Last July, Joel Reuter was shot and killed by two Seattle SWAT snipers. Reuter, suffering from a manic episode, fired a gun from inside his Bellevue and E Denny Way apartment after an 8-hour standoff.
Six months later, a 7-member jury found both officers had reason to believe Reuter, 28, posed an imminent threat to himself and others. Family and friends of Reuter that spoke with CHS agreed that police did everything within reason to deescalate the situation. What Reuter’s family decried was their inability to have their son involuntarily committed for treatment because of strict protections in Washington state law.
Following their sons’s death, Doug and Nancy Reuter worked to bring a bill before the Washington state legislature that would give families more influence in involuntary commitments of their loved ones. Currently a judge can issue a 72-hour involuntary hold on someone if a mental health professional recommends that the person meets the state’s criteria. Under HB 2725, family members would be given the chance to appeal a mental health professional’s recommendation that a loved one did not meet the criteria. The bill died in committee earlier this year.
During a hearing on the bill in February, Joel’s father said he and others had tried for months to have a designated mental health professional recommend to a judge that Joel should be involuntarily held at a hospital for treatment. During that time Reuter had a string of run-ins with police and crisis intervention specialists and threatened to kill himself and his parents.
“I was told if he had a loaded gun on his hand with his finger on the trigger, then we could get him help. That’s exactly what Joel had on the morning of July 5th, and the help they gave him was to kill him,” he said.
While the bill will have to be reintroduced next session, a separate law went into effect this month that eases restrictions on involuntary hospital commitments. The 2013 bill changed the criteria for involuntary commitments from “dangerous to self or others” to “gravely disabled,” a change lawmakers said would likely increase the number of involuntary commitments statewide.
On one of her visits to Olympia from her Texas home, Nancy Reuter told legislators that mental illness should be treated with the same sense of urgency as other diseases to avoid future tragedies like the one that ended her son’s life.
“Someone once told us that people have a right to be crazy. I can tell you that Joel did not want to be crazy,” she said. “When he got cancer, he was rushed into treatment ASAP. When his mental illness spiraled out of control, he was not able to get treatment. It’s discrimination of the worst kind.”