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Forced Psychiatric Treatment Programs Revised

November 24, 1986

LOS ANGELES (AP) _ A man who was handcuffed and taken from his home to a psychiatric ward after police were told he was depressed says the experience itself was depressing, and he refuses to pay a $2,000 treatment bill.

Dennis Saeger, 50, encountered one of three experimental county psychiatric programs currently under review that permit forced psychiatric care of people who may be experiencing mental problems.

″This program made me more frightened and depressed than anything in my life,″ Saeger said in an interview published in Sunday’s Daily News of Los Angeles.

He said it reminded him of a science fiction movie when three uniformed police officers and a social worker appeared at the door of his Panorama City home, interviewed him for about 10 minutes, and handcuffed him.

He was held for three days at Olive View Hospital and later billed $2,000, which he refuses to pay.

The county mental health department and local police jointly operate the programs that deal with family psychiatric emergencies, violent offenders and less serious cases.

″Before this, people called police when their neighbor was suicidal and we’d have to say we could do nothing because no crime was committed,″ said Van Nuys police Capt. Art Sjoquist. ″We are not kicking down people’s doors and taking them away. We are providing low-key care to those who need it.″

But Kathleen Mixsell, mental health activist with the Los Angeles Network of Mental Health Clients, said the programs could be misused by disgruntled neighbors or family members.

″This is coming on hard and heavy,″ Mixsell said. ″It is sending armored troops to get people who aren’t dangerous.″

Charles Veals, emergency services coordinator who directs the countywide team that deal with family psychiatric emergencies, said efforts are made to prevent abuses.

″We take calls from everyone, but we screen out a number of calls of people who try to abuse it,″ Veals said. ″In most cases we get more complaints about not taking people to hospitals than we do about taking people who say they are fine.″

On an average month in the San Fernando Valley alone, the team sees about 180 people and about one-third of those are hospitalized. The program dealing with violent offenders gets 125 calls a month.

The program dealing with less serious cases handles 88 calls a month. Saeger said his encounter with it stemmed from a moody letter he wrote to his secretary, Brenda Tharp, who said she was shocked her call to the 911 emergency number led to Saeger’s hospitalization, but police said the team was justified in taking him away after a neighbor confirmed Saeger seemed possibly suicidal.

″A potentially suicidal person is one of the most difficult situations for police,″ said Lenore Morrell, who is reviewing the three projects for the county mental health department. ″But if something happened after police left, then there would be liability. It is better to be on the safe side and bring them in to diagnose than to have someone bump themselves off.″

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