The Washington Post
Ga. woman ‘fell’ out of patrol car and died days later, police say
Family seeks answers after response to mental health crisis turned fatal
When Brianna Grier’s parents phoned police, explaining that their 28-year-old daughter was in the middle of a mental health crisis, they expected paramedics to come help, as they had done in the past.
But when sheriff ’s deputies arrived at their home in Sparta, Ga., late one night this month, they told Grier they smelled alcohol on her breath. And after she admitted she had been drinking, they placed her in handcuffs, loaded her into a patrol car and told her that they were going to detain her for intoxication, her father recalled.
She was supposed to receive medical treatment the next morning, but she never got the help. Instead, she died from injuries she suffered in police custody.
The Georgia Bureau of Investigation (GBI) said in a statement Thursday that its initial investigation found Grier “fell out” of the patrol car July 15 on the way to the Hancock County Sheriff ’s Office, sustaining significant injuries. She was pronounced dead Thursday afternoon at Grady Memorial Hospital in Atlanta, according to the statement.
Hancock County Sheriff Terrell Primus has asked the GBI to investigate the fatal incident, and Grier’s father, Marvin Grier, is demanding answers.
“We need to know what happened to our daughter,” he said in a phone interview Friday with The Washington Post. “If we had known it was going to end up this way, we would have let her stay here.”
The incident has raised questions about the safety measures taken in her case, such as whether there was a malfunction with the patrol car doors or whether she sustained the fatal injuries a different way. A spokesperson for the Hancock County Sheriff ’s Office did not immediately respond to an email requesting comment.
Marvin Grier said his daughter, who was diagnosed with schizophrenia years ago and prescribed medication, had been at her parents’ home on July 14. She was visiting her 3-year-old twin girls, who live with their grandparents. Grier left the house for a while and then came back in crisis after midnight, her father said.
He acknowledged that she used illegal drugs at times to cope.
“She had told me a while back that when she did that [use drugs], that would help her because the medication she was getting from the doctors weren’t doing her no good,” Marvin Grier said. But he did not know whether she had used drugs before returning to her parents’ house in a schizophrenic episode.
“I don’t know what got her that way, but this was not our first rodeo with her,” he said.
He said he and Grier’s mother have called 911 in the past when their daughter was in that state. But what happened this month was the first time paramedics didn’t come with police and help her get treatment in a medical setting, he said.
Instead, he said, deputies asked his daughter multiple times whether she had been drinking. Each time, she said “no,” her father recalled. He said when deputies then told her they could smell alcohol on her breath, she admitted she had been drinking.
Deputies told the family that they were going to detain her overnight, her father recalled, and that he and his wife could make arrangements for medical treatment the next morning.
When deputies started to handcuff Grier, her father recalled her saying: “No, no, no, no. I haven’t done anything for y’all to arrest me. I’m not going to jail.”
“We said, ‘Brianna, let them help you,’ ” Marvin Grier said.
He said the deputies proceeded to put Brianna Grier into the back seat of the patrol car.
In the early morning hours of July 15, police were back at their front door, telling Grier’s mother the 28-year-old had “kicked the back door in and jumped out” of the patrol car, her father said. He said police explained she had sustained a head injury and was taken to the hospital.
Police training expert Geoffrey Alpert, a professor of criminal justice at the University of South Carolina, told NBC News in a text message that patrol cars are “ALWAYS supposed to be locked from the inside.”
“Everybody knows that no one can just kick a door open on a police cruiser. I never heard nobody else say it had happened,” Grier’s father told The Post. “And with her hands behind her back? Something’s not right here.”
Grier’s father said doctors told her family that she had suffered two skull fractures. Over the next several days, she never woke up.
“The doctors tell you there’s nothing else they can do — she’s brain dead,” he said, crying. “Then she’s gone.”
Grier was pronounced dead on Thursday afternoon.
The GBI, which is investigating Grier’s death, said her body will be taken to the GBI crime lab for an autopsy. It’s unclear when those results will be released.
Marvin Grier said he and his wife want answers — ones they will eventually have to try to explain to Grier’s daughters.
“One day they’re going to ask, ‘Where Momma? We don’t see Momma no more.’ What can we tell them?” he said. For now, he said, “We’ll just tell them, ‘ Momma was sick and the doctor couldn’t do no more for her.’ ”
But he said one day, her children will need to know the truth. In the wake of his daughter’s death, Marvin Grier said he had a message for other parents: “Love your kids.”
“We were here for Brianna every way we could,” he said, crying. “But then this happened, and we thought we were doing the right thing.
“Every other time, it went okay. But this time, it didn’t.”