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Parents of Seattle man killed by police want state law changed to help more with mental illness

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Nancy and Doug Reuter testify before the Legislature about their son Joel, a mentally ill man who did not meet the criteria to be admitted to a hospital for treatment of mental illness. He was later killed by police in a shootout. (Photo: KCPQ-TV)

OLYMPIA — The parents of a Seattle man who was killed by police are trying to change state law. They say their son suffered from mental illness and didn’t get the help he needed.

Joel Reuter’s parents went before the Washington Legislature last year. But their bill, nicknamed “Joel’s Law,” didn’t make it through the Senate. They appeared in Olympia Monday to try again.

“Dads are supposed to be able to fix things,” says Douglas Reuter. “But I don’t have the tools to fix mental illness. That requires hospitalization, that requires doctors, that requires medication. The only thing that I can ‘fix’ is that he gets access to those doctors and medication so he can be fixed.”

Reuter and his wife say they tried to get their 28-year-old son help after he suffered a psychotic episode, but they were told he didn’t meet the criteria to be hospitalized. They say his condition continued to worsen.

In July 2013, Joel was killed by Seattle police after a long standoff at his Capitol Hill condo. Police say he started talking about zombies, and then began shooting at them. They returned fire.

“Words cannot describe the trauma that families go through when their loved ones come down with a brain illness like schizophrenia or bipolar disorder,” says Joel’s mother, Nancy. “Joel’s illness turned him into a paranoid stranger who said and did things he would never do in his right mind.”

Reuter’s parents do not blame Seattle police. They say the laws in Washington state need to be changed, so families can get their loved ones with mental illness help before things turn deadly.

“Why do we force people to become so dangerous and so sick before we will help them?” Nancy asked lawmakers.  “We don’t treat any other disease this way.”

Joel’s Law did not pass the Legislature last year. But they’re hoping the changes they’ve made will get it through this time.

“Please pass Joel’s Law so families don’t have to ask themselves, could I have done more? Please give them the power to do more.”

The proposed legislation would give families the ability to appeal a mental health appraisal, if a mentally ill person is denied treatment.

The Reuters believe their bill will pass the House next week. They say the test will come in the Senate.

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