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Mental health crisis response turns deadly during encounter

A civilian paramedic from the Colorado Springs Community Response Team is seen on video taking the man to the ground and holding him down during arrest.

COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. — When her mother told her about her father’s strange behavior, Kenda James had very specific instructions.

James, a paramedic, told her mother to call 911 and say her father needed a mental health check. She wanted a crisis response team, trained to de-escalate mental health situations, to respond to her father, Kevin Dizmang’s neighborhood.

That crisis response team did arrive, but the newly obtained body camera shows within moments of their arrival, Dizmang was on the ground handcuffed and unresponsive. He would be pronounced dead at the hospital shortly after. 

In the hallway, the civilian paramedic from the crisis response team is heard on another officer’s body camera bragging about taking Dizmang to the ground during the call.

“You reach out to these professionals for help, and we end up at the hospital with a dead relative,” James said.

His daughter and ex-wife describe Kevin Dizmang as an ornery, funny and intelligent man who had a few demons.

“He did have some struggles he had some mental health issues and some substance abuse issues contributing to each other,” James said.

His ex-wife of 37 years, Linda Yutzy said she was Dizmang’s legal caregiver.

“He had been diagnosed with a personality disorder, slight schizophrenia and he had a traumatic brain injury,” Yutzy said.

Dizmang was driving a semi-truck when it rolled over leaving him with a brain injury and an injury to his diaphragm.

On Nov. 15, Yutzy said her ex-husband called her frantic because he could not find his phone. His panic transformed over the course of the phone call.

“He became manic I guess,” she said. “He was just frantic about it.”

Knowing he needed help, Yutzy conferenced James into the phone call, who tried to calm her father down but couldn’t. She told her mother to call 911 and ask for that crisis response.

Body camera video of the incident shows a crisis response officer arriving near Dizmang’s neighborhood. He sees Dizmang and others standing in the street. Dizmang is yelling and pacing. The officer tells Dizmang first to sit down. When he doesn’t, the officer orders Dizmang to put his hands behind his back.  

Editor's Note: The video shows the moments before someone's death and may be difficult for some people to watch.

The officer continues to order Dizmang to put his hands behind his back. Dizmang responds at one point saying he’s done nothing wrong, then reaches into his pocket and drops the contents on the ground. The officer moves to put Dizmang into handcuffs. Dizmang pulls away and pushes the officer then moves off the road.

When the officer catches up with him in a grove of trees, he grabs Dizmang’s arms again. The crisis response team paramedic then approaches, tells Dizmang to listen to the officer's commands and grabs him, taking him to the ground. The paramedic appears to hold down Dizmang near his head and neck while the officer works to cuff his hands. For a while, Dizmang struggles, then goes limp. Once the officer gets Dizmang cuffed, he tells the paramedic they need to turn him on his side. They eventually have him sit up.

Ed Obayashi, a California sheriff’s deputy who is an expert on police use of force said he has never seen a civilian member of a critical response team like this take a role in a use of force.

“I would find it extremely unusual and doubtful that the CRT policies would allow or authorize any of their members to engage in a physical confrontation with a subject,” Obayashi said. “The paramedic would have been trained to recognize the potential consequences of an individual who’s been subjected to this kind of force.”

Brendan Cox, director of policing services for the LEAD Bureau, an organization focused on re-examining the role of police in calls like this, said he hadn’t seen anything like this either. Cox is the former police chief of Albany, New York.

“This is something that these teams should be clear about,” he said. “Unless there are clear and obvious circumstances creating a dangerous circumstance the detainment of an individual should be left to law enforcement.”

After the officer and paramedic prop Dizmang up after handcuffing him,  Yutzy arrived on the scene.

“His body was slunched over, his head was hanging down… he looked dead to me,” she said.

She said she asked officers if he had a pulse. They told her he had a slight pulse.

“They weren’t tending to him… they were just standing there.”

Eventually, an ambulance arrived and transported Dizmang to the hospital where he was pronounced dead.

At the hospital, another responding officer’s body camera captures the paramedic bragging about his move to take down Dizmang.

Editor's Note: This video contains language that some people may find offensive.

“It’s my first time taking somebody down with this job,” the paramedic is overheard saying. "And I was like I don’t know what I’m supposed to do.”

He tells the others that the mental health clinician from the team told him he needed to help the officer restrain Dizmang.

“I go to pull drugs out…she’s like go help him…so I was like oop… high school football,” he says in the video motioning a football tackle move.

“Good form homie,” another voice on the body camera is heard saying.

The banter captured on the body cam presents another problem.

“The mere appearance of a government official in this case a CRT member who was just engaged in a force incident and is making light of the whole situation where you have an individual who has passed away…is going to be extremely offensive to everybody,” Obayashi said.

Colorado Springs Police defended their CRT in a statement.

“All of our Community Response Team members are highly trained professionals, coming from diverse backgrounds with the goal of assisting our community members who are in crisis and need immediate intervention,” the statement said. “The team is comprised of a Colorado Springs Police Department Officer, a Colorado Springs Fire Department Paramedic, and a Diversus Health Clinician.”

“Unfortunately, even with all of the training and expertise on this CRT team, we can’t control every factor involved in an interaction with a community member such as the actions, underlying medical conditions and intoxication of the involved person prior to our involvement.”

The statement indicated an investigation into the force is still ongoing by the Fourth Judicial District Attorney.

Send tips about this or any story to 9NEWS reporter Steve Staeger by emailing steve@9news.com.



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