GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — The mother of a man beaten at Rosa Parks Circle had long feared her son would be targeted.
“(I’ve been) very scared for him,” the victim’s mom told Target 8.
On Sept. 13, she received the call she had always dreaded. Her 34-year-old son had been brutally beaten in the head and face the night before at Rosa Parks Circle by a group of between four and six men.
His mom told Target 8 he sustained a fracture to a bone in his face and needed multiple stitches.
He’s expected to recovery physically, but there’s no long-term cure for the mental illness his mom says often puts him at risk.
OFF MEDS, VICTIM ACTED ERRATICALLY
Statistics show people with mental illness are usually victims of crimes, not perpetrators. The attack at Rosa Parks Circle reflects that research.
It also shines a light on the struggle of West Michigan families whose loved ones with mental illness routinely refuse to comply with medication orders. A symptom of mental illness is the person’s inability to recognize they have one, which makes them think medications aren’t necessary.
Grand Rapids police won’t confirm what they think prompted the group to jump the man around 10:30 p.m. Sept. 12, but the victim’s mom believes her son may have said something that set the men off.
“We seen the symptoms that he was getting out of control, that he couldn’t control what he was saying, what he was doing,” she said of the days leading up to the attack. “He was talking the way an aggressive person would talk. That’s not him. He’s not an aggressive person. He wouldn’t hurt a fly.”
She said she called her son’s mental health caseworker a few days before the assault to report he was off his meds and acting erratically again, but got little help.
“I asked them was there some kind of place he could go to where they could keep him, watch him and maybe get him on medication and they said, ‘No, at this point he has to do it on his own,'” she recalled.
COURT RECORDS: VICTIM FOUND WANDERING
Records in Kent County Probate Court document the Grand Rapids man’s long struggle with schizoaffective disorder. He was diagnosed with schizophrenia and bipolar disorders at 17 and has been in and out of psychiatric facilities since.
Court documents starting in 2010 show his mom and others have repeatedly petitioned the court to have him involuntarily committed, only to have him get out after treatment and then stop taking his meds time and again.
“(He) is demonstrating paranoid delusions and has been hallucinating,” read an April 2017 petition for hospitalization filed by his mother. “Today, (he) was found wandering in downtown Grand Rapids in only his underwear.”
In 2015, a doctor wrote the man “stated he is ‘the highest lethal weapon’ and ‘I have the highest IQ in the world.'”
That same month, his mom wrote, “For the past several weeks, he has been talking irrationally, making statements that people cannot understand or perceive as threatening.”
In a 2015 court order, a case manager wrote the man had been “trespassing on property he claims to own, wandering at night without shoes, attempting to enter stranger’s home.”
He was wandering, too, on the night of the assault at Rosa Parks Circle, having walked from the home he shares with his mom in southeast Grand Rapids to the downtown gathering spot.
“He can walk from one end of (Grand Rapids) to the other with no problem,” his mom told Target 8.
PEOPLE WITH MENTAL ILLNESS HAVE RIGHTS, FACE RISKS
Court records show the man is a client of Kent County’s community mental health agency, Network180. The organization cannot comment on individual cases.
Neither can Mike Reagan of Cherry Health, who sat down with Target 8 to talk about the goals and limitations of the mental health care system overall.
“We want people to have the right as individuals to live to the optimum level they possibly can in the community. That’s their right,” said Reagan, the chief external relations officer at the nonprofit that provides care to underserved populations.
“Are there risks they face?: Reagan said of community members with mental illness. “Yes, but there are also safety net programs to help them. … We have interventions to get them an assessment and the help they need at that time.”
Reagan pointed out that anyone who’s concerned about a loved one can bring them 24 hours a day, seven days a week to see a mental health clinician at Network180, Pine Rest Christian Mental Health Services, Forest View Psychiatric Hospital or any hospital emergency room.
“If there is any concern about safety, they can call 911 or the local police department to come and do a wellness check. If needed, the police can help the individual access care,” Reagan said.
If the person is a danger to themselves or others, families can petition Probate Court to order hospitalization, as the beating victim’s mom has done multiple times.
But Reagan acknowledged the system is far from perfect and challenges remain.
‘IT’S A HEALTH CARE PROBLEM … JUST LIKE CANCER’
“It’s a health care problem we need to face just like cancer or Parkinson’s,” Reagan said. “If someone’s not going to comply and take their medication, in the end, there’s nothing we can do. That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try. Unless they’re a danger to themselves or others, there’s nothing you and I could do or should do.”
Reagan stressed there are support groups for families struggling with how to help a loved one who has a mental illness.
“I think there are more families than we know that are struggling around this,” Reagan said from his office at Cherry Health’s main location at 100 Cherry St. SE. “We need to do better, I guess, providing them the support to know they’re not alone and educating the community around mental illness.”
The National Alliance for the Mentally Ill coordinates family-to-family support groups in cities around the country, including Grand Rapids. The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration also has a 24/7 hotline at 1.800.662.HELP (4357).
Ten days after the assault at Rosa Parks Circle, the victim was still recovering in a Grand Rapids hospital. His mom worries about what will happen when he’s released.
“He won’t listen to me,” she explained. “I can’t follow him. I’m diabetic, and I’m just tired. … It’s more stress than I can handle. I want to help him. But there’s no help.”
She wishes there were a longer-term facility that could keep her son stable and safe.
“Every day you have to pray and hope for the best, and hope somebody out there cares enough to help,” she said.
Grand Rapids police have made one arrest in the attack. Sean Larkins, 21, is charged with assault with intent to do great bodily harm. Police are still looking for additional suspects.