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Nathaniel Julies’ murder shows need for mental health training for police officers

A boy holds up an image of Nathaniel Julies, a teenager with Down syndrome who was allegedly shot by police last week. Picture: Timothy Bernard /African News Agency (ANA)

A boy holds up an image of Nathaniel Julies, a teenager with Down syndrome who was allegedly shot by police last week. Picture: Timothy Bernard /African News Agency (ANA)

Published Aug 31, 2020

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Durban – The senseless murder of Eldorado Park teenager Nathaniel Julies calls for a wider conversation around managing people with intellectual disabilities or mental health disorders.

According to the South African Federation for Mental Health, the shooting highlights the need for police officers to be trained on mental health conditions.

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Julies, who was born with Down syndrome, was shot, allegedly by police, last week. His body was ’dumped’ at the Chris Baragwanath Hospital where he later died.

SAFMH's Masutane Modjadji said Nathaniel did not deserve the police brutality that cut his life short.

"A police force that is not adequately trained could result in irresponsible policing, which carries a risk of exposing members of the public and itself to dangerous situations," she said.

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Modjadji said the Mental Health Care Act of 2002 (MHCA) outlined procedures for managing people with mental health disorders and also guaranteed protection against unfair discrimination, exploitation and abuse, while at the same time affirming the right to respect, human dignity and privacy for people with mental health conditions.

She said over the years there had been numerous concerns about police not fully grasping their role in terms of the involuntary admission of people with mental health conditions, as per the Mental Health Care Act of 2002, Section 40.

She said Julies, who posed no apparent threat to the police, his community or himself, exposed a discrepancy in terms of SAPS’s ability to balance maintaining law and order with treating persons with intellectual disabilities with dignity and respect, as enshrined in the South African constitution and MHCA.

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"The manner in which community members described the police’s interaction with Nathaniel suggests a profound disregard for his right to life on the basis of his disability. This all points to a desperate need for more mental health training within SAPS," Modjadji said.

She said it was important that police work closely with health and social development officials so that they are aware of and have a proper understanding of the various mental health disorders as they perform their duties of protecting communities and maintaining peace and order.

"This is necessary to ensure the safety of members of the community as well as the members of the police themselves. We call on relevant law enforcement agencies to act swiftly to bring justice to Nathaniel and his family.

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“Holding those accountable for his passing will hopefully illustrate to the people of South Africa that his life mattered and that members of SAPS are able to effectively fulfil their constitutional mandate towards persons with mental disabilities," Modjadji said.

The two officers arrested for Julies's murder appeared in court today and are due back in court on September 10. The face charges of murder, discharging a firearm in public, possession of ammunition and defeating the administration of justice.

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