Law enforcement can list many heroes, both celebrated and obscure, throughout its storied history. Many are revered for their bravery in the face of physical danger, their innovation in the face of unique challenges or their creativity in the face of a particularly difficult and high-profile case. And some are heroes for standing up for and doing the right thing when there are threats to their personal and professional reputation and freedom.
This article is about two heroes. One was a cop who did what she had to do to save a life and then stood up for her own rights in the face of judicial pressure. The other was the therapist who stood behind the cop at the risk of her reputation and freedom and, in doing so, set in motion a chain of events that protects your rights to take care of your own mental health without fear.
This is Part II of our examination of mental health, EAPs, confidentiality and you.
The Death of Ricky Allen Sr.
On June 27, 1991, a fight -in-progress call was dispatched to officers in the Chicago suburb of Hoffman Estates. While certainly not an uncommon call for service—and one most of you with a lot of patrol experience have probably answered countless times—this particular incident would ultimately thrust a young police officer and the woman who would become her therapist into the national spotlight, capture the rapt attention of both the law enforcement and mental health communities, and become the impetus behind a landmark Supreme Court case.
Mary Lu Redmond was the first officer on scene. As she pulled into the parking lot of the Grand Canyon Estates apartment complex, she was approached by two African-American women running toward her car and waving their arms excitedly above their heads. One of the women immediately told her there had been someone stabbed inside the building. Redmond relayed this information to dispatch, requested back-up and an ambulance, and began her approach of building where the reported fight and stabbing had occurred.
As Redmond neared the building, five men exited the front door “yelling and screaming.” One of them was brandishing a pipe above his head. Redmond began ordering all the men to the ground, and the one with the pipe to drop it. After the man with the pipe refused several times her orders to drop it, she drew her sidearm.
Almost immediately two more men—a white male being chased by a black male who was armed with a butcher knife—burst from the same door. Redmond turned her attention and commands to the black male, who would later be identified as Ricky Allen Sr. as he was gaining on the other subject and had raised the knife and was poised to stab him with it. Fearing the man was about to be stabbed, Redmond fired a single round from her handgun, striking Allen in the neck and killing him.
Redmond later testified: “I ordered the black male subject with the knife to drop the knife several times. I told him to drop the knife and get on the ground. . . . I was yelling at him to drop the knife and get on the ground. . . . [H]e did not drop the knife and he did not get on the ground. . . . [I yelled] at least three times. I just kept yelling the minute I saw him.”
She described the instant before firing, “As [Allen] was gaining speed on the first subject until they were directly--he was directly in front of him, like the first subject's back, and then the second subject, as he was gaining on him the second subject, the male black subject with the knife took the knife back, raised it above his head and I waited, and as he started to come down with the knife and made the downward motion, I fired one shot at him.” (From the appellate decision in Jaffee vs. Redmond, In the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 7th Circuit, No 94-1151) Redmond estimated that only three to four seconds elapsed form when she first saw Allen until she fired the fatal shot, emphasizing how rapidly the scene developed. She testified, “I didn’t even have time to square up” (assume a stable shooting stance) before firing.
The next several moments were chaotic. Redmond testified--and statements of other responding officers support her description--that a large number of people poured out of the building to see what was going on, and many became angry and began to charge toward and surround her, while behaving in a “threatening” and “quite hysterical” manner. When some of the enraged crowd came to within arms reach of her as she tried to aid Allen, she was forced to brandish her gun toward them and order them to back away. Outnumbered and alone, Redmond held her ground until help arrived.
Mary Lu Redmond was understandably troubled and traumatized by the shooting and its aftermath and sought counseling from an internal EAP therapist employed by the city of Hoffman Estates. She met with the Karen Beyer, LCSW, the director of the city’s EAP, for the first time just days after the shooting and continued counseling sessions with her for nearly two years. She often met with her more than once per week, as she worked on resolving the trauma of the shooting.
Their sessions continued until the subpoena arrived demanding notes and testimony from Beyer regarding the substance of her sessions with Redmond, who was being sued. Lawyers for the plaintiffs were going after what she had believed to be privileged--and therefore strictly confidential--information shared between her and her therapist.
Under Illinois law, psychotherapist/client privilege had been well-established under statute 740 ILCS 110/2, and also extended explicitly to social workers such as Beyer. When deposed, Redmond was asked but refused to answer any questions about her counseling with Beyer, stating her communications with a licensed clinical social worker were privileged.
