Upper Arlington police officers credit training for helping defuse potential suicide

Nate Ellis
ThisWeek group
Upper Arlington police officers Emmanuel Boamah, left, and Brandon Rees are credited with helping a woman who was planning to jump March 5 from Hayden Run Bridge in Columbus.

Training and teamwork prevailed earlier this month for two Upper Arlington police officers who were able to get a woman to safety who was contemplating suicide.

Officers Emmanuel Boamah and Brandon Rees won't soon forget the events of March 5.

The officers had just wrapped up an otherwise uneventful response to a house alarm dispatch when a call went out about 2:45 p.m. from the Columbus Police Division that a woman was planning to jump from the Hayden Run Bridge.

Although it was in CPD’s jurisdiction, the Boamah and Rees were the first to arrive on the scene, and they found a 44-year-old Hispanic woman was acting as if she might jump from the bridge into the cold and fast-moving current of the Scioto River.

When they arrived, Boamah and Rees said the woman was gripping the fencing that serves as safety barrier on the bridge and continually lifting one leg to the top of the fence and putting it back down on the sidewalk.

“She had her left arm wrapped around the top of the fence and her feet were still on the sidewalk, but quite often she would take her right foot and put it up on the first railing of the fence,” Rees said. “It looked like she was going to attempt (to jump).”

After initial attempts to communicate with the woman proved unsuccessful, the officers determined English wasn’t her primary language.

At that point, Rees began to use the Spanish he could remember from four years of classes in high school, another year he took in college and a two-day training course he took after becoming a UAPD officer in December 2016.

Rees also had completed Critical Incident Training from UAPD that helped guide him through the situation. By asking the woman what her name was and other basic questions, he opened a dialogue with her and was able to slowly approach.

Boamah, who joined UAPD in August 2018, still was scheduled to take CIT training through UAPD at the time of the incident and doesn't speak Spanish. But the division's training in various emergency scenarios led him to slowly approach the woman from behind as Rees, approaching her face-to-face, got closer to her.

“He was able to build a rapport with her,” Boamah said. “Ultimately, she begins to feel comfortable with him approaching.

“When Officer Rees was able to use his Spanish education to get her attention, it created an opportunity for me to get over to her without her worrying about me.”

With no one else on the scene, the officers said they knew there was no time to waste.

Rees spoke to her for “four or five minutes” but said her jumping from the bridge “was a very real possibility.”

“I was looking at her and she kept looking back and forth at us and lifting her foot up,” he said. “It was a pretty cold that day, and I could tell that the current was strong in the river.

“I was trying to do whatever I could to keep her from jumping. I was trying to plan ahead. If she were to jump, what would my next step be? Options were limited at that point.”

After several minutes of trying to coax her away from the bridge’s railing by also using hand gestures, Boamah was able to get close enough to grab the woman from behind, and both officers pulled her to safety.

At that point, they said, the woman opened up about how she was depressed and had wanted to jump.

They stayed with the woman for another several minutes until CPD officers and medics from the Columbus Division of Fire arrived.

According to a CPD report, the woman was taken to OhioHealth Riverside Methodist Hospital for a mental-health evaluation.   

“While the situation is going on, you really don’t think about it,” Rees said. “Your training just kicks in. It takes over. Then after the fact, you’re kind of like, ‘Wow. That just happened.’ 

“It felt good to help somebody and have the issue resolved in a positive manner.”

Boamah added that, despite not yet completing his CIT training, he felt fortunate that UAPD had provided emergency-response training for similar scenarios, as well as for the training Rees had undergone.

“My first few thoughts after that were I was just grateful that we work for a police department that values educating our officers,” Boamah said. “The fact that Officer Rees was able to speak Spanish to her to even buy us an opportunity to close in meant a lot and was very useful.

“It’s not uncommon for us to go through quarterly trainings where we scenarios. I remember when I first got to this department, we ran a similar scenario where someone was in distress. This the first time I’ve ever been in this real situation, but to run scenarios that kind of mimic that, it allowed me to be a little more calm.”

Boamah said he might take Spanish lessons and is completing training in American Sign Language. He added the incident reinforced to him how important ongoing training is in law enforcement.  

“I think being versatile, in general, helps you as an officer,” he said. “It doesn’t really matter what language it is.

“If you’re constantly pushing education and trying to grow yourself, it’s going to make you an effective officer.”

UAPD Chief Steve Farmer said he was impressed with the officers’ response to what could have been a tragic event.

He added that emergencies like this are part of a police officer’s job, and UAPD does what it can to make sure its personnel are ready when they are confronted with a live-or-death situation.

“This has been a difficult year for many people and often times we find ourselves engaged with people like this young lady in a time of crisis,” Farmer said. “It is fortunate that officers Rees and Boamah are trained for such moments and were there for her.

“They are fine young men, committed to serving others, and it showed that day. Our team is focused on demonstrating our core values of integrity, dedication, professionalism and courtesy, and this was an example of that commitment.”

nellis@thisweeknews.com

@ThisWeekNate