Monday, September 18, 2006

The sad case of Joe Martens

Police have been called to Joe Martens’ house 88 times in the past 5 years. Eight times he was actually arrested. The last time officers came to his home, it took three officers and a stun gun to subdue him.

Joe has been diagnosed with bipolar disorder and regularly goes off his medications, though family members say he is fine when he is on his medications. A loud public debate is raging in the community – neighbors want him arrested, but he has done nothing wrong. He isn’t dangerous, so he cannot be committed.

"When Joe (stops taking his medicine), I can't get him to go to Broadlawns," says [Joe’s father] Gary Martens, referring to Polk County's hospital. "So, I just sit and wait until he looks at someone cross-eyed. Then the West Des Moines Police Department comes and takes him away."Martens says he can't force his son to get help. The law says that Joe Martens is an adult, capable of making his own decisions.

Nobody can win this terrible standoff.

  • Joe, as he describes it, is a prisoner in his own home. If he feels like the neighbors are watching him, it is because they are.
  • The neighbors are afraid and feel unsafe in their own homes.
  • Joe’s family can’t help their son stay on medication and are forced to watch him regularly deteriorate, worrying that the next encounter with police or neighbors might end Joe’s life.
  • Police are expending inordinate resources in responding to incidents caused by the symptoms of this one man’s untreated mental illness.
  • And likely, people with mental illnesses in the area, probably others in that very neighborhood, are feeling stigmatized by the public reaction to Joe.

Stories like this are infuriating precisely because this scenario is what many in the mental health community support. Their advocacy against tools like assisted outpatient treatment mean standoffs like these will continue. One wonders how they will react if Joe’s outbursts actually end up hurting a neighbor, or if police end up hurting Joe.