It has taken less than three months for the California Highway Patrol to do right by the mentally ill woman who was slammed to the asphalt by a CHP officer and brutally pummeled after he caught her walking in traffic on a Los Angeles freeway.
Caught on the cellphone video camera of a passing motorist, the July incident drew national condemnation. It also got the attention of CHP Commissioner Joe Farrow, who promised swift action.
That promise was kept this week, laudably.
In exchange for 51-year-old Marlene Pinnock dropping her civil rights lawsuit, the CHP will pay $1.5 million into a special-needs trust for her long-term care. And Officer Daniel Andrew, the rookie who beat her, will resign less than two years after his promotion from cadet status.
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It’s a fair settlement, and Farrow is to be credited for his transparency in the matter. Too often, law enforcement agencies circle the wagons when a front-line officer mishandles an encounter with someone who is mentally ill.
And those kinds of encounters are easy to mishandle, not only because officers are trained to use force, but because, in or out of uniform, people recoil from mental illness. Overcoming that almost instinctive reaction and locating our compassion is difficult even for those of us who don’t risk our lives as first responders on perilous freeways.
But that is what’s necessary, because we as a society are only as strong as our ability to care for the most vulnerable among us. That’s why training in dealing with the mentally ill, not just for CHP officers but for all law enforcement, needs to be beefed up considerably.
The Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office is still deciding whether to file criminal charges against Andrew. Unless there are seriously aggravating circumstances that didn’t show up on that video footage, we hope it doesn’t.
The solution here is less in punishing a young man whose law enforcement career is surely over than in improving care for people like Pinnock, and in making sure people like Andrew react with compassion when that care doesn’t work.