Source: Sherman Publications

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Deputy peacefully disarms mentally ill woman with knife

by CJ Carnacchio

April 27, 2011

A combination of training, experience and familiarity helped an Oakland County Sheriff's deputy prevent a mentally ill person armed with a knife from harming herself or others at a group home in Oxford Township.

"It's nice when things work out," said Deputy Michael Schmitzerie, a 38-year law enforcement veteran.

On April 18, Schmitzerie was able to peacefully disarm a 34-year-old woman at the Prosperity Group Home on S. Coats Rd. after she'd gotten hold of a knife with an 8-inch blade and was using it to threaten herself and those around her.

When Schmitzerie, 60, arrived on the scene, the woman was sitting inside a locked van on the passenger side, holding the knife to her right wrist.

Prior to locking herself inside the vehicle, the woman twice threatened to cut the throat of one of her caregivers, according to the sheriff's report. She obtained the knife from the group home's kitchen.

Sheriff's Deputy Mark Forest was able to distract the woman long enough for Schmitzerie to unlock the van and open a dialogue with her.

The woman indicated she wouldn't surrender the knife until she received more drugs. Even though she had already received her allotment of medication for the day, she believed her caregiver had forgotten to dispense it.

Schmitzerie had dealt with this woman on several occasions in the past, mostly because she frequently wandered away from the group home.

"This is the first time she ever had a weapon, that I can recall," he said. "Knowing her, it was mostly for attention. She was bluffing, but of course, you never know."

Capitalizing on her familiarity with him, Schmitzerie told the woman about being stabbed in the chest when he was a 24-year-old cop working the streets of Detroit and how he didn't "like dealing with people who are doped up (and) holding a knife."

She responded, "How could anyone stab you? You've always been sweet to me."

Carefully, Schmitzerie slid onto the driver's seat, put his hand around her wrist and told her to "let go" of the knife.

"She loosened her grip and I slipped the knife out of her hand," he wrote in his report. "As soon as I got a hold of the knife, (she) put her head on my shoulder and began to sob (and stated) that she was very afraid. I told her she would be OK."

No criminal charges were issued against the woman, but if Oxford substation commander Sgt. Scott Patterson has anything to say about it, Schmitzerie could find himself receiving a citation from the sheriff's department.

"I think he did a very good job utilizing his experience," Patterson said. "Having the rapport that he had with her was crucial to being able to de-escalate the situation the way he did."

Patterson indicated it was a situation that could have very easily gotten out of hand if not dealt with correctly.

"You had somebody who was emotionally unstable that's armed with a weapon. It definitely could have ended another way," he said.

When told he could receive a citation for his handling of this incident, Schmitzerie replied, "I appreciate it. Everyone likes the acknowledgment, but I don't think I've done anything that anyone else wouldn't do as policemen. It's just what we do."

It's fortunate for everyone involved that Schmitzerie was on the job that day. He's been back to work for only two months. He was off for an entire year battling colon cancer.

Schmitzerie's worked for the sheriff's department since 1989 and been assigned to the Oxford Twp. substation since 2004.

Prior to the county, he spent 17 years with the Detroit Police Department before taking an early retirement.