A staffer at the Bellevue YMCA sensed something was wrong with Craig Garber, a longtime member, when he called to cancel his membership early on a Saturday morning, Sept. 1.
After Garber left, he phoned police to request that they check on Garber’s welfare, and, according to the Metro Nashville Police Department, an officer showed up to Garber’s home at 816 Beech Bend Drive in Bellevue to find Garber with his mother and a YMCA employee.
The YMCA employee informed the officer that everything was OK. The officer, however, never conversed with Garber.
But later that night, something apparently snapped.
Sunday morning Garber stood accused of committing three gruesome murders, allegedly killing three of his neighbors — a 14-year-old boy, his mother and grandmother — inside their Bellevue home. A 9-year-old girl told police she witnessed Garber stabbing her grandmother before the girl was able to run from the house and escape to safety.
As with other tragedies, the killings have left a sense of, “What if?” But due to certain legalities and procedures regarding police visits to check on a person’s welfare, there appears to be little that law enforcement could have done to prevent the horror that ensued late in the night.
It’s difficult to determine exactly how many of these checks police conduct in a year because they are filed under a generic “10-43” request for officer. The range of calls can vary widely, from someone asking police to check on an elderly relative thatwho hasn’t been heard from in a while, to for police malicious pranks.
“Maybe the caller you received the call from just wants to make this person’s life a little difficult and sends the police out there. You have a wide gamut of things that you’re looking at,” Nashville Fraternal Order of Police President Robert Weaver said.
“Typically you’re just trying to determine, ‘Does this person need some help?’ and what resources are available.”
But the law leaves police with only a few options. Unless the person being checked upon appears to be an imminent danger to themselves or others, cops usually can’t do much.
“If they have a physical medical condition that presents itself, then you call the [Nashville Fire Department] to transport them and get them taken care of,” Weaver said.
“[But] you’ve got to have articulable reasons why you believe that this person presents a danger to themselves or others. Just like in prosecuting a criminal case, you’ve got to have articulable reasons that lend themselves to probable cause to make an arrest. You’ve got to have reasonable suspicion to make a detention.”
People with mental illnesses provide another challenge for officers.
“Officers on the street deal with people who have obvious mental illness that may or may not be appropriately treated due to other conditions, be it homeless or lack of insurance,” Weaver said. “It’s not a crime to have a mental illness. ... You’ve got that extreme, then you’ve got people that are upset and maybe they need some help.”
Tennessee state law allows police officers to detain if the person has a “mental illness or serious emotional disturbance” and poses an “immediate substantial likelihood of serious harm.”
Police believe Garber may have been suffering from depression.
“We don’t have the ability either in training or resources ... to scoop somebody up just because they are depressed, even to the point of clinical depression, unless they show some of the signs of [being] in the process of making a decision that’s going to hurt themselves,” Weaver said.
“It’s a balancing act of balancing people’s freedom — and their ability to be on or off their medication as they so choose — and protecting the larger population.”
According to Weaver, police checks can often save lives — but in some cases, officers have few options.
“You don’t necessarily know what an emotional trigger is going on in their life or their day that got them to the point that you’re dealing with them,” Weaver said. “But at that point, you’ve been called ... and you’ve got to go out there and determine the best you can.”