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Fort Collins Police explain why they cited woman who considered jumping from I-25 overpass

The woman who sat on an overpass overlooking I-25 and thought about jumping to her death is thankful Fort Collins Police arrived in time to stop her. They came to see her again a few hours later - this time with a citation.

FORT COLLINS, Colo. — On the evening of Labor Day this past September, people driving through I-25 in Fort Collins looked up to see a woman sitting on the edge of an overpass contemplating jumping.

The Fort Collins Police were called out to the bridge at Prospect Road and I-25 around 5:40 p.m. When they got there, they started talking to the woman looking down at traffic.

Officers shut down the interstate in both directions for about 10 minutes as they encouraged her to move away from the edge of the bridge. Ultimately, she swung her legs back over to solid ground.

Claire Gallagher, 24, said that woman was her.

"I thought it was a good idea to die with dignity," she said. "Was it a good idea? No."

Life was particularly hard at the moment for Gallagher, who said she'd just gotten out of an abusive relationship and was worried about money.

Claire Gallagher

When officers arrived, she remembers them as kind as they escorted her to the hospital. What she didn't expect was to receive a citation for obstructing the highway -- a misdemeanor, according to Gallagher's lawyer – a few hours later.

Fort Collins Police confirmed to 9NEWS that the citation was given the same day at the hospital.

"I'm already going through enough working my way through school and proving to the world I am enough," said Gallagher. “I would just like sympathy. It's not necessary to criminalize someone with depression."

Fort Collins Police said that was not their intention.

"Our heart is with anybody dealing with a crisis in their life," said Kate Kimble with the Fort Collins Police.

Kimble explained that while some people may not agree with or understand the decision, it was the department’s responsibility to Gallagher, and to people in surrounding areas, to issue a citation.

"We are also accountable to our community. If someone falls or jumps off of a bridge, they could kill another person," said Kimble. "There is some liability and accountability there."

The police also said a citation can be a path to court-mandated mental health help.

Gallagher’s lawyer, Ron Salas, watched body camera video of the interaction with officers and agreed they were respectful as they helped her.

His issue is with the timing.

"The police can take a minute and step back, and think about what we are doing here," said Salas.

In general, police take people dealing with a mental health emergency to the Crisis Assessment Center at Poudre Valley Hospital in Fort Collins. A person may be held there for any length of time up to 72 hours. Police said they aren’t guaranteed time to issue a citation because of the uncertainty, and they wouldn’t be notified if doctors release the patient sooner.

Fort Collins Police also said that if they can't track someone down for citation later, they have to issue an arrest warrant. They try to avoid that and issue the citation in a timely manner.

When Gallagher agreed to an interview with 9NEWS, it was closing in on two months after the incident. She said she's in a much better place now, and with that comes an apology.

Claire Gallagher

"For everyone on the highway, I'm honestly sorry to inconvenience you,” said Gallagher.

She also is looking at it as an opportunity to talk about what happened.

"If I can be out about my problems and my struggles, I can also be out about how that helps me,” said Gallagher.

Her lawyer said a potential deal with the district attorney could include mandatory mental health help. If Gallagher doesn't receive any more citations or get in trouble with police, the citation is expunged from her record after a year.

The Larimer County District Attorney's Office did not comment because this case is still open.

Denver and Aurora police departments said their officers’ primary concern would always be to ensure the safety of someone in danger and connect that person with necessary resources once the incident is resolved.

The decision to issue a citation, and the timing of it, would depend on the circumstances in a particular case, both jurisdictions said.

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