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Mental Health Group Honors Family of Dontre Hamilton

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A local mental health group will present an award Wednesday to the family of Dontre Hamilton.

A Milwaukee police officer shot Hamilton to death in April after he had been resting in Red Arrow Park downtown. The 31-year-old suffered from schizophrenia.

According to Officer Christopher Manney, Hamilton became combative during a pat down and struck the officer with his police baton.

The police chief has since fired Manney for failing to follow protocol leading up to the shooting.

While the Hamilton family waits for the DA to decide whether to charge the former officer with a crime, the group Mental Health America of Wisconsin will honor Dontre’s relatives for their advocacy work on his behalf.

“We’ve realized that the family had experienced concerns in terms of navigating the mental health system, and so as they are trying to figure out what happened their son on the law enforcement side, they’re also trying to understand any gaps in services that may have contributed to his downward spiral near the end,” says Martina Gollin-Graves, the group's president.

Graves says Hamilton had a strong, loving family that supported him and sought help.

“They worked really hard to figure out how to navigate the systems and prior to his death, what has come out, is that they had attempted to seek treatment for him and they came up against some real barriers," she says. "So this event raises broad questions, not only of law enforcement, but the response of the mental health service delivery system that his family tried to navigate. And so, they were unsuccessful and that impacted the deterioration that we’ve heard about prior to his death."

Graves says one barrier was a misunderstanding by a health care provider about whether Dontre had insurance, resulting in him missing a dose of medication.

Graves says family support is essential to the health of a loved one suffering from mental illness.

“(It’s) the difference between being well or not being well. It makes all the difference for some folks. And from our understanding, it wasn’t perfect and the (Hamilton) family was learning as they went along, but they were there providing support, trying to figure out how to get Dontre what he needed,” Graves says.

“Our hope is that this is the beginning of a bigger conversation. I think bits and pieces of the conversation have already started, but our hope is that our community starts to recognize mental illness sooner and intervene in the early stages, like we do with so many other chronic illnesses. We don’t wait for the symptoms to worsen before treatment is administered.”

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