Deputy resigns after ‘botched’ response to call about mother and two kids who froze to death in Michigan field
A sheriff’s deputy has resigned following his “incomplete” search for a mother and her children later found frozen to death in a Michigan field.
The Oakland County Sheriff’s Office confirmed on Monday that the officer quit on 22 January following an investigation into the department’s response to reports made by residents and loved ones of 35-year-old Monica Cannady.
Cannady and two of her children, aged three and nine, died from hypothermia on 15 January nearly three days after they were reported wandering in the area. The mother-of-three was experiencing a mental health episode and believed police were out to kill her, authorities said.
The bodies were found after Cannady’s surviving 10-year-old daughter alerted residents of the area that her family was dead.
The department had told The Independent on 18 January that at least one of its deputies was under investigation for not covering the full perimeter of an area where Cannady and the children were seen. A spokesperson confirmed on Tuesday that the deputy in charge of the ‘incomplete’ search was the one who resigned seven days after the tragedy.
He had no contact with Cannady or the children.
The review also revealed that law enforcement had several interactions with the family in the days leading up to their deaths and offered them help, but did not intervene further because Cannady “did not appear to be suffering from any medical or mental health crisis and asked several times to be left alone.”
Two other deputies came into contact with the family — the children only wearing sweatshirts and wrapped in white bed sheets in the 30F temperatures — at three different locations and offered them coats.
On the eve of the tragedy, police conducting a welfare check on Cannady and her children found her apartment empty. Two other calls made by neighbours led to fruitless searches for the family in the area.
Deputies also did not immediately link their previous encounters with an apparently “lucid” Cannady to reports by her family that she was having an episode of paranoia and “believed police was involved in the conspiracy.”
Officials said Cannady took her children out of their apartment the week previous to their deaths and was convinced people were out to kill her, including police officers. The mother reportedly instructed her children to run or hide if anyone approached them, and told the family to lie down and go to sleep in the field where they ultimately died.
The family was first located by police around 1pm on 13 January, but she asked to “be left alone.”
A second deputy approached while she was inside the McLaren Oakland Hospital in downtown Pontiac. She reportedly said her family was at the hospital for an appointment while being questioned “in-depth,” and left the facility after claiming she was waiting for a ride outside.
The same deputy followed her outside the hospital and reiterated that he would not ask for her identification and that she was not in trouble. The officer offered Cannady to go to the police station to get coats for the children, who were wearing sweatshirts and bed sheets, but she refused help.
Two hours later, Cannady visited her mother’s home before an argument erupted about her mental health. Cannady left the apartment and a welfare check was conducted at her own residence but she was not found.
Cannady’s family inquired investigators about ways to commit her to a mental health facility, but the department, which has more than 1,100 sworn deputies, did not link those reports to the encounters with the mother and her children.
Before the investigation was announced, Oakland County Sheriff Michael Bouchard had condemned the broken mental health system.
“From our side, we were not called about a person or kids in crisis,” Mr Bouchard said at the time. “We would get an occasional call, ‘Hey, there’s somebody in the area that doesn’t look like they’re appropriately dressed.’ Deputies would go there and look, and they weren’t there.”
He added: “We later learned from the surviving daughter that [Cannady] had told her kids anytime anybody approached, to run.”
“This tragedy was fundamentally evidentiary of the breakdown of our mental health system in America.”
“We don’t give our mental health providers and systems enough support and have enough resources at their fingertips.”