The plaintiffs then subpoenaed Beyer, demanding she testify at a deposition and “produce credentials as a counseling professional as well as all her ‘notes, records, [and] reports pertaining to Mary Lu Redmond.” (Appellate decision, Jaffee vs. Redmond, No 94-1151) The defendants moved to quash the subpoena unsuccessfully. The problem was that the lawsuit against Redmond and Hoffman Estates was filed federally, alleging civil rights violations (excessive force) and the trial judge believed the psychotherapist/client privilege recognized in other circuits did not extend to social workers. Beyer was, in the opinion of the trial judge, under obligation of the subpoena to testify.
In subsequent depositions Redmond continued to refuse to answer questions about her communications with Karen Beyer, and Beyer would only respond as to what had been discussed about the known facts of the case leading up to the shooting. Beyer refused to delve into anything related to the substance of Redmond’s therapy. She also refused to turn over any notes or records produced from the counseling.
It was clear neither side was going to budge: the plaintiffs were insistent Redmond and Beyer reveal the fruits of their relationship, and Redmond and Beyer refused to yield to the demands of the subpoenas. And the federal judge was firmly behind the plaintiffs.
Beyer later wrote for the American Psychoanalytic Association in “First Person: Jaffee v. Redmond Therapist Speaks”:
“The federal judge soon grew tired of the police officer and therapist who refused to turn over their records. By this time, two different attorneys had advised me to turn over the records, but I refused because of the devastating effect I believed this would have had on Redmond. She was a proud and very private person who had been traumatized by the shooting and the events that followed. Her records contained nothing more than her private struggle to heal.
I was referred to the U.S. Attorney's office by the federal judge, and that office was instructed to consider charges against me, charges that could have led to my incarceration. The U.S. Attorney failed to pursue the charges, but I was not informed of this, and so I believed for some time that I might go to jail.”
Although neither Redmond nor Beyer would face contempt charges for their refusal to answer questions about the sessions, the resulting fallout was devastating when the trial judge applied his interpretation of their assertion of privilege. In his instructions to the jury prior to trial, Judge Milton Shadur “instructed the jury that the defendants had no legal justification to refuse to produce Karen Beyer's notes of her counseling sessions...” and “over the defendants' objection, the district judge instructed the jury that it was ‘entitled to presume that the contents of the notes would be unfavorable to Mary Lu Redmond and the Village of Hoffman Estates’.” (Appellate decision, Jaffee vs. Redmond, No 94-1151)
How much weight the judges words to the jury ultimately had may never be fully known, but it is reasonable to conclude from their form and context to have been prejudicial against Redmond and the city, and the jury ruled in favor of the plaintiffs and awarded them $45,000 on their federal constitutional claim and $500,000 on their state wrongful death claim. Redmond and the city appealed.
On appeal in the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals before judges Wood, Godbold and Coffey the judges “applied the balancing theory, which takes into consideration the public's right to know what is in the records vs. an individual's right to privacy” and they “ruled… the privacy of records of a police officer who sought therapeutic help after a traumatic incident outweighed the need for the public to know the contents of the record to determine her state of mind at the time of the shooting.” (Beyer)
Attorneys for Jaffee appealed this decision to the U.S. Supreme Court. It was at this point Beyer became really frightened. Despite the very real possibility of facing criminal charges and incarceration for her refusal to break confidentiality she faced earlier--something she was prepared for--now her steadfastness held even greater risk: Should the Supreme Court overturn the appellate decision, psychotherapist/client confidentiality and privilege could be dealt a significant blow across the nation.
Five years after the shooting and the beginning of Mary Lu Redmond’s therapy that spawned the case, the Supreme Court affirmed and upheld the psychotherapist/client privilege, stating:
“Significant private interests support recognition of a psychotherapist privilege. Effective psychotherapy depends upon an atmosphere of confidence and trust and therefore the mere possibility of disclosure may impede development of the relationship necessary for successful treatment. The privilege also serves the public interest, since the mental health of the Nation's citizenry, no less than its physical health, is a public good of transcendent importance.” (from the decision of the Supreme Court of the United States, Jaffee v. Redmond, 95-266)
As we write about therapist/client confidentiality, employee assistance programs, and how they apply to you as police officers, we thought it imperative to cite this case. Jaffee v. Redmond was a landmark case on multiple for both psychotherapists and law enforcement.
As our friend, fellow writer, and law enforcement trainer (and Mike’s former boss) Sgt. Betsy Brantner-Smith (Ret.) remembers, “We all watched that case closely… it was huge.” Mike had just begun the police academy when the USSC decision was handed down and it was heralded as a triumph for cops and for your ability to get help when needed.
You can now know, should you ever decide to seek help from a licensed clinical social worker or any other mental health provider of psychotherapy, that this Supreme Court ruling has guaranteed the protection of your confidentiality at the federal level.
All because of two heroes who refused to back down from doing what was right.