CHESTERFIELD COUNTY, Va. -- With every passing day, Peggy and Michael Byers feel the heartbreak of losing their son Charles Byers, 34, known as Charlie.
"I hate talking about Charlie in past tense," said his father, Michael.
"There will forever be a hole in our hearts," said his mother, Peggy.
It's a loss they believed was completely preventable.
“He should be here right now living his life, and we shouldn’t be having to deal with this," Michael said.
Charlie lived with schizoaffective disorder, a diagnosis he received at 19 years old.
Though his parents said it was manageable most of the time, Charlie's mental illness would sometimes manifest in delusions, paranoia, and anxiety.
“Sometimes he'd be hearing voices or seeing things that weren't there. He would stop making sense," Peggy said.
And on July 5, Peggy could tell her son was having an episode.
She drove Charlie to the emergency department of HCA's Chippenham Hospital to get him help. She said hospital staff reassured her that a sitter would remain with Charlie until they could get him admitted to Tucker Pavilion, the facility's psychiatric center.
But that was the last time Peggy would see her son. Three days later, officers showed up at her Chesterfield County home to say Charlie had been shot and killed by police.
“And I said, 'That’s not possible, because he’s at Tucker. He’s currently being treated for mental illness,'" Peggy recalled.
During his time at Chippenham, documentation showed that Charlie became confused and was wandering around the hospital on the night of July 5.
For that reason, a Richmond Police officer, working off-duty at the hospital at the time, put him under an emergency custody order (ECO) and contacted Richmond Behavioral Health Authority.
A mental health professional performed an evaluation of Charlie and recommended he be placed under a temporary detention order (TDO). A Richmond magistrate issued the TDO around 2 a.m. on July 6 and assigned Chesterfield Police, the jurisdiction where Charlie lived, to serve the TDO on Charlie.
Charlie's TDO stated that his mental illness could cause him to put himself or others in danger and that he was unwilling or incapable of taking care of himself. When a TDO is issued, a patient is typically required to remain at a psychiatric facility for up to 72 hours.
Around 3 p.m. on July 6, 12 hours after the issuance of the TDO, Charlie was placed into a bed at Tucker Pavilion.
But roughly three hours later, Richmond Police arrested Charlie at the hospital, at the request of healthcare staff according to RPD Chief Rick Edwards, for allegedly kicking a nurse. An incident report of the alleged offense revealed there were no injuries.
“It seems like Charlie's behavior just became inconvenient for the healthcare workers, and that was the behavior you would expect if somebody is in a mental health crisis, and they used the police to get him out," Michael said.
The arresting officer then removed Byers from the facility.
Despite a different RPD officer initiating Charlie's ECO which led to his TDO, Edwards said the arresting officer did not know about Charlie's TDO. Had he known, Edwards said the officer may have handled the situation differently.
“Isn’t that order a custody order where he’s supposed to stay in the hospital and get treated? Why didn’t that happen?” Peggy said. "All of that information is at the hospital. How come these people don't know what the other is doing?"
Richmond Police then took Byers to the city jail where Byers went before a Richmond magistrate on an assault charge. The magistrate released Charlie back out into the public on his recognizance the night of July 6.
A spokesperson for the magistrate system previously said magistrates make their bail decisions based on information presented to them by law enforcement and defendants, "which could, but would not necessarily, include information about the defendant’s mental health."
Edwards previously told CBS 6 that he reviewed the officer's body camera footage of the hearing before the magistrate, and the TDO was not mentioned.
“It’s just failure upon failure upon failure," Peggy said. “Where is the communication?”
Peggy and Michael don't know much about what happened the following day on July 7, other than Charlie used his bank card at convenience stores in Richmond. Peggy actually disputed the charges when she saw them on his account that day, because she thought Charlie was still at the hospital and they just have been fraudulent charges.
On July 8, Charlie somehow made it to Chesterfield County.
That afternoon, Chesterfield Police said he tried breaking into peoples' homes on Wycliff Court, just a half mile away from his house.
Peggy and Michael believed Charlie was trying to come home but was confused.
"The detective told us that he was on somebody's front porch trying to open a window, and the homeowner opened the window upstairs and said, 'What are you doing?' And he said, 'My parents live here. I'm trying to go home,'" Peggy said.
Officers responded to the neighborhood for reports of attempted break-ins. When they got there, they said Charlie had a hatchet and would not drop it.
Police said officers first tried using a taser on Charlie, and when that did not work, they shot him.
"I guess they made the decision they had no other alternative but to fire six shots into our son, killing him," Michael said.
“He died in the street, and that breaks my heart," Peggy said.
Three months after the shooting, the parents said they have not been able to review body camera footage of the shooting.
The Office of Chesterfield Commonwealth's Attorney Stacey Davenport, which is reviewing the criminal investigation of the shooting, said the police investigation is still ongoing and they "will have no comment and no decision will be made until the conclusion of their investigation."
A spokesperson for Chesterfield Police said the department is still waiting for some lab results from the medical examiner's office.
Peggy and Michael said they were tired of waiting to get answers and closure.
"Something needs to happen months ago. Something needs to happen now," Peggy said. "That's just not fair."
The family is now pushing for accountability of the of the systems they said failed to protect their son during his most vulnerable moments.
“I can't believe we live in a country where you can be mentally ill, you can be in the care of doctors, and you can wind up dead like this," Michael said.
In previous statements, HCA has maintained that the alleged hospital assault which led to Charlie's arrest happened in the presence of an RPD officer, and they could not override a criminal proceeding.
Tucker Pavilion remains under investigation by state and federal agencies. The incident sparked investigations by the Virginia Department of Behavioral Health & Developmental Services and the Center for Medicare & Medicaid Services to review whether the facility was in compliance with regulations and licensing requirements.
Charlie's parents said they hope his story shines a light on not only what they called a broken mental health system, but broken interagency communication.
"There needs to be some sort of communication within the jurisdictions because people can freely drive from Chesterfield to Richmond to Henrico to Hanover. There's no communication between districts," Peggy said. "And there's no communication within RPD that there was an ECO, which leads to a TDO, which needs to be served by another jurisdiction. Where's the accountability?"
Above all, they want Charlie to be remembered for the impact he left on people's lives.
They said he was an advocate against injustice, a deep thinker, and a beloved family member and friend.
“I just want people to know that Charlie was more than his mental illness. He was a wonderful young man who just wanted to have a happy life," Peggy said.
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