What kind of mother doesn’t shed even one tear as her 29-year-old only son is sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole? A very strong — albeit tired — one named Jeannette Halton-Tiggs. Her son, Timothy Halton, Jr. received the sentence on Oct. 30 in the courtroom of Cuyahoga County Common Pleas Judge Ronald Suster for gunning down Cleveland Heights Police Officer Jason West in cold blood on May 25, 2007.
“I felt that it would have been disrespectful to the memory of Officer West for me to be seen by his mother and the media crying in the courtroom for my son, when her son is dead,” said Halton-Tiggs, “and it could be that I’m just cried out … I simply don’t have any tears left.”
The media portrayed her son as a monster, but, in truth he was mentally ill — suffering from a severe form of paranoid schizophrenia. “If my Timmy is a monster, than I guess that makes me the monster’s mother,” said Jeannette, “but he isn’t a monster, at the time he was just very sick.”
Jeannette has been haunted by the heinous crime her son committed for over two years now, and has literally ached to reach out to the slain officer’s mother to hug her and tell her how profoundly and truly sorry she is for the hurt her son has caused the West family, but Cleveland Heights police officials warned her against making such a gesture. Now that the case is officially over she wonders if now is the time for making such an overture, but quite simply has no way of knowing. While the sentencing brings about some sense of closure for all involved, it doesn’t bring her any sense of peace.
“This killing should not have happened, and I’m going to dedicate my life to trying to change how the mentally ill are treated in this country … I want to at least make an effort to insure that something like this never happens to another police officer, or anyone else for that matter,” Jeannette said. She currently serves as a spokesperson for the National Alliance for the Mentally Ill (NAMI) and is attempting to alert and sway lawmakers in regards to the failures of the current mental health system. She fanaticizes about how powerful it would be if Officer West’s mother would join her in this effort, how the two of them could become effective change agents … but in reality she doesn’t expect that to ever happen.
Jeannette says that she now clearly understands that police culture in America is such that their associations, unions and leadership are only reactive, never proactive; they wait until after an officer has been killed by an insane person, and then demand that the mentally ill individual be put to death … but they never work toward changing the laws that allow dangerously sick people to roam the streets and harm innocent people in the first place. “This makes no sense to me,” said Jeannette.
But she had, for over a decade, been trying to prevent her son from doing harm to innocents. She had been warning anyone who would listen that Timmy (who was diagnosed with the mental disorder as a child) was a ticking time bomb that would one day explode with the likely result being the loss of someone’s life. However, she always thought that it would be her son who, in the end, would be dead — she never thought that it would be a police officer.
At age eight she knew that something was terribly wrong with her son, and she sought out treatment for him … establishing a pattern of parental involvement that would continue unbroken for the next 21 years, and will continue for the rest of her life. “You can’t just abandon a sick child … no matter how sick they are or what they’ve done,” she said.
By age 16 Timmy’s condition was worsening, and he was committed to a psychiatric hospital for juveniles, in part because he thought that Jeannette was his wife. And, since he was approaching six feet tall and weighing close to 200 pounds, he was becoming increasingly capable of physically backing up his violent verbal outbursts with equally violent behavior. His psychosis made him so strong that he once ripped the toilet out of the basement floor as easily as one would lift a chair.
The institutionalization — counseling by professionals, along with the strong psychotropic medications — worked well and he stayed on a fairly even keel upon his release. The hospitalization, however, was so expensive it forced Jeannette into bankruptcy … but she just went out and got a second job. But Jeannette was — and is — not alone; mental illness treatment has forced many an American family into financial ruin and abject poverty. However, within a couple of years, in spite of Jeannette’s best efforts, things began to really fall apart in Timmy’s life.
“Like so many other young people in this country, Timmy, when he reached age 18, was allowed to emancipate,” said Jeannette. “He legally became an adult and was able to decide if he wanted to take his medication or not, or whether to continue seeing a mental health professional. In cases like Timmy’s this is absolute insanity … to allow someone who is severely mentally ill to make those kinds of choices. I reached out to everyone, did everything I could … I told everyone who would listen to me that someone was going to get hurt by my son if he didn’t continue his medication regimen, and the only way that was going to happen was for the courts to make him my ward, to allow me to continue to have control over his life, affairs and decisions. But courts in this country, and even some mental health professionals, don’t agree. They choose to not pay much attention to the persons who know these severely sick individuals the best: their caregivers, their families. I knew how to keep Timmy on track and on his meds, but since he was an adult in the eyes of the law he could make his own decisions. And, because of HIPAA (the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act) rules, no one would even talk to me about my son if he didn’t give them written permission, and that was something he wasn’t going to do.” Jeannette had, on many occasions, gone to emergency rooms and paid $700 cash for Timmy’s medications, and no one was allowed to tell her if he even took them or not.
The reality is, the strong drugs that control schizophrenia have severe side effects: They cause weight gain (often of a hundred pounds or more) and they almost always cause sexual dysfunction: In men that means no erections. Now, can anyone imagine an 18-year-old male taking such a life-altering drug on their own volition? Yet, this is the kind of free-will decision literally hundreds of thousands of severely mentally ill and dangerous people in America are allowed to make for themselves… and the consequences — just as in this case where Officer West met up with un-medicated and armed Timothy Halton — can be tragic.
Jeannette and her daughter Crissy were in purgatory … their lives became a living hell. They kept their bedroom doors securely bolted at night, and would cautiously peek out to make sure Timmy wasn’t stalking about the house when they had to use the bathroom. They served as lookouts for each other. The police were at her house so often they were like members of the family; yet Jeannette would not turn her back on her only son. She knew it wasn’t his fault, and on occasion, when properly medicated, Timmy would tearfully apologize for his uncontrollable behavior.
The family would go through periods of relative calm, but then, in 2002, when Timmy threatened the life of President Bush, the Secret Service had him locked up in a psych ward; three months later they let him out after wrongly determining that he was not dangerous — or at least not dangerous to the president. One of the agents, who had personal experience with mental illness in his own family, told Jeannette that he knew of a hospital that he thought might help Timmy, and he wanted to see if he could get him into the facility for treatment. However, as was his legal right, Timmy refused to go, and no one could force him into treatment against his will.
Because the police were the ones who came to intercede whenever Timmy acted out violently with his family, he came to see them as the symbolic enemy. He used to ask his mother “Why don’t they just put a bullet through my brain when they get here?” Jeannette now says, “He really wanted to commit ‘suicide by cop’ but it just didn’t happen that way. But there were times he clearly wanted out of his misery, to bring an end to the pain he was in.”
In 2005, after Timmy damaged a patrol car with a brick and then punched a South Euclid police officer in the face, he was placed on four years county probation. The fact that the officer didn’t kill Timmy is a testament to how restrained and professional the police officers are in that suburb. Jeannette says they used to come past her house just to check up on him, to ask her how Timmy was doing. “They knew that when he was medicated he was the sweetest person in the world. They actually liked and felt sorry for him.”
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Article courtesy of: Cool Cleveland
From Cool Cleveland correspondent Mansfield B. Frazier email@example.com. Frazier’s From Behind The Wall: Commentary on Crime, Punishment, Race and the Underclass by a Prison Inmate is available again in hardback. Snag your copy and have it signed by the author by visiting http://www.frombehindthewall.com.