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Richmond Police initiated mental health order for a man in crisis. Then, they arrested him, and he later died.

 Charles Byers
Posted at 4:31 PM, Sep 11, 2023

RICHMOND, Va. -- New information obtained by CBS 6 shows Richmond Police initiated the process that led to a mentally ill man being placed under a court order for psychiatric treatment, yet arrested him and removed him from a psychiatric facility the next day. He was then later shot and killed by Chesterfield Police.

As previously reported, 34-year-old Charles Byers was fatally shot by a Chesterfield officer on July 8 after he allegedly tried breaking into homes on Wycliff Court, was carrying a hatchet, and did not comply with demands to drop the weapon.

But just days before, he was at Chippenham Hospital's psychiatric facility, Tucker Pavilion, under a temporary detention order (TDO), issued by a Richmond magistrate on July 6. That means a mental health expert determined Byers was mentally unstable, could not take care of himself, and was a danger to himself or others.

Typically, patients under a TDO should remain in a psychiatric facility for up to 72 hours or until they can have a commitment hearing to determine if further mental health treatment is necessary. Byers never had a commitment hearing.

According to timestamps on Byers' TDO, he had only been at Tucker Pavilion for about three hours before an off-duty Richmond Police Department (RPD) officer, who was working extra duty at Chippenham Hospital, arrested Byers and removed him from the facility for allegedly kicking a nurse. Richmond Police Chief Rick Edwards previously told CBS 6 that hospital staff wished to have Byers criminally charged and discharged from the facility.

The nurse who was allegedly assaulted by Byers reported no injuries, according to an incident report, and RPD rejected CBS 6's Freedom of Information Act request to view body camera footage of the encounter.

After Byers' arrest, he went before a Richmond magistrate who released Byers back into the public on his own recognizance the night of July 6, less than 48 hours before his death.

When CBS 6 pressed Chief Edwards about why the officer would arrest a patient who was in a mental health crisis and remove him from a facility where he was ordered to be, Edwards claimed the arresting officer did not know Byers was under a TDO.

“He was, at this point, he has informed our investigators he did not know. There is nothing in our review of the body camera footage that shows he knew that Mr. Byers was under a TDO," Edwards said in an interview with reporter Tyler Layne on July 31.

Edwards said that had the officer known about it, the situation "may have played out differently."

However, newly obtained documentation revealed it was RPD that initiated the first step of the whole process which led to Byers' TDO. Chief Edwards did not initially share this information with CBS 6 when he explained the timeline of events leading up to Byers' arrest at the hospital.

On the night of July 5, an RPD lieutenant was documented placing Byers under an emergency custody order (ECO) and making a call to Richmond Behavioral Health, because Byers was reportedly wandering around Chippenham Hospital and appeared confused. Byers was already voluntarily at the hospital because his family took him there for mental health treatment that day.

Typically speaking, in many cases but not all cases, an ECO is the first step in placing an individual under a TDO. Law enforcement officers have authority to place a person under emergency custody if there's probable cause that person is mentally ill and could be a danger to himself or others.

RPD's ECO led to a psychiatric evaluation by a Richmond Behavioral Health Authority professional who determined that Byers met the criteria for a TDO, meaning he needed to be involuntarily admitted due to his mental condition.

A Richmond magistrate signed off on the TDO on July 6 and assigned Chesterfield Police, the jurisdiction where Byers lived, to serve the TDO. According to the Virginia code, a magistrate shall assign the executing law enforcement agency of the TDO as the agency where the subject resides or any other willing agency.

CBS 6 sent follow-up questions directly to Chief Edwards including:

-If RPD initiated the ECO, how would RPD not know about the TDO?

-Does RPD keep a record of who they place under emergency custody?

-Did the ECO come up in your internal review of the situation, and if so, why did you not relay this information?

Senior Assistant City Attorney Sharon Carr, assigned to RPD's General Counsel, responded instead.

Carr said that not all ECOs lead to TDOs, and RPD was only ever aware of the ECO since it was executed by RPD.

"Here, the magistrate identified Chesterfield County Police as the law-enforcement agency responsible for executing the TDO because Mr. Byers was a Chesterfield County resident. That means that Chesterfield County Police were made aware of the issuance of the TDO and the necessity for it to be executed, not Richmond Police," Carr said in an email.

