State Rep. Malcolm Kenyatta speaks during a press conference at the Capitol on Tuesday, Oct. 17, 2023 (Capital-Star photo by Cassie Miller)
On Dec. 30, 2020, state troopers responded to a 911 report of a possibly suicidal person standing on the edge of an Interstate 80 overpass in Monroe County. That person was 19-year-old Christian Hall, an Asian American, who, amidst a mental health crisis, was shot three times by police that day after he refused officers’ commands and approached troopers with a pellet gun replica of a handgun.
Hall’s killing sparked renewed calls for better coordination between law enforcement and social service agencies when dealing with a person suffering a mental health crisis.
Hall’s parents — Fe and Gareth Hall — joined state lawmakers in Harrisburg on Tuesday to advocate for legislation that they say would do just that.
State Rep. Maureen Madden, (D-Monroe) who watched the police standoff with Hall unfold in real-time, is working with her colleagues to introduce legislation that would increase public awareness of the 988 crisis line, which was launched in 2022, and establish a Joint State Government Commission to study and make recommendations on 911/988 interoperability.
“The goal of this commission is to find solutions that will help save lives and protect the most vulnerable in our society,” Madden, whose sons are New York City police officers, said at a press conference on Tuesday. “Outcomes would be better for all involved, including law enforcement, if behavioral healthcare experts were leading responses to situations where somebody is going through crisis.”
The legislation would also require the Pennsylvania Department of Human Services to provide informational materials in the most common languages spoken in the Commonwealth and develop culturally competent training for crisis responders.
Hall stood on the overpass for 1 ½ hours as five state troopers, including one with a background in psychological health and another trained as a crisis negotiator, tried to persuade him to put down the pellet gun and coax him off the bridge.
Investigators later found that Hall had been distraught over breaking up with his girlfriend and made the 911 call himself but refused to give the dispatcher his name and hung up. He didn’t answer when the dispatcher tried to call back.
The Monroe County district attorney’s office found at the time that the troopers’ use of deadly force was justified. The officers reasonably believed they were in immediate danger of death or serious bodily harm and there was no evidence they had any ill-intent, First Assistant District Attorney Michael Mancuso said when the results of the investigation were released in March 2021.
Hall’s parents and noted civil rights attorney Benjamin Crump, who also represented the family of George Floyd, disagreed, and said police never should have fired on the teenager. They noted that dashboard camera footage from state police cars at the scene showed Hall had his hands up when the troopers shot him.
“He was a troubled young man who did not deserve to die that way, especially when he was actually reaching out,” Vanessa Meng, an Asian Pacific Islander Political Alliance of Pennsylvania member said of Hall. “Those that need help shouldn’t feel like there is no one, there is no system there that can support them.”
The planned bill and companion resolution do not yet have bill numbers to be formally introduced, Madden said, adding that she is working closely with her colleagues to craft the language of both.
“Pennsylvania is a place that has a lot of big ideas. We can do this,” state Rep. Malcolm Kenyatta (D-Philadelphia). “We ought to be able to do it. It is my real hope — in a building where things don’t always move expeditiously — that this is something that moves expeditiously that we recognize there are people who are reaching out for help right now, who might not receive the compassionate care that they deserve.”
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