‘We would have never called 911’: Georgia woman’s family wants mental health reform

Stacey Abrams, Brianna Grier’s family attorney also spoke about mental health crisis

The family of Brianna Grier, the woman who died in July after she fell from the back of a patrol car in Hancock County, is demanding more mental health resources be available for those going through similar crises.

In a Wednesday night news conference at Clark Atlanta University, Marvin Grier, Brianna’s father, said they called 911 in the early hours of July 15 because their daughter was experiencing a schizophrenic episode, and they believed they had no other choice.

“We didn’t know which direction she was going to go, what she was going to do. Would she hurt herself or hurt us or her kids? That’s why we were trying to get help,” he said.

Credit: HYOSUB SHIN / AJC

Credit: HYOSUB SHIN / AJC

She was then arrested, handcuffed and placed in the back of a patrol vehicle.

According to the GBI, Hancock sheriff’s deputies Timothy Legette and Marlin Primus failed to close the back passenger door, causing Grier to fall from the moving vehicle. She was not wearing a seat belt and her hands were cuffed in front of her, the GBI said in its preliminary findings.

The next thing the Grier family heard was that their daughter was at Grady Memorial Hospital with two fractures to the skull. She died there July 21, and an independent medical review showed her death was consistent with blunt force trauma, her family said. No official cause of death has been released by the GBI.

“We called 911 to come out and help us with a situation when my daughter was having an episode,” Marvin Grier said. Knowing what they do now, he said “we would have never called 911 and she would be living today.”

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Her father said Brianna was a great mother to her 3-year-old twin daughters who struggled with her mental health. She sought help at mental health facilities on multiple occasions, but Marvin Grier said his daughter would spend one or two weeks in treatment before she was back out, and the cycle would repeat.

He urged officials to provide a place where people can go for emergency, involuntary mental health treatment — other than a jail cell.

“If we don’t get the resources and don’t put them in place, how can you get it? She needed it,” he said.

Credit: HYOSUB SHIN / AJC

Credit: HYOSUB SHIN / AJC

Georgia gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams gave credit to Brianna’s parents for stepping up and taking care of their twin granddaughters after she died. She said the call for help made by Marvin Grier wasn’t answered properly because of a lack of resources in some counties in the state.

“When Mr. Grier understood that his daughter was experiencing a psychotic episode, he called 911 because we are trained in this nation that when you need help, you dial 911,” Abrams said. “Their child, instead of getting the help she needed, received a funeral.”

Abrams said in Hancock County the only agency available to respond to mental health calls is law enforcement, which shouldn’t be the case. Law enforcement is not properly trained to help people in crises, she said.

“Right now, the No. 1 provider of mental health care in the state of Georgia, it is not our hospitals, it is not our doctors, it is law enforcement,” Abrams said. “The reality is that instead of dispatching someone specializing in mental health care, instead of sending someone who had the ability to grapple with a psychotic episode, instead law enforcement was sent to their house.”

Abrams said Brianna’s daughters will have to spend the rest of their lives with only memories of their mother, instead of making new ones as they grow. She said the Griers’ experience is something many in Georgia are facing as well.

“In the state of Georgia, the only time you get real access to mental health care is in a state of crisis,” she said.

As she has done throughout her campaign, Abrams urged for the expansion of Medicaid in Georgia so more mental health resources — facilities, professionals and training for responding agencies — would be available.

Credit: HYOSUB SHIN / AJC

Credit: HYOSUB SHIN / AJC

Grier family and civil rights attorney Ben Crump, who screened a Netflix documentary about his life after the news conference, stood in solidarity with Abrams and said if Georgia had the appropriate resources available, Brianna would still be alive today.

“She needed help, she did not need to be killed,” Crump said. “Even though they would like to sweep Brianna Grier under the rug, we are not going to let them.”

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While the GBI investigation is ongoing, Crump said his team is urging that records and documents be released in the spirit of transparency, which he feels is the only way to get justice for Grier. The state agency was expected to release its full report to prosecutors for review.

The news conference took place days after the Georgia NAACP and the family of 22-year-old Nygil Cullins, who was killed during a confrontation with Atlanta police at a Buckhead restaurant, demanded the U.S. Department of Justice launch a federal investigation into the patterns and practices of the Atlanta Police Department. Cullins had been diagnosed with bipolar schizophrenia and had an episode the day of the shooting, his family said.

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A protest seeking justice for Grier, organized by the Georgia NAACP, is scheduled to take place in Sparta in front of the Hancock County Sheriff’s Office at 11 a.m. Saturday.