This Is Crazy

Stan Israel spent two days in a psych ward. There was just one little problem.

Usually paramedics wheel patients out on a gurney, but these paramedics allow Israel to put his clothes on for the walk to the ambulance that will transport him to the VA. On the way, rain begins to fall. Israel tells the paramedics what's happened to him, and one of them shows him his emergency mental-illness report, the form that is filled out when a person is placed on a mental health hold. Here, his appearance is "neat," his facial expression merely "perplexed," his physical activity "normal," his attitude is "composed," "polite" and "cooperative," and his speech is considered both logical and normal.

That form was signed at 6:20, so it appears the decision to hold Israel was made shortly after he arrived. Israel wonders why he wasn't moved out of Lutheran before 10:30, if the staff had concluded hours earlier that he needed to be held. He also can't figure out why he's being held if the initial report indicates that he is polite and cooperative and sober. Israel has not been able to get to a phone to call anyone.

11 p.m.
Israel is driven across town and checked into the VA. His vital signs are taken again, and he's led up to the seventh floor. There is admission paperwork to sign, and he's given a brief orientation. Dr. Rachel Norwood, a psychiatrist, arrives, and Israel again begins asking: How can he be held on the word of his ex-wife and his sister?

Familiar questions follow: What day is it? Where is he? Who is the president? Israel changes his mind about wanting some character witnesses, so Norwood takes down the numbers of his girlfriend, Patricia, and Gene Essman Jr., a friend of Israel's for twenty years. Israel signs a release granting Dr. Norwood permission to speak with them and with his sister. Soon afterward, he will call Patricia to tell her what's going on.

"Either you're a hell of an actor, or your sister's got some problems," Norwood tells him.

More than a year later, Israel's sister, J.J. Beumer, doesn't recall that he was over at her house two days before the police took him to Lutheran. She says she hadn't heard from him in days--no one had--and she took that as a sign that he was growing withdrawn and depressed. She didn't want to have to endure another depression like the one she had seen over the holidays. Beumer also says he had quit his job right before he was committed.

Israel's ex-wife, Karen Barrett, says much the same. "Around May, he was withdrawing, quit a job--we thought we couldn't go through this again," she says. Barrett says both she and Beumer talked with a therapist who had conducted a "relationship" class Barrett had taken. The therapist recommended they call the police. The call to police had nothing to do with Israel's behavior on Wednesday, May 16, but rather with possibly erratic behavior months earlier.

"In all truth, if we were going to make this call, it could have happened at a better time. It should have happened at Christmas," Barrett says now. "But we were so concerned that it was going to happen again."

Israel's friend Essman disputes their account. "He's had a couple bouts of depression at Christmas time the last couple of years," Essman allows. "He couldn't get to see his daughter. But he never lashed out. He would drink a little bit, but during those bouts of depression, he would pretty much stick by himself." Essman says Israel did take out his gun once: After he and Israel had been drinking during a Super Bowl party a few years back, Israel pulled his gun from underneath the couch and fired a round into one of the concrete walls.

Beumer and Barrett, on the other hand, paint a picture of a man who is frequently depressed and was so downtrodden around Christmas 1997 that he remained immobile on his couch for weeks. They both say he tried to kill himself once (by overdosing on Tylenol) ten years earlier, when he and Barrett divorced. Beumer says her brother once fashioned a noose and describes him as a man who drinks excessively and is a pathological liar.

Beumer says that when she called Lutheran and then called the police, she merely wanted to make sure Israel hadn't killed himself. After all, she says, he had talked about killing himself during his Christmas-time depression. To her, it looked like he was going down the same path, so she called the police and told them her brother was depressed and didn't want to live. One brother in the family had killed himself years before, and she knew Israel had a gun in the house. She says she doesn't know where the part about not taking his medication came from, since he wasn't on any--though Lewis's medical report indicates that it was Beumer who had told police Israel wasn't taking his medication.

"If you think he was a threat to himself, it would be foolish not to call," Beumer says. "I really thought he'd be dead."

May 7, 1998, 1 a.m.
Israel is shown to his room on the seventh floor. A nurse can tell he's nervous and hands him half a pack of smokes. He spends the next hour in the smoking area, an outdoor patio sealed off with a metal fence. The rain is coming down hard now, it's windy and cold, and Israel is wearing only the clothes he had on when he left his apartment: black jeans and a red polo shirt.

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