PHOENIX AZ Nov 12 2014
A former Phoenix police officer who recently revealed his struggle with post-traumatic stress disorder to CBS 5 News has apparently taken his own life.
The death of Craig Tiger is being investigated as a suicide by Coconino County Sheriff’s deputies. Tiger was found unresponsive in his vehicle over the weekend at his family’s cabin in northern Arizona.
Tiger’s death has sparked a debate about whether police departments do enough to care for officers after critical on-duty incidents.
The president of the Phoenix Law Enforcement Association, Joe Clure, said he believes Phoenix Police Chief Daniel Garcia and the Phoenix Police Department played a part in Tiger’s death.
“We should have done a lot more for Officer Tiger than what we did,” said Clure.
In June 2012, Tiger and his partner were forced to shoot a man aggressively threatening them and the public with a bat. The suspect died at the scene.
When Tiger shared his story in September 2014, he said the shooting affected him immediately.
“I went home that night to an empty house. It started immediately. I proceeded to self-medicate with alcohol, and it started that night, that very night,” Tiger said.
But in about a week, Tiger was back on the street, cleared for duty after a one-hour session with a psychologist hired by the police department.
The 12-year police veteran continued to work the streets, but off duty he suffered in silence and developed a serious drinking problem.
Around the year anniversary of the shooting, Tiger said it became too much.
“We have a family cabin up north, and I was going up north to kill myself. I had guns with me in the car, and I was subsequently stopped for DUI on the way up. In hindsight, it saved my life because I wouldn’t be here right now,” Tiger said.
Tiger was arrested and charged with DUI. He was placed on administrative leave and went for treatment.
During treatment, Tiger was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder. He sought help with a veterans’ group. But his job was on the line.
One of Garcia’s first moves after taking over the Phoenix Police Department was to more severely punish officers arrested for DUI.
The department did not choose to handle Tiger’s discipline through the Department Review Board. Instead, Garcia held a termination hearing with Tiger and his union representative, who happened to be Clure.
“I sat next to him in that hearing where he (Tiger) poured his heart out to the chief and said, ‘This is what I’m going through. This is what I’m dealing with.’ He brought medical evidence to substantiate the fact that he suffered from PTSD. And the chief’s response was essentially, ‘I don’t care; you’re fired.'”
Robbie Adler-Tapia is a Tempe-based psychologist who specializes in treating emergency personnel with PTSD.
Adler-Tapia believes departments don’t do enough for their officers after critical incidents.
“They’re exposed to critical incidents every day. And the wear and tear of it just takes its toll on them. And we don’t provide services to keep them in shape, you know, psychologically healthy,” Adler-Tapia said.
Clure echoed the doctor’s opinion.
“We ignore them. We get rid of them because we don’t want to assume the liability for them. We fire them. That’s the standard operating procedure,” Clure said.
Clure said that as the news of Tiger’s death spread through the department, he was flooded with text messages and emails from officers expressing their belief that the department turned their back on Tiger and that other officers have been or are in the same position.
“I think the entire process needs to be looked at because, quite frankly, Craig Tiger is not the first victim that I’m aware of regarding the Phoenix Police Department’s lack of care or lack of concern for officers that suffer from this illness,” Clure said.
CBS 5 News requested an interview with Garcia, but was told he would not speak. In an email response, a spokesman said:
“…this is a sad and unfortunate situation, Craig has friends and family on this department. We will continue to allow healthcare professionals to assist us in our organization in making these types of mental health decisions, while we ensure the community is being policed by those who are fit to serve. The many services that our department and personal health care cover are available to all of our employees for on-duty and off-duty challenges; this case was no different. Our thoughts are with his family.”