In his July interview, Edwards said there was not a sufficient way for officers to check for existing TDOs in other jurisdictions.

“I think there's no good database for us to check and look and know right away," Edwards said.

However, there is a way for officers to track ECOs and TDOs in their own jurisdiction, according to Carr. But that information is apparently difficult if officers are not in their vehicles, she said.

"When a Richmond Police officer executes an ECO or TDO on an individual, that information is documented in our records management system," Carr said. "However, when working off-duty inside of a facility like Chippenham Hospital, this records management system is not readily accessible inside the hospital."

She continued, "This sort of information can be more easily accessed prior to arriving at the scene of a call for service when an officer responds to a scene in their police vehicle and has information populated on their computer screen while in en route from the Department of Emergency Communications, or even can research on their own using the computer in their vehicle, but that ability is complicated when working inside of a facility and being called to respond on foot."

CBS 6 followed up asking specifically if Byers' ECO or TDO was documented in the records management system, if the transporting officer checked the database once Byers was removed from the hospital and being taken to the jail, and whether officers working inside the hospital have access to the information on mobile devices.

We're still waiting to hear back.

Meanwhile, there are still multiple other ongoing investigations related to this incident.

Tucker Pavilion is under state and federal investigations by the Department of Behavioral Health & Developmental Services and the Center for Medicare & Medicaid Services for compliance with regulations and licensing standards. A criminal investigation into the Chesterfield Police shooting, being handled by the Office of Chesterfield Commonwealth's Attorney Stacey Davenport, is still under review.

Sharon Carr's full response to CBS 6's questions:

Below, please find the Department’s response to the questions you posed via email to Chief Edwards on Wednesday: 
The issuance of an emergency custody order (ECO), pursuant to Virginia Code § 37.2-808, does not mean that a temporary detention order (TDO) will necessarily follow – particularly because of the timelines for expiration defined in the Virginia Code. The processes for each are separate and distinct and the law-enforcement agency responsible for the execution of an ECO or a TDO may differ. Virginia Code § 37.2-808(C) provides that the magistrate or court will specify the law-enforcement agency who will be responsible for executing an ECO and taking the party subject to that ECO into custody. Subsection D of the same code section indicates that the jurisdiction responsible for executing an ECO shall be the jurisdiction in which the community services board that performed the evaluation is located. In this case, the ECO occurred at Chippenham Hospital in the City of Richmond, so Richmond Police were aware of the ECO and responsible for executing it. However, Virginia Code § 37.2-810(A) speaks to execution of a TDO, and it provides that the law-enforcement agency responsible for executing the TDO is “the law-enforcement agency of the jurisdiction in which the person resides, or any other willing law-enforcement agency…” Here, the magistrate identified Chesterfield County Police as the law enforcement agency responsible for executing the TDO because Mr. Byers was a Chesterfield County resident. That means that Chesterfield County Police were made aware of the issuance of the TDO and the necessity for it to be executed, not Richmond Police.

 

When a Richmond Police officer executes an ECO or TDO on an individual, that information is documented in our records management system. However, when working off-duty inside of a facility like Chippenham Hospital, this records management system is not readily accessible inside the hospital. Furthermore, when responding to a call for assistance, an officer’s priority is responding as quickly as possible to the call to assess the emergent nature of the situation and then conducting any necessary research to illuminate any issues or concerns about which an officer should be aware. This sort of information can be more easily accessed prior to arriving at the scene of a call for service when an officer responds to a scene in their police vehicle and has information populated on their computer screen while in en route from the Department of Emergency Communications, or even can research on their own using the computer in their vehicle, but that ability is complicated when working inside of a facility and being called to respond on foot.

 

In conducting our administrative investigation, the Richmond Police Department sought to understand the events that led up to Mr. Byers’ arrest and to understand the initiation, issuance, and execution of the TDO that was later determined to have been issued. While the Department maintains its commitment to being as transparent as possible surrounding our officer’s arrest of Mr. Byers, the Department continues to exercise its legislatively defined discretion to protect the details of our administrative investigation into this incident, pursuant to Virginia Code § 2.2-3706(B)(9)(ii).

This is a developing story, so anyone with more information can email newstips@wtvr.com to send a tip.

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