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Texas deputy pins teen to ground while she cries, “I can’t breathe”

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There are new questions about how police handle mental health calls following the release of disturbing video of a Texas sheriff’s deputy restraining an 18-year-old. 

The body camera footage begins with a Kaufman County sheriff’s deputy only identified as Martin following a barefoot 18-year-old Nekia Trigg as she walked home last Tuesday. Martin’s office had received calls about a young woman in the neighborhood threatening to kill herself by jumping into oncoming traffic.

“There’s a young lady, an African American lady that is walking in the middle of the street,” a 911 caller says. “I’m keeping an eye on her because I don’t want anything to happen to her. Three people have already had to swerve out of the way, including me.”

The situation escalated when Martin tried to stop a visibly upset Trigg from walking away.

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“We got a call that you were jumping out in front of cars,” Martin says in the video. “I can’t let you go walking off on me.”

“No I wasn’t,” Trigg replies. “Can I go home?”

“Where do you live?” Martin asks.

“I don’t want to tell you,” Trigg says. 

“Ok, so you can’t go anywhere,” Martin says, “You’ve got to talk to me.”

“Let me call my sister,” Trigg says, “I don’t want you to hurt me.”

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“[If] you keep pulling away, I’m going to have to put you in handcuffs though,” Martin warns.

Martin’s body camera then falls to the ground, but the officer was on top of Trigg for more than two minutes.

“I can’t breathe,” Trigg says. “Get off me. Get off me.”

Lisa Dailey is with the Treatment Advocacy Center, a national nonprofit aimed at broadening access to mental health care.

“She was probably afraid that she was about to be arrested or worse,” Dailey told CBS News correspondent Jericka Duncan. “He is expecting a person who is in a crisis to be able to be able to calm down and follow commands and I don’t know how realistic that is.”

Dailey said people with mental health concerns are at higher risk of dying when interacting with police.

“What do you think could have been done differently?” Duncan asked.

“You can have first responders that are not police or that the police are available, but they aren’t the primary response so you might have somebody who’s really trained in de-escalating,” Dailey said.

The Kaufman County Sheriff’s Department is conducting an internal investigation. Martin is currently on administrative leave, but Trigg’s family says he deserves to be fired after what they say was an assault on Nekia, and they’re questioning why he responded in the first place.

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The sheriff’s office said Martin was following protocol.

“In an effort to prevent the female from running into traffic or sustaining an injury, deputy Martin executed a control technique taught by the Kaufman County Sheriff’s Office. A Top Mount is commonly used in Ju Jit Su [sic] and allows the deputy to control the lower body without impeding breathing,” the office said in a statement.

“If that is their statement,” Nicky Ray, Trigg’s mother, said, “that would have been a move that he would have needed to do when she was still on the main road attempting to run in front of cars. When he got out of his vehicle and approached my daughter, she was on the sidewalk across the street, headed home.”

When Ray arrived on scene, she heard her daughter saying she couldn’t breathe.

“Do you wonder what would have happened had you not gotten there sooner?” Duncan asked her.

“That is one thing that I don’t even want to think about,” Ray said.

Trigg was taken to the hospital for a mental health evaluation and released 15 minutes later, according to her mother.  

Kim T. Cole, the family’s attorney, echoes Dailey’s concerns about law enforcement and situations involving mental health.

“If someone is in mental distress, law enforcement, people who are trained to respond to criminal activity, should not be those who respond to someone who is in mental distress,” Cole said. “They do not have the training for it. They’re called out when someone has broken the law. This is not the same as a teenage girl who is having an emotional moment.”

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When Trigg complained the handcuffs were too tight, Ray said she could not understand why the deputy handcuffed her daughter in the first place. Ray said she reached to rub her daughter’s wrist to calm her down, but police said Ray struck the deputy. The video is not clear in that regard. Ray has been charged with assault on a public servant and interference with public duties.

Another concern for Ray – she says she got a call from the sheriff’s office that Deputy Martin tested positive for COVID-19.

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