Counselor; tough call for cops to detect mental illness

Counselor: Tough call for cops to detect mental illness

CHARLESTON, SC (WCSC) - A Charleston mental health counselor says it's a tough call for cops to decide if someone is mentally ill and a threat to themselves or others.

Police in Daytona Beach, Florida allowed Ebony Wilkerson of Cross in Berkeley County to leave a traffic stop just a few hours before Wilkerson drove her minivan into the ocean Tuesday night.

Officers say Wilkerson's sister had called them and said she was acting odd and talking about demons in her house.

In their report the cops stated it was clear Wilkerson was suffering from some form of mental illness but didn't seem to be a threat to herself or anyone else.

Under Florida law, they had to let her go.

"It can be a tough call, yes it can," said Tamara Starnes, a mental health counsel at the Charleston Mental Health Center West of the Ashley.

Starnes says in South Carolina, police can take someone suspected of mental illness into custody if they show signs of being homicidal, suicidal or cannot care for their own safety.

"Basically you're taking away their rights and saying that they need to be detained and held for a psychiatric evaluation," she explained. "Cops aren't counselors so they don't always know."

Starnes says in Charleston County, police can call a crisis counselor to the scene if necessary.

The counselor can determine if the person needs to be taken in for an evaluation.

"I like that we have that option here and get a little more clarification from trained folks if it's asked of us, that hopefully it has the potential to help prevent some of those situations."

She says the cops in Florida who initially stopped Wilkerson cannot be blamed for following the law.

"You're very time limited. I'm sure that they met with her. It's a hard call to make. you can't read minds unfortunately."

The Volusia County Sheriff's Office and state attorney in Florida will decide if charges will be filed against Wilkerson.

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