Two Ellicott City residents who Howard County police believe were suffering from mental health issues were killed last week in separate police-involved shootings – incidents that the county's top elected official says reinforces the need for more mental health initiatives.
"We are trying to build a model public health community in Howard County. And what recent incidents illustrate – in an incredibly painful way – is the need for mental health treatment," County Executive Ken Ulman said in an email Tuesday.
On Aug. 20, two county police officers shot Darren Friedman, 45, inside his home in the 7600 block of Coachlight Lane. Police responded to a "suicide-in-progress" and found Friedman with several self-inflicted stab wounds, police said. When they tried to intervene, they said Friedman charged at them with the knife and was shot. He was pronounced dead later that day.
On Aug. 23, two county police officers shot and killed Hernan Milton Ossorio, 61, outside of his home in the 5000 block of Montgomery Road in Ellicott City after they said he came at them with a knife. After getting a 911 call from someone inside the home, officers tried to subdue Ossorio with a Taser but were not successful. Ossorio's family members told police he was suicidal.
Increasing awareness about mental health issues — specifically as it relates to police work — has been a focus of Ulman and the county this year. The need for more attention was emphasized after three died in a shooting at The Mall in Columbia on Jan. 25. Howard County police's investigation revealed that the shooter, 19-year-old Darion Marcus Aguilar, was suffering from mental health issues when he opened fire and killed Zumiez employees Tyler Johnson, 25, of Mt. Airy, and Brianna Benlolo, 21, of College Park, before turning the gun on himself.
"We have in the past year researched best practices, talked with stakeholders and taken a hard look at our existing services," Ulman said.
Among the initiatives by Ulman is the hiring of a full-time mental health professional in the police department. In an interview earlier this summer, new Police Chief Gary Gardner said mental health is one of the biggest challenges facing police departments.
"Not everyone who has a mental health issue is a violent offender; I want to make that very clear. But the ones who are, or have the potential to be, we have to try and intervene as quickly as possible to prevent a tragedy like the Columbia mall," Gardner said in the July interview.
Gardner said one of the duties of the mental health professional is to act as a case manager and assist citizens who might be suffering from mental health issues. In both shootings this week, police said the victims had no previous contact with police.
Ulman said funding has been committed to provide the department with more help.
"Our officers are highly trained, with more skills in this area than ever before, and we must make sure we are providing them with all the tools they need to handle these difficult situations," he said.
He added: "We have funding in this year's budget to add an additional position in our police department to work on mental health cases, as well as to add a second mobile crisis team. We will be expanding mental health first-aid training. We are adding a new position that will work with Howard County General Hospital to ensure that patients who are hospitalized have coordination of their care before they are discharged."
In June, Ulman created a behavioral health task force that will create a comprehensive action plan aimed at bridging gaps in mental health services in the county. The task force, which is made up of health professionals and law enforcement officials, is set to meet in the coming weeks, according to county spokesman David Nitkin.
Ulman has committed $313,700 to mental health issues in the fiscal year 2015 budget.
"Mental health issues touch us all. The need is great, but so is our commitment to making progress," he said.