I am trying to take the weekend off. But as a an advocate for young people in Stark County, I can not shake the thoughts of what the family and friends of Hayden Stutz are going through this weekend. Nor can I shake the thought of how the police officers and law officials who are involved in Hayden’s death must be feeling.
What is clear from this case is that we have had an epic failure in the mental health system in our community. A young man was clearly facing a health crisis. His family was trying to find care for him. Police were called during his initial display of symptoms and the symptoms continued as Hayden sat in the police cruiser. Instead of it being recognized as a health crisis, it was determined to be a criminal activity. When someone has a heart attack that causes a car accident, they are immediately treated with compassion and taken to the hospital. They are not arrested and taken to the police station. Yet no one with authority recognized this as the health crisis it was. No one looked for a medical reason why this young man would be behaving in the manner he was behaving. No one with access to resources or knowledge of what to do in this acute situation was there to advocate for Hayden when he was not in a position to advocate for himself.
Because he was treated as a criminal instead of a person in need of medical attention, he did not receive the medical evaluation and care that he desperately needed. Releasing a young man who showed clear symptoms of a “mental health attack” on his own recognizance is akin to putting the person in the middle of a heart attack right back in the driver’s seat of a car. It put him and everyone he came into contact with at risk, including the Canton police officers who responded to the call later that night.
I hope our leaders in Stark County’s mental health and law enforcement communities come together quickly to do a root cause analysis of Hayden’s mental health care and ultimate death. Then educate the community about what should have happened. What could his friends at Witwer Park have done to recognize and get help for Hayden’s health issue? What gaps need to be filled so that police responding to a situation caused by a “mental health attack” recognize it and respond appropriately, the same as they would to a heart attack? What do we need to have in place in our community so that Hayden’s family could have found the help they were seeking for him?
It is easy to second guess the split second decisions that Canton police officers made in the way they handled that chaotic situation the night Hayden died. But that situation is not when our community failed Hayden. We failed him when he was sick, when his brain signals were firing out of control earlier that day, and we did nothing to help him.
Sadly, there is also nothing we can do to bring Hayden back. But we can let his family and friends know that what happened to him matters to us. We can identify the failures and fill in the gaps. We owe him that much.