When Chelsea Manning posted disturbing tweets May 27, police went to her apartment to check on her – and they broke in and entered with guns drawn, an action Manning, who was not home at the time, is calling an indication of a “police state.”
The Intercept, with Manning’s permission, posted security video Tuesday of the Montgomery County Police entering her apartment in Bethesda, Md. They were performing what is known as a “wellness check,” which usually comes at the request of people who suspect a friend or relative is experiencing a mental health crisis. Manning had posted some tweets, now deleted, that led friends to worry she was considering killing herself. One pictured her standing on the ledge of a tall building. A later tweet indicated she was safe and in communication with friends.
It isn’t clear who sent the police to Manning’s home; Capt. James Starks of the Montgomery County Police told The Intercept only that the police had heard from “concerned parties.” The video “shows officers pointing their guns as they searched her empty apartment,” the site notes. An officer knocked on her door, but when no one answered, he popped the lock. Three officers brandished guns as they entered the apartment, and a fourth was armed with a Taser.
“This is what a police state looks like,” Manning told The Intercept. “Guns drawn during a ‘wellness’ check.”
Janus Cassandra, a friend of Manning’s, was also alarmed by the police action. “If Chelsea had been home when these cops arrived with guns drawn, she would be dead,” Cassandra told the site.
Starks said that whether police draw weapons during a wellness check “depends on the officer” and that individual “makes the decision based on circumstances that are affecting that officer in that specific situation.”
“They don’t know what kind of circumstances they are entering when they enter a home,” Starks told The Intercept. “The fact that a weapon is drawn doesn’t mean that they are going to shoot it.”
Mental health and civil liberties experts, however, say police officers should not be the ones conducting wellness checks. “As a society, we should expect a mental health response when somebody calls 911 and says they are suicidal, rather than dispatching somebody who is armed with a pistol and most of whose training is directed at enforcing criminal law and how to use force with people whom they suspect are breaking the law,” American Civil Liberties Union lawyer Carl Takei told the site. Some police departments, he added, give their officers extensive crisis intervention training, but others give little or none. At least 64 people considering suicide or going through other mental health crises have been shot to death by police so far this year, according to the ACLU.
James Drylie, a criminal justice instructor and former police officer, told The Intercept that in some cases it’s understandable that officers would have their weapons drawn. “They have to make sure there is no threat,” said Drylie, who teaches at Kean University in New Jersey. He said it’s appropriate to have police do wellness checks if there is a possibility the person in crisis would harm others, but he did call for better training.
Manning, a transgender former Army intelligence analyst, was convicted of leaking secret government documents and spent seven years in a military prison. She was released last year after President Obama commuted the remainder of her 35-year sentence as one of his last acts in office. A military court recently upheld her conviction, which she had appealed.
She attempted suicide twice in prison, where she says she was continually mistreated. This year she announced she is running for U.S. Senate from Maryland. “Chelsea is still struggling to recover from the years of torture and mistreatment that she endured in prison, even as she continues to use her position to fight for what she believes in,” Cassandra told The Intercept.