A Detroit police officer has been suspended after he was secretly filmed punching a naked mentally ill woman at Detroit Receiving Hospital. An investigation has been opened into the beating, which was recorded on the cell phone of a witness visiting a family member at the hospital Wednesday (Aug. 1).
The mentally ill woman had been transported to the hospital without incident, but became agitated and began kicking and spitting at officers as they attempted to restrain her, Detroit police chief James Craig said at a press conference. In the video, posted by WJBK-TV, one of the male officers repeatedly punches the woman in the head and back. Craig said that the officer began striking her after she tried to bite him.
At a point in the video the woman turns her back to the officer, “But the officer continued to punch," Craig said. "We had grave concerns about that."
In an off-camera interview with WJBK-TV, the witness who recorded the beating said that it was clear that the woman was mentally ill. According to Craig, police brought the woman to the hospital after responding to a 911 about a “lewd and lascivious” behavior.
When they arrived to the location, the woman was nude, but appeared calm. “She was passive; she didn't appear to be agitated, but officers knew she was in a mental crisis. They put her in the squad car and took her to Receiving,” explained the police chief.
Police gave the woman “draping” to cover herself before transporting her to the hospital but she was not handcuffed, a break in protocol that concerned Craig. “Our training is for [the mentally ill person's] safety, officer safety and community safety, we handcuff."
The unnamed officer (authorities are withholding his identity) is an 18-year veteran of the police department, with six prior instances of force reported, though none caused injury, Craig said. The mentally ill woman and the officer are both black, as well other officers seen in the video.
The Detroit Coalition Against Police Brutality, a community watchdog group, and Detroit chapter of the NAACP called for the officer to be charged for beating the woman, and publicly denounced his " unacceptable" and "inexcusable" actions.
In February, the Detroit News published a report on growing concerns about potentially deadly confrontations between police and people with mental illness. As cited in the report, at least three Detroit cops were fatally shot by mentally ill suspects in the last two years. The report also notes that people with untreated mental illness are 16 times more likely to be killed by police, while one in four police encounters ends the life of a person with "severe mental illness." Police killings have also affected mental health in black communities.
It's unclear if the woman beaten by the Detroit officer had a diagnosed mental illness.
See video of the incident below.