APD behavior baffles suicide thwarters

On a Sunday afternoon in March, an ex-Gwinnett police officer named Chris Clark took his family to visit Atlanta's historic Oakland Cemetery. Their outing took a depressing turn, however, when Clark noticed something unusual: a man in a red Bulldog hat hanging from an oak tree behind the cemetery's Confederate Memorial.

Earlier that day, March 20, the man had left a message on his friend's voicemail, according to an Atlanta police incident report: "Are you at work; your car is near the C gate. Take care of my dog. I'm going to kill myself."

It was surreal, Clark says. "I thought, 'I'm not really seeing that.'" But it was only the first unsettling event of the afternoon.

Clark says he ran to his car to call 911 and grabbed a knife so he could cut the man down. Meanwhile, two other cemetery visitors spotted the man. Debbie Ford says that, from where she was standing, she thought he was "bent down on his knees praying." She didn't realize her mistake until Clark cut the rope and she saw the man fall.

Ford says she rushed over to help Clark. She says she held the man's hand, trying to comfort him by telling him he wasn't alone. Clark says he at thought he was too late but then "saw some iris in his eye, which meant he was still alive."

But Clark says the most disturbing thing about that day was not his discovery in the oak tree but the behavior of three Atlanta police officers who arrived at the scene. Clark claims the officers called for help but, rather than take over for Clark and Ford, they shared a cigar. "They didn't offer any help at all," he says.

Ford says she didn't think there was much anyone could do while waiting for the ambulance. But she says she was shocked the police "offered no support for the victim; they didn't even touch him."

Atlanta police spokesman Sgt. John Quigley declined comment on Ford and Clark's complaint. He did say it's an officer's duty to do all he or she can to revive a victim of attempted suicide; but when a bystander is already administering first aid, the decision for an officer to take over "is a judgment based on experience on whether the person seems to be doing it properly."

Says Ford, "Maybe in that profession you become somewhat jaded. But it was the first time for us."

Last week, Grady Memorial Hospital listed the man in stable condition. According to the police report, he suffered a broken neck.??

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