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Justice Department to investigate treatment of mentally ill adults in Oklahoma

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) — A civil rights investigation into the treatment of people with mental illnesses by police in Oklahoma, Oklahoma City and Oklahoma City State was announced Thursday by the U.S. Department of Justice.

“We will determine whether the state discriminates against adults with mental illness in Oklahoma County,” where Oklahoma City is located, in violation of federal law “by relying on institutional frameworks to serve adults when they could be in the community,” the deputy attorney general said. said Kristen Clarke.

Clarke of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division said the investigation in Oklahoma is part of similar investigations that include Minneapolis; Phoenix; Louisville, Kentucky; and the states of Kentucky, Missouri and South Carolina.

The investigations are part of efforts by the Civil Rights Division to more aggressively enforce a 1999 U.S. Supreme Court ruling aimed at ensuring that people with disabilities are not unnecessarily isolated while receiving assistance from the government.

The agency launched the initiative under the Obama administration and the Justice Department, under Attorney General Merrick Garland, pledged to prioritize civil rights cases to ensure equal access and justice under the law.

In addition to in-depth investigations of police practices in several major cities, the department examines prison conditions in several states and examines conditions in mental health facilities.

LOOK: Why kids with mental health issues say stigma can be deadly

Oklahoma “will fully cooperate with the Justice Department’s investigation,” according to a statement from Kate Vesper, spokeswoman for Governor Kevin Stitt.

Oklahoma City Police Chief Wade Gourley said in a statement that the department learned Thursday morning of the investigation into the department’s response to calls involving people with mental illness or behavioral issues.

“We intend to cooperate with the USDOJ and look forward to working with them to provide the most secure and efficient means of responding to these types of calls,” Gourley said.

An Oklahoma City spokesperson said a statement would be released later Thursday.

A senior Justice Department official, who is not authorized to comment publicly, said the investigation was prompted by complaints from a mental health advocacy organization, but did not identify the organization.

Two of the state’s largest mental health advocacy organizations, the National Alliance on Mental Illness-Oklahoma and the Alliance of Mental Health Providers of Oklahoma, did not immediately return phone calls for comment.

The official said the investigation did not target the troubled Oklahoma County Jail or the city’s fatal police shootings, but both could be implicated if violations of the rights of people with mental illnesses are uncovered.

“We will look at police encounters with people with mental health issues, if fatal shootings by police are part of these encounters they will be investigated,” as will the treatment of detainees with mental health issues. mental illnesses, the official said.

“The investigation will examine whether Oklahoma is not providing community mental health services” that include treatment, housing and employment, Clarke said.

Investigators will also look at the city’s response to 911 calls about mentally disabled adults and whether police are complying with the Americans with Disabilities Act, Clarke said.

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