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Days before police shooting, Springfield man's family says they asked for mental health crisis care

The family of Orlando Taylor has criticized the mental health system for failing to help before the Springfield man was fatally shot by police Sunday.

Earlene Victoria Taylor, Orlando’s grandmother, said the family had been worried about the 23-year-old’s mental health since high school.

"Orlando would act out,” she said. “We knew that something wasn't right, and it's been going on for a very, very, very long time.”

On Sunday, she said, his issues got out of control.

Police said Orlando Taylor stabbed a police officer on the street shortly before the officer shot him.

But a week earlier, according to family members, Taylor's mother made a crisis call to Behavioral Health Network (BHN), a Springfield mental health organization.

"They came with the police and they basically told [his mother] that they couldn't do anything because he wasn't doing anything," Earlene Victoria Taylor said.

BHN's director, Steve Winn, said he can't confirm the agency had any contact with the Taylors because of privacy laws, but he said clinicians can only compel treatment if they believe there's an immediate risk of violence.

“A family may come away with the experience that we couldn't help them because the person hadn't done anything or wasn't threatening to do anything,” Winn said. “But that's not because we didn't want to help. That's because that individual has rights.”

Winn said the state of Massachusetts is considering a new policy that would allow clinicians to be more assertive with offering treatment, even when there's no immediate threat.

"Would that help in situations like the one in Springfield?” he said. “Maybe it would. We hope that it would. But at this point we don't have those kinds of tools in our toolbox.”

Taylor's family criticized the police for not calling a mental health professional during the altercation Sunday with Orlando. Winn said BHN relies on police to assess each situation and the organization’s policy is not to send a clinician to a scene where a weapon is present.

A police spokesperson did not respond to a request for comment.

Earlene Victoria Taylor said her grandson had agreed to get mental health treatment at another organization in Springfield, the African Diaspora Mental Health Association, but the shooting occurred before that could happen.

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Karen Brown is a radio and print journalist who focuses on health care, mental health, children’s issues, and other topics about the human condition. She has been a full-time radio reporter for NEPM since 1998.