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There is a man down on the landing of our parking garage. He has wedged himself between a foot-high concrete wall, the cigarette urn, and the second floor door. It’s a small space, barely room enough for his small frame. I do not notice this man.
Our beloved photographer, Darrow Montgomery, who just biked past him, points him out.
I ask him what’s wrong. He says he has asthma, that he needs help. His voice is hoarse. Another man shows up. I will learn later that this man works at Payless. The man on the ground apparently has stolen a black purse.
The Payless man tells the other man to wait—-the police have been called.
The man then walks as fast as he can up to our parking deck. He then makes like he wants to jump off the deck. He mumbles about wanting to kill himself, that life isn’t worth living.
He is grabbed. We get him to sit down. His name is Thomas.
I leave Darrow and the Payless employee to keep the man occupied. I run inside WCP and call the Department of Mental Health‘s mobile crisis unit. This is where things get annoying.
I first try and call the DMH helpline. It’s busy. I call again. It’s still busy. I try the main number where I am finally transferred to mobile crisis. This is the unit that responds when residents are freaking out, when their freak outs aren’t necessarily criminal. [At the time, I did not know about the stolen purse].
Once on the line with mobile crisis, I am asked all sorts of questions that just don’t feel relevant at the time. Who are you? What is your name? What is the spelling of your name? What is your phone number? Did you call the police?
I am then told that I should really just call the police. Should the D.C. Police really be the answer?
When the police and paramedics show up, they seem just really put out. One complains about Thomas’ cigarette. They begin to check the guy out. His sugar level is fine. His heart rate is fine.
Mobile Crisis calls me back on my cellphone. They’d like me to pass their number on to the “lead” cop on the scene.
I talk to Officer Jose L. Rodriguez. He refuses to take Mobile Crisis’ number. He says Thomas was only “pretending” to be suicidal.
I ask Rodriguez: How do you know he was only pretending when you were not here, did not see what we saw, did not hear the guy say he wanted to off himself?
“I’ve dealt with him before,” Rodriguez says. “It’s not the first time” that he’s stolen goods from the neighborhood. This is all a big act.”
Whatever brought him here with that fake-leather purse seems immaterial. The man appeared deeply troubled, near tears, and at the time really wanting to jump. Isn’t that enough for mobile crisis?
Thomas is escorted down the parking deck. Rodriguez says he will be brought to Payless, photographed, and issued some kind of barring notice. He will then be released. He is homeless.