Stillwater woman’s disturbing encounter with police prompts change to mental health calls

Who responds to a mental health crisis? If you have never been impacted by mental illness, you might be surprised by the answer. 

Often it is law enforcement, and depending on the level of training and experience, the outcome can be disastrous.

Charleen Hunter admits she has struggled with mental health issues throughout much of her life. She is a survivor of sexual abuse and deals with PTSD. 

Things came to a head for her last fall with a disturbing encounter involving Stillwater police. The video of the incident is tough to watch, but it is real. Hunter says this is proof the system needs to change.

[anvplayer video=”5146971″ station=”998132″]

Diagnosed with bipolar and struggling to find the right medication, Hunter was in an out of the hospital repeatedly.

Hallucinations, paranoia, and violent outbursts brought Stillwater police to her apartment with involuntary transport orders several times — including one day in September 2021.

For Hunter, seeing the hospital order was not enough at that time. She still refused to comply. While her husband waited downstairs, things took an ugly turn.

“All I could hear was screaming, yelling, begging, pleading. You’re talking from a second-floor apartment to the front almost to next door,” Ryan Hunter said. “I just assume she’s overreacting…my hope is that she’s just screaming and yelling and not getting hurt.”

“I was very vulnerable. I was not myself, and I had no clue which way was what at that time.”

Charleen Hunter

Hunter does not remember a lot of what happened that day, including the officers and EMS carrying her head first, hands and feet restrained, down the narrow staircase of her second-floor apartment and leaving her on the sidewalk.

Hunter’s husband does remember the frightening episode and says these officers seemed focused on a quick resolution at any cost. 

“When it’s not something that is an imminent danger like somebody on a bridge or somebody standing on a ledge, they have all the time in the world,” Ryan Hunter said. “They get paid to spend their time helping us. They’re not willing to spend their time helping us. If they’re in a rush, it’s not a good enough excuse to do their job improperly.”

[anvplayer video=”5146969″ station=”998132″]

Despite all she’s been through, Hunter said she is stronger and healthier than ever.

She now has several open investigations involving Stillwater police and the Saratoga County Sheriff’s Department. She even filed a complaint with the attorney general’s office. 

However, she also has a message for the Stillwater police officers who responded that day.

“I do have to say this because I’m sorry. I’m sorry that happened, and I’m sorry I acted that way,” Hunter said. “Just me as a person, I’m sorry, but I was not in the wrong. I was very vulnerable. I was not myself, and I had no clue which way was what at that time.”

13 Investigates did reach out to the Stillwater police chief for an interview. While he initially agreed, we have yet to hear back from him.

Meanwhile, Hunter and her husband both say what happened to her is proof the system is broken and she would like to help fix it.

Thursday, Nov. 10, 13 Investigates will look at some programs around the country and in the Capital Region that aim to change the way people experiencing mental health crises are treated.