Huntsville billboard calls for mental health awareness after deadly police standoff

Several billboards across North Alabama are being set up calling for mental health awareness.

Posted: Apr 5, 2021 4:46 PM
Updated: Apr 5, 2021 5:47 PM

A new billboard calling for mental health awareness was unveiled Monday morning off Bob Wallace Avenue. It is the first of four billboards that will be located across Huntsville.

The billboards also call for justice for Bradley Pugh, who was shot and killed during a standoff with Huntsville police last year. His family is looking to get the complete story of what happened during that standoff.

Pugh's family is calling to see the complete body camera footage to get those answers. However, the city says it will not release the full body camera footage. 

“Losing a loved one is tragic under any circumstance, and the City extends its deepest sympathies to Ms. Peyton and her family," city spokeswoman Kelly Schrimsher says. "The City has provided sufficient access to relevant information to allow Ms. Peyton to learn what led to her son’s tragic death. For a number of reasons, including the privacy interests of Mr. Pugh’s entire family, the City respectfully declines to make the video available to the general public.“

However, the family says there's also a bigger issue that needs to be fixed. 

"We can put a man on the Moon in Huntsville, Alabama, but we can't resolve an issue like this," Adina Peyton said.

She is still mourning the loss of her son, Bradley Pugh. He was shot and killed last November after an hourslong standoff with Huntsville police.

"I miss him," Pugh's son said.

Huntsville police and the Madison County District Attorney's Office justified the shooting saying Pugh pointed a gun at officers. However, Peyton says her son was suicidal and had a history of mental illness.

"Mental illness is not a crime," Peyton said.

She's hoping Pugh's death could lead to a bigger change.

"Justice for Brad is finding out the truth of what happened that night and using it to make a change, so that every mentally ill person in this town gets treatment or help, not instant tragedy," Peyton said.

The City of Huntsville is currently working on a 911 Co-Response program. There are three levels in that program.

Right now, we are operating at Level 1, where officers receive training and certification to respond to mental health crises. Huntsville Police say they're working to increase Crisis Intervention Training (CIT) throughout our department. 

"Our certified Crisis Intervention Team officers go through a 40-hour CIT International certification class. Throughout the year our certified officers participate in continuing education and are constantly receiving new training material as CIT evolves," Lt. Jesse Sumlin with Huntsville Police said. "We strive to be on the leading-edge to respond to these situations."

All other officers also receive 16 hours of CIT training to get basic knowlege on how to de-escalate a mental health crisis. 

Huntsville police and the city are working to get to Level 2, which will bring mental health providers to the scene to help.

Melissa Knight was at the billboard unveiling Monday morning. She used to work for a suicide prevention center and says bringing those mental health providers to the scene would help officers identify whether or not they're dealing with a mental health crisis.

"They understand and have expertise on how to bring this person back down to a mental level where they can be dealt with," Knight said.

Level 3 would add resources and crisis call centers to the area.

Wellstone Mental Health is already in the process of building a $2.1 million mental health crisis center in Huntsville. It would add 39 beds for mental health patients in Madison County. However, it's still unclear when it will open.

Peyton says she's hopeful this plan could help create the change that's needed.

"You can't have this happen soon enough, because somebody else is going to have a psychotic break. There are going to be a lot of suicidal people," Peyton said.

Lt. Sumlin says the proposal will help lessen law enforcement in these type of situations. 

"The co-response program’s goal is to bring mental health professional to a scene where there is a mental health crisis. In some cases, this will reduce law enforcement transports because the clinician was able to resolve immediate situation," Lt. Sumlin said. 

More details on that 911 Co-Response program will be revealed during the city council meeting May 13. The city administrator says he hopes to be in Level 2 by the end of the year and Level 3 by next year. However, that timeline may shift depending on other governing agencies. You can watch the city administrators presentation regarding the program here. That presentation starts around the 4-minute mark. 

A vigil for Bradley Pugh will be held this Sunday at 5:30 p.m. at Big Spring Park.

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