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Staunton Public Defender’s Office wants law enforcement to implement Marcus Alert System

Updated: May. 17, 2021 at 8:28 PM EDT
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SHENANDOAH VALLEY, Va. (WVIR) - In the Shenandoah Valley, a group of Shenandoah Valley lawyers who defend the accused are responding to a man’s death at the hands of law enforcement.

They want police to implement the Marcus Alert System sooner rather than later.

On Friday, May 14, in Grottoes, a deputy with the Augusta County Sheriff’s Office fatally shot 48-year old Jeffery Bruce, who was allegedly coming toward the deputy with a knife.

“This was not just a, you know someone with a criminal background who was running loose with a knife,” said Public Defender Peter Boatner. “This was also somebody with a family and that family was actively involved in trying to get him the help he needed right now. And there were delays in getting that help.”

The Staunton Public Defender’s Office had been working with Bruce and his family to find help for his mental health and substance abuse struggles.

“In the weeks before this, he had been in touch with his doctor. Our office had been working with the family to try to get him in to see a psychiatrist,” said Boatner. “They’re going through all that right now. What more could we have done? But on top of that, they’re also arranging for a funeral.”

Boatner says Bruce’s death is a tragedy for everybody involved.

“I don’t know who that police officer was. I know for sure they’re going through anxiety right now. They’re going through anguish,” stated Boatner. “They’re asking themselves ‘what could I have done differently?’”

Boatner says the Crisis Intervention Training that’s already in place in the Shenandoah Valley is great training, but the Marcus Alert System can do more. The statewide system aims to ensure the right people respond to a crisis, such as counselors or other mental health professionals.

“All we can do is gather as much information as possible and in a digital age that shouldn’t be hard,” said Boatner. “We don’t want this to happen. I know the Sheriff’s Department doesn’t want this to happen. And I’m not sure it needed to happen on Friday. We don’t want it to happen next week.”

Virginia State Police are investigating the shooting.

Staunton Public Defender’s Office

PRESS RELEASE

Date: May 15, 2021

BRUCE’S DEATH HIGHLIGHTS NEED FOR GREATER MENTAL HEALTH EXPERTISE IN LOCAL LAW ENFORCEMENT AGENCIES

The Staunton Public Defender’s Office mourns the death of Jeffrey Bruce on Friday afternoon. Assistant Public Defender Meredyth Eckel and Priscilla Piñeiro Jenkins, the Public Defender’s Mitigation Specialist, had both been working with Mr. Bruce and his family to find help for his struggles with mental health and addiction, stemming in part from the trauma he experienced during almost two decades in state prison. According to his mother, Barbara Bruce, her son was seeing a doctor and had recently started taking medication to help him manage his illness. He was suffering from a mental health crisis at the time he was shot by the sheriff’s deputy.

While all of our local law enforcement departments train their officers in crisis intervention and de-escalation techniques, it is our hope that our local agencies, including the Augusta County Sheriff’s Office, will quickly implement the Marcus Alert systems that are being rolled out across Virginia as a result of legislation passed in 2020 (Virginia Code § 37.2-311.1). These systems are designed to provide law enforcement personnel with the expertise and assistance of trained mental health providers so as to reduce the occurrence of tragic officer-involved shootings. We can’t know if it would have prevented Mr. Bruce’s death, but under a Marcus Alert system, law enforcement would have had access to a database identifying individuals with mental or behavioral health illness, developmental or intellectual disability or brain injury, better informing police response to individuals in crisis.

Along with Mr. Bruce’s family, we expect the State Police to conduct a thorough and unbiased investigation into this killing

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