are trying to get active-duty soldiers to drink less, in the hope it will help them down the line.
“A lot of guys go through a period where they’re drinking way too much, figure it out, and quit,” Newton said. “If you catch them while they’re still at the time where they’re coping, it leads to its own problems.
There’s a lack of information on the subject, not just within local departments, but at the federal level, too.
When it comes to active-duty soldiers getting into a standoff with local law enforcement agencies, especially those with mental issues such as PTSD, Fort Hood does not keep track of how often these events occur.
“We have received multiple requests on this story, but our law enforcement folks are telling us they don’t track this,” said Haug. “It would require a manual records search and would take considerable time to gather.”
Protected under the guidelines of the HIPAA privacy rule, is any information regarding an individual’s past, present or future physical or mental health or condition; the provision of health care to an individual; or the past, present of future payment for the provision of health care to the individual, Haug said.
Killeen interim police Chief Margaret Young said the department doesn’t track the occupation of its victims, witnesses or suspects. Even if it did, it would be difficult to go back and look at each case to figure out which standoffs involved soldiers or veterans, and which involved civilians because, while some end in arrests, others are transported straight to mental health treatment facilities.
“The title of each incident would vary quite a bit,” she said in an email.
Sgt. Martin Ruiz, the public information officer with Copperas Cove police, said that information wasn’t readily available at his department either.
“This will take some time,” he said in an email Wednesday.
How it’s handled
In Killeen, officers go through crisis intervention training during basic police academy, then take a refresher course every two years. Jailers go through that refresher course once every two years as well.
The crisis intervention training, or CIT as the Killeen interim police chief calls it, includes responding to residents with mental illness, as well as training on dealing with post-traumatic stress disorder.
“The CIT course teaches a basic understanding, recognition and respect for the fundamental rights of and proficiency in interacting with people suffering from a mental illness,” Young said in an email.
Copperas Cove police do not go through any veteran-specific training, according to Ruiz. There are over 15 veterans on the force, but Ruiz said the training covers cultural diversity, and “is not directed toward any special type of people.”
Police in the Killeen area have been largely successful in standoff situations as of the past five years, That might stem from the amount of experience SWAT team members and crisis negotiators have with the military.
The exact number of Killeen police officers who are veterans is unknown, because KPD does not track the former occupations of its employees. Young said she has learned that “numerous employees” are veterans through casual conversation. Bobby Castillo, president of the Killeen Police Association, said that he’s unsure of an exact number too, but would estimate anywhere between 30 percent and 45 percent of the force once served in the military. In a staff of 330 employees, that’s anywhere from 99 to 149 people who share at least one thing in common with a soldier or veteran’s experience.
Active-duty soldiers and veterans are treated a bit differently from one another, based upon the incident. When a veteran is involved in a standoff or a situation in which a patrol officer would take him or her into custody, the VA is often involved, police said. When there is a situation involving an active-duty soldier though, the soldier’s chain of command is notified.
Bring Everyone in the Zone is a nonprofit organization that specializes in help for service members and veterans who suffer from PTSD and traumatic brain injury and their families.
Maureen Jouette, the organization’s director and former Killeen mayor, said the majority of the veterans and soldiers involved in the peer-to-peer mentor program have issues with service-related post-traumatic stress disorder or military sexual trauma. Most, however, seek help before becoming involved with the police.
“We haven’t really had anyone in the program whose been involved in altercations with the police,” she said. “But we have a really good working relationship with local law enforcement agencies, and one of our volunteers is even the chaplain for the Killeen Police Department.”
Bring Everyone in the Zone offers training on how to work with a soldier or veteran dealing with mental issues caused by their service, Jouette said. The training helps those who may not have experience with the military learn the cultural competence needed to make a difference in situations that could save a veteran’s life.
“Our next class is (Tuesday), which is an eight-hour class and a two-year certification,” she said. “We even offer the training to businesses at no charge if they want it.”
But while the peer group program is designed to assist soldiers and veterans with mental issues, it doesn’t get into crisis intervention the way veteran service officers or sheriff’s departments crisis intervention units do, she said.
And while veteran service officers are trained to work with active-duty service members and veterans involved in a crisis, such as attempted suicide, law enforcement agencies don’t always call them — or the trained sheriffs of the crisis intervention unit, said Tony Smith, Coryell County’s veterans service officer.
“I’ve had a few situations in this area, but the (sheriffs) are a lot more involved,” Smith said. “But they don’t always get the call. I’m usually only getting a call if it’s someone who already knows me.”
Smith said he not only gets called for attempted suicides, and the standoffs that sometimes occur when the attempt involves a weapon, but also everything from a veteran who is drunk and disorderly to just feeling depressed.
“I don’t mind (law enforcement) calling me, but I’m swamped, and it takes a toll on me,” he said. “We really need some help over here.”
One of the problems he said he sees is that any call involving a soldier or veteran who may be having a mental issue is supposed to immediately involve the sheriff’s department crisis intervention units.
“A lot of times, unless that person is already a veteran who knows how to deal with those situations, the law enforcement officer may not have the training they really need,” Smith said. “That’s just my opinion, but I think (all law enforcement officers) should get more training.”
HOW TO HELP
For more information on how to get involved with veteran assistance services in Coryell County, contact Tony Smith at 254-394-2091.
For information on how to volunteer with Bring Everyone in the Zone, contact Maureen Jouette at 254-681-9112.
IF YOU NEED HELP
Soldiers and veterans in need of help should contact any of the following organizations:
Military One Source: 800-342-9647
National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 800-273-8255
Central Counties Services (Temple): 800-888-4036
Fort Hood Army Substance Abuse Program (Suicide Prevention): 254-287-7575 or 254-287-5245