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Three attacks linked to mental illness in 30 days leave five dead in Metro Detroit

Police Chief: "People talk about it for a short time, then we go on to the next issue."
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Posted at 3:29 PM, Sep 21, 2020
and last updated 2020-09-21 18:37:26-04

(WXYZ) — In the span of a month, three different men living only miles apart were accused of violent attacks resulting in the loss of five lives.

They used different weapons, but what made each attack possible—according to those that know them—was the same broken mental health system.

Most people suffering from mental illness are not violent; in fact, studies have shown they are more likely to be the victims of attacks than perpetrators. But in each of these recent cases, the accused aggressors suffered from mental illness.

In some cases, the attacks follow years of seeking treatment for a mental condition

‘I wasn’t surprised.’

In early July, Detroit Police responded to a call for 911 after 28-year-old Darrien Walker pointed a gun at a neighbor.

Throughout the previous year, he’d received treatment for mental illness. Sensing he still needed help, officers took him to the crisis center at Detroit Receiving Hospital.

He was released the next day.

Police would see him again three weeks later at the corner of Grand River and Myers in Detroit. Wielding a samurai sword and knives, Walker threw a dagger at a Detroit cop, striking him in the face. Seconds later, he was shot and killed.

“I wasn’t surprised unfortunately,” said Anthony Townsend, who knew Walker. “He was always a bit high strung. Didn’t take much to get him going.”

Detroit Medical Center, which operates Receiving Hospital, declined to comment on Walker’s treatment or release.

“You go into a crisis center, and then you’re released with no follow-up,” said an exasperated Chief James Craig. “What treatment was administered?”

RELATED: Teen vowed to take his life if Michigan psych hospital released him. The next day, he did.

911 calls involving the mentally ill are some of the most common Detroit Police receive.

Last year alone, officers responded to 8,201.

“We talk, I start beating my chest, I’m angry,” Craig said about the recent attacks. “People talk about it for a short time, and then we go on to the next issue.

“And we know it’s going to happen again.”

Just two miles down the road, it would.

‘My hands were tied.’

LaMetrius Jackson suffers from bipolar disorder and schizophrenia.

His mother Melvenia Simpson can hardly recognize the young man who’d been a dean’s list student at Wayne State. Today, hallucinations and paranoia dominate his life.

“He would get on the medicine, off the medicine, on the medicine, off the medicine,” recounted Simpson.

In the last six years, he’s been hospitalized seven times--never staying well for very long.

His last stay came in 2019, after posting threatening messages to Facebook. After his mother filed a mental health petition with Wayne County Probate Court, LaMetrius was ordered to spend up to 60 days at a psychiatric hospital.

He was out after a week.

“My hands just felt like they were so tied. My hands were tied because I couldn’t…I couldn’t go any further,” Simpson said.

LaMetrius was on his own for the next 18 months until August 12 when, while waiting for a bus on Detroit’s West Side, he would stab a man to death in broad daylight. His mother learned from a friend’s phone call.

“When she told me what had happened…(the) only thing I could think was
that my greatest fear had become a reality,” Simpson said through tears.

“It didn’t have to happen.”

Today, Jackson is facing first degree murder charges. His attorney has asked for a forensic examination to determine if his client is competent to stand trial.

A family devastated

Two weeks later, an apartment complex in Dearborn Heights became a crime scene after Donny Walker opened fire on his sister Danny and mother Hazel, killing them both.

Once police arrived, he turned the gun on them.

“He started shooting at the officers,” said neighbor Patrick McCullough, who witnesses the shooting. “He let out at least five or six rounds.”

After a brief standoff with police, Walker was shot and killed.

It was not the first time police had been out to the apartment. Sources say that Dearborn Heights police had been called out to the home a handful of times since 2019.

Family members acknowledged that Walker struggled with mental illness. Neighbors told 7 Action News that the family had repeatedly sought treatment for Walker, who they described as polite and gregarious.

But on more than one occasion, they saw him walking around the neighborhood talking to himself. They were unclear on his diagnosis, but said his mother, Hazel was his primary caretaker.

Hearing the alarm bells

Each of the cases raise questions about the effectiveness of the treatment administered to each patient and the follow-up care, or lack thereof, that has allowed those suffering from mental illness to quickly decompensate.

Willie Brooks is the President of the Detroit Wayne Integrated Health Network, which treated both LaMetrius Jackson and Darrien Walker.

He acknowledges how ill-equipped the mental health system is to spot the red flags that proceed these kind of recent tragedies.

“Where do the alarm bells ring? Who should be hearing that and seeing those red flags?” asked Channel 7’s Ross Jones.

“I think that is a design change that we need to look at,” Brooks said.

He pointed to newly announced pilot programs aiming to fill gaps in the system, or at least to test out how effective they are in limited cases.

One will add mental health providers at police precincts while another will assign staff to clients with frequent hospitalizations or arrests.

“Whenever you see those high frequent visits, we want to start reacting to them and assigning individuals so hopefully we can prevent these kinds of things in the future,” Brooks said, while adding that a new crisis center will be constructed on Woodward Avenue in Detroit.

Pilot programs can surely help, but only systemic change will stop the senseless losses that continue to pile up. There will be more stories like these. We know what isn’t working in. When, ask grieving parents like Melvenia Simpson, will we finally fix it?

“Following up on medicine, following up on treatment,” she said. “How do you leave that in the hands of somebody who’s not even mentally capable of making decisions?”

“It’s like you put ‘em out there to be eaten by the wolves.”

Contact 7 Investigator Ross Jones at ross.jones@wxyz.com or at (248) 827-9466.