Augusta, Georgia (WRDW/WAGT) — The I-TEAM reveals new information about the death of an Augusta man at the hands of the Richmond County Sheriff’s office.
Nelson Graham’s family says he was suffering from a mental health crisis which is why they reached out to MPs for help.
They now regret that call for help after deputies ultimately used a taser on Graham.
The second in command in the Mayor’s office sits down with the I-TEAM and accepts the deputies Need more training and resources When dealing with mental health patients.
The I-TEAM also revealed a spike in mental health calls in Augusta-Richmond County. We got the data that found a 66 percent increase in mental health calls to the RSCO in five years.
The sheriff’s office tells us Will Rio I asked the commissioners for more money for this important training but it was refused.
This request was prior to the 911 call to Nelson Graham’s home in December. His family is so broken that more could have been done.
So the I-TEAM pressed Augusta’s new mayor for answers. A report of the incident sheds light on the night MPs visited Nelson Graham at his home on George Road.
We also obtained recordings of 911 calls.
“We were called in for a mental health assessment of a 33-year-old man.”
The family says he was threatening to harm the children at home, and was aggressive.
“The officers have already been dispatched.”
On December 16, 2022, at 10:15 p.m., Richmond County Deputies Kevin Clark and Madison Emerson were the two officers sent to Graham’s home for a court-ordered mental evaluation.
The report reads, his wife, Christina Graham, called a mobile crisis hotline because no one was responding to the court-ordered mental evaluation she gave about her husband and Nelson was “behaving erratically.”
Both deputies reported finding Nelson sitting in his bedroom with his arms folded across his chest.
While trying to get him to the hospital, “Deputies grabbed Nelson Graham’s arms in an attempt to rip him off his chest. Graham was passively resisting by refusing to give the deputies his arms.” In the end, all three ended up on the floor “where the deputies attempted to take him physically”.
Emerson’s deputy gave verbal orders to Graham which were ignored before the TASER was used.
And he remained “a heavy weight covering his arms.” The deputies again used the TASER and noted that it “still shows little or no effect” so Emerson’s deputy surprised him “several times”.
As he was handcuffed and taken to the living room, the deputies noted Graham was still “heavy and hadn’t spoken a word”.
They started CPR and even used Narcan. Graham was taken to hospital, where he died.
“Nowadays, laptops come with a high-end graphics card. I couldn’t believe it. You know, I’m still trying to process it now,” Denzel Graham is Nelson’s little brother. He was a father of eight, but Denzel says his brother always struggled with mental health challenges.
“Situations like this should never happen in life where someone’s life is taken away because of their mental health.”
The incident report tells us that body cams were rolling. I-TEAM has requested a copy but it has not yet been submitted. So, we don’t know what it shows, and we don’t know why Nelson Graham died. The sheriff’s office tells us toxicology results are pending.
During this investigation, the sheriff’s office told me that mental health calls like this are skyrocketing and that they need more help.
Chief Patrick Clayton is second in command to Sheriff Richard Roundtree in the Richmond County Sheriff’s Office, “In law enforcement, there are three issues we’re asked to do. And asked to be dealt with by citizens. They’ll be homelessness, drug addiction, and mental health issues. But we haven’t. We are given the resources to deal with it effectively.”
Tell the I-TEAM that the men and women of the mayor’s office need the resources they have had recently.
It was only in 2020 that the Crisis Intervention Team or CIT program was announced with great fanfare even in our newsletter that year.
As part of the program, the Richmond County Sheriff’s Office has partnered with the State of Georgia through Serenity Behavioral Health to pair deputies with social workers trained to handle mental health calls.
“We saw that was valuable,” explains Chief Clayton. “We’ve seen we’ve started to reduce calls.”
The problem was shortly after the CIT program started, the COVID pandemic began.
The mayor’s office says state resources and the workforce are limited, and in the end, funds for the CIT program have been cut.
Meanwhile, as I-TEAM has shown you in a year-long series The “Faces of Homelessness” Our homeless population jumped nearly 150% post-pandemic and our mental health systems are still in crisis.
Will Rioux: “Do you feel the CIT program could have helped with that incident?”
PRESIDENT CLAYTON: “Yeah, and I hate to speculate on that, but I always think if you have somebody as a professional trained in dealing with mental health topics, you know, that could definitely be helpful. And that’s something that I think we have to prioritize going forward.”
We analyzed five years of data from 2017 to 2022 and found that mental health calls increased by 66 percent in Augusta, peaking at more than 2,800 calls for MPs in 2022 alone.
“It’s not one-minute calls or five minutes,” Chief Clayton explains. “These are calls that are going to take 30 minutes and an hour to hours sometimes because we’re dealing with mentally ill people.”
Critical time prevents deputies from returning to the road to patrol for calls that they are not adequately trained to handle at the end of the day.
“We had a lot of support initially from the mayor and the commissioners saying they wanted to have this program and then we proposed it last year…and the cockroaches,” says President Clayton.
Last November, the mayor’s office asked the commissioners to create two behavioral health professionals under the mayor’s office because Serenity was understaffed.
The cost is $150,000 including salary, benefits and equipment.
According to the Sheriff’s Office’s budget request, he requested 15 items but only three were approved. Behavioral health professionals were not one of them.
Specialists will also provide comprehensive services to conduct follow-ups, ensure mental health issues are linked to resources, and initiate a case file.
I-TEAM lobbied new Augusta Mayor Garnett Johnson on local dollars to deal with a local crisis.
Mayor Garnett Johnson “The City of Augusta certainly has some budgetary challenges and certainly isn’t going to want to commit to that at this point.”
Will Rio: “But is that something you could possibly pay for or would you pay for in the future?”
Mayor Garnett Johnson: “I’m not sure as you mentioned, our budget is really stretched out of control right now, and we’re doing some of the simplest things for our taxpayers, making sure we maintain our infrastructure, making sure we have proper lighting in areas now that wasn’t. So, I’ll be Supporting those dollars as they flow through the state and federal levels.”
A clear problem with no clear solution.
I-TEAM asked Nelson Graham’s brother Denzel if he thought his brother would still be alive today if mental health professionals were in their place.
“Not at all. 100 percent…to see the turnaround in his life and to see that he was crying out to us for help and we tried to help him and it cost him his life, he will be with me forever and he will be with me.”
A brother, father and husband screaming for help and no one trained to help him is there to answer the call.
In November, I-TEAM showed you another incident where a family member called deputies to help get a loved one to hospital. A mother called when her son was in crisis and the deputy ended up hitting him in the head and putting him in jail for two weeks. When I-TEAM started asking questions, all charges were dropped.
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