/Meet Gunner and BJ Why mental health pros, courts must weigh who’s violent and who’s sick

Meet Gunner and BJ Why mental health pros, courts must weigh who’s violent and who’s sick

Gunner Pettit (25), her fiancé, was holding the door shut with one hand. Pettit began pounding on the door, screaming for Gunner to open it. Pettit, a man with an impulsive aggressive disorder, pushed his fist through her door when she refused. Warren stated, “He’s panicking because he thinks, ‘Oh, my God, my lady’s about to commit suicide herself.'” They had just returned from a two-week methamphetamine binge, which intensified their respective mental illnesses. Pettit punched Warren in the face and put her in a chokehold. Then, Pettit grabbed the knife from Warren and threw the blade across the room. Warren ran away with the knife in her hand, but Pettit followed her and carried her back to the studio. Pettit had smashed Warren’s eye and bruised her face. Pettit is currently in prison awaiting his September trial. Pettit could spend up to 27 years behind bars. Pettit rejected a plea agreement for eight years for aggravated domestic violence and a previous burglary charge. Pettit’s aggressive tendencies and his poor Itawamba County environment, which is plagued by drug abuse and offers little mental health services, have resulted in at least nine stints in jail since 2015. Itawamba County Sheriff Chris Dickinson stated that Gunner is one such person. “If he would take his medication properly, he can function in the real world.” “Gunner makes these decisions on his own. This puts us in a difficult spot. He’s a revolving doors and at some point you have to do something.” Pettit often has difficulty making decisions because he doesn’t have the financial means to pay for his medication. Pettit also has bipolar disorder. This mental illness causes unusual mood swings and can lead to aggression. According to a 2017 Bureau of Justice Statistics Report, nearly half of Americans in U.S. prisons reported having had past experiences with mental illness between 2011-2012. They see people with mental problems as a threat to society. Warren said that instead of looking at the root cause of the problem, they want to just throw them away like trash. Gunner will not benefit from that. He doesn’t deserve to be there. He doesn’t have the right to be there.” This issue is being highlighted in the U.S. Department of Justice lawsuit against Mississippi regarding its mental health system. Last week, Diana Mikula, Executive Director of Mississippi Department of Mental Health, told federal prosecutors that even civilly committed people are often forced to wait in jail for a hospital bed. She said, “I would like to see this process stopped.” Pettit’s situation presents a complex conundrum. He is not being held for a minor offense, for which most people with mental illnesses are arrested. A court might not consider the impact of his mental illness on his case. He is being accused of a violent crime. “There is no simple solution for every case,” Dr. Tom Insel, a psychiatrist and former director of the National Institute of Mental Health and California’s mental-health czar said. “You have cases where it’s not clear whether the behavior is related with the illness or something else,” Insel stated. This risks further stigmatizing those with mental illness, who are less likely to continue violence when they are treated. However, brain disorders can be diagnosed by looking at a person’s behavior. Pettit stated that if someone did something wrong, they should be held accountable. This was in a phone conversation with Mississippi Today on June 14, from Tishomingo County Jail. Itawamba also sends overflow prisoners to Tishomingo. There are many factors people need to take into consideration when it comes to mental health. “I don’t believe mental health is a way to get out of jail, but they must also consider the fact that it can be a problem. *** Pettit has been held in county jails since October. He has not seen a therapist and has not received any medication. A judge removed Pettit’s bond because he was already on bail for burglary at the time he was charged with assault. Pettit is known for his propensity to fight and his records show a pattern in disobeying guard orders. Pettit stated from jail that he had made numerous requests to speak to someone. “They haven’t sent anyone this whole time… I’m in dire need of my medication, but at the same moment there’s a relative stress with all this because of me.” According to Itawamba jail records, officers responded to Petitt’s behavior by strapping Petitt into a chair for several days and pepper spraying his face as punishment for cursing. “Every time Gunner’s name appears on my phone, it makes me wonder if this is the right day. Is this the phone conversation where he commits suicide? Is this the day he acts out and hurts or kills someone else? Marty Jean Pettit is his mother. Marty Jean also has a mood disorder that she believes is exacerbated because of her son’s predicament. “The rage that he’s feeling is uncontrollable aggression.” Pettit has an intermittent explosive disorder, which was previously diagnosed. It is a mental disorder that manifests as episodes of impulsive, uncontrolled aggression. According to Dr. Emil Coccaro at the University of Chicago, psychiatry, and behavioral neuroscience professor, there is no “poster child” for this disorder among mental health advocates. According to Coccaro’s research which received very little funding priority from the national mental health agencies, this type of “recurrently problematic, impulsive aggressive behaviour” is found in between 3 and 4 percent of the population. It is twice as common in children. Coccaro described aggression as a “stepchild in the field” of psychiatry. People tend to see it as bad behavior. They need attitude adjustment. It is a serious, physical, and medical condition of the brain. It’s a brain-based disorder,” Coccaro said. His research on intermittent explosive disorder influenced revisions to Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders 5. Warren stated that Pettit had hit her once in the past when they were both using drugs. Warren describes Pettit’s personality as sweet, loving, and caring when he is sober. Unlike other illnesses that can cause delusions, an individual with an aggressive disorder usually knows the difference between right and wrong. They often express regret after having episodes. Coccaro stated that the diagnosis will not justify an insanity defense at a criminal trial. Coccaro stated, “It explains, but it doesn’t pardon.” According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, Pettit will face the consequences for his