How Texas Cops Turn Mental Health Crises into Deportations

August 30, 2018
Texas Observer

Two recent cases in Central Texas illustrate how police aggression and the “sanctuary cities” ban have built a nasty pipeline to deportation.

Janelie Rodriguez’s family had already decided: If she had another bad episode, they’d call 911 and have her taken to the hospital. One night last October, it happened. Rodriguez, a 25-year-old who suffers from intermittent psychosis, was struck with paranoid hallucinations; she began hurling wild accusations at her brother in an increasingly heated argument. Her family — five siblings, her mom and stepdad — knew she needed medication, but she often stubbornly refused treatment. Eventually, her little sister made the call for help — but help is not what they got.

“We were thinking we would get professional support to calm her down,” said Rodriguez’s 19-year-old brother, Alexis. “But instead, it was police.”

That night, records show, two Hays County sheriff’s deputies and one police officer showed up at the family’s two-story home in Buda, a booming exurb just south of Austin. Their arrival sent Rodriguez into a panic. Just over 5 feet tall and weighing less than 100 pounds, she didn’t want the three male cops to touch her, and she tried hiding in a bathroom. The officers ran out of patience within minutes, according to family members. “They went from being patient to like they were about to arrest a criminal on the street, instantly,” said Alexis. “They start circling her, and obviously she freaks out; that’s when they pin her down.”

As the three armed men forcibly restrained her on a bed, police allege that Rodriguez bit the wrist of Buda Police Officer Kevin Oates. A spokesperson for the Hays County Sheriff’s Office, Lieutenant Todd Riffe, said the officers were forced to detain Rodriguez because her family members expressed fear for their safety, and added that Rodriguez’s choice to bite the officer was “not in [their] control.” Rodriguez’s brother told the Observer he wasn’t afraid of his sister, and the whole family agrees the police needlessly escalated the situation.