actions, as any other person would. Marty is concerned that her son might be killed in Mississippi prisons because Mississippi has very little mental health care. Jeffrey Waldo, Pettit’s lawyer, stated that the only solution for him now is to send him to prison. This doesn’t address the root issue. “Our system is more focused on the punitive and less on the rehabilitation, so we need to focus more on the rehabilitative.” Waldo stated that he does not have the legal right to use Pettit’s mental illness as a defense. People with aggression disorders can learn how to recognize signs and manage their tempers through medication and therapy. Although Pettit has been successful with therapy, he is still struggling due to his poor care, his unstable surroundings, and his own destructive behavior. Marty stated that Pettit was diagnosed with depression and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder by doctors when he turned eight years old. Marty recalls receiving a call from Houston Elementary School regarding Pettit’s repeated banging of his head against the wall and threats to commit suicide. Marty was asked by the department of human service to refer Pettit to Parkwood Behavioral Health Systems for two weeks. This private mental health facility treats children as young as five years old in Olive Branch. Marty partially blames her abusive father and her parenting for the genetic component of the disorder. I knew the terror he (Pettit), felt when he heard me screaming or the fighting we did in front of him. Marty spoke out about all the horrible things he saw that no child should see. Marty stated that he would later be diagnosed with bipolar disorder (post-traumatic stress disorder), intermittent explosive disorder and other disorders at various times. Pettit started using spice in high school. This was a form of synthetic marijuana, which is now linked to psychosis, seizures and death. It was sold at gas stations throughout the state. Marty says it tastes like “light marijuana,” but Marty says it smells more like “rat poison.” Marty witnessed EMTs revive a 16-year old Pettit in the carport of her mother’s home after she believed that the child had suffered a spice-induced seizure. Marty stated that Pettit had “flipped to another place” by the age of 17. Marty sent Pettit back to the hospital after his violent behavior. This time, Marty took him to Lakeside Behavioral Health Systems, Memphis. Pettit was receiving federally funded health insurance under the Children’s Health Insurance Program (Medicaid), but he became ineligible when he turned 18. He moved to Lakeside on his birthday. He has not received any inpatient mental health treatment since, despite numerous outbursts or arrests. “Here’s a mentally ill person who has been this way since age 8 and had tried many different treatments, and then suddenly it was gone. Marty stated in 2018 to Clarion Ledger that the medicine has gone and everything’s gone. Pettit, his mother and father, have had difficulties maintaining a job, and were both made homeless in 2018. Warren stated that Pettit was covered from head to foot in self-harm cuts when he met him in 2017. Although she has schizophrenia and bipolar disorder, the mother of five does not use any prescribed medications. They became close friends over shared childhood traumas. Warren stated, “He was my light when I was in darkness.” “I believe that’s why he is so difficult to understand, because I can see myself in him when I look at it. “I have that empathy, that sympathies, that knowing that that is not the way he wants it to be,” Warren fled the house of a family friend. Warren claimed she was suffering from drug-induced psychosis and spent several months at the Friend of God Recovery Center, Amory. She called her mother and she signed affidavits detailing the incident. Pettit was charged with aggravated domestic violence and kidnapping. The latter was later dropped. Based on Warren’s statement, the charges could have resulted in a life sentence. He doesn’t need human contact. Warren’s mother, who prefers to be identified as S.H., said that Warren doesn’t know how he can be a human being because he doesn’t want to. They put all these labels on these people: Bipolar and Schizophrenic. I believe in Schizophrenic, but not in this bipolar junk. Anyone can control their actions. Period. “S.H. This attitude is maintained despite her own mental health experience, which she describes as a nervous breakdown after the 1993 death of her infant son to pneumonia. After being hospitalized, S.H. S.H. used alcohol and methamphetamines to cope over the years and admitted to hitting Warren once during withdrawal. S.H. While S.H. Insel stated that Pettit’s illness is part of her illness. She should be given compassionate treatment. Pettit had been receiving therapy and medication at the Region 3 Community Mental Health Center (called LIFECORE), which covers a seven-county region in northeast Mississippi. He saved $25 each month by mowing the lawns and doing other odd jobs in order to pay the clinic’s sliding fee scale. Then he rode the 20-minute ride to Tupelo, where he used a coupon to purchase medication. He was not allowed to receive any care if any of these failed. Pettit has been on a variety of medications since his arrival in jail, including Lithium. However, he has not received any treatment or medication from psychiatrists. LIFECORE established a crisis stabilization unit last year for short-term inpatient care. However, with only four beds, Dickinson, the county Sheriff, stated that he has never been able “to get anyone in there because they are full.” LIFECORE plans to expand the unit this summer to eight beds. “The problem is that they stabilize them with medication, but they don’t have the money to pay for it when they leave. They end up back at the beginning,” Tina Hooker, Tupelo Crisis Sabilization Unit director, told the Northeast Mississippi Daily Journal when the facility opened in 2018. Itawamba County is currently building its new 100-bed jail. This will be an increase of 64 slots and will open next year. Dickinson stated, “I’ll just about complete it the first day.” The Itawamba County Sheriff’s Office has certified crisis intervention officers to properly assess situations involving mental illness as part of a statewide effort to coordinate community mental healthcare services. Pettit stated that his mother was the first person to call the crisis team upon its creation. “There should be more hands. “There needs to be more qualified people than just the officers who were deputized and given a task to do,” Pettit stated. “I would not say it’s a broken system but I will say it isn’t used to the degree or measure it was intended to.”