- Taun Hall worked for years to get help for her son who struggled with mental health issues.
- The only resource she found was law enforcement, but in the end he was killed by police.
- This is the story of her loss and efforts to make change, as told to reporter Haven Orecchio-Egresitz.
This is an as-told-to essay based on a conversation with Taun Hall, the mother of Miles Hall, who was killed by police in Walnut Creek, California, on On June 2, 2019. Today she runs to The Miles Hall Foundation and co-sponsored bills to improve access to services for those experiencing a mental health crisis. The essay has been edited for length and clarity.
From the time he was a kid, my son Miles was bright and goofy with a magnetic personality that drew people to him. He had an especially gentle soul and always thought about how his actions would make other people feel.
He was so gentle, in fact, that if there was a bug in the house, he’d put it outside. He wouldn’t hurt a spider.
And just as he wanted to shield others from harm, I, as his mother, wanted to protect him.
When he entered his senior year of high school, my husband and I started to see red flags that concerned us.
Miles, who started high school with a “scholar GPA,” wasn’t interested in making plans for after he graduated.
That seemed odd in our house, where my husband, Miles’ younger sister, and I all valued the importance of college and getting an education.
So when he didn’t find that drive, we realized we had to keep an eye on why he suddenly seemed disinterested in school.
It turned out that was the first sign of severe mental health issues. After graduation, Miles started to experience delusions. He was ranting about the bible and, as we’re not particularly religious, this was odd and we didn’t understand what was going on.
But when he started knocking on our neighbors’ doors—representing himself as Jesus—we knew we needed to get him help. Fast.
But my son didn’t think he was sick, and wouldn’t listen to our pleas to get psychological services. By this time, he was over 18 — and no matter how sick he was — he was considered an adult by the state.
I wanted to be proactive, not reactive, so I started by taking classes with the National Alliance of Mental Illness to get ideas on how to deal with someone who is mentally ill but doesn’t know they’re sick.
I also started building a relationship with the local police department’s mental health liaison.
Over the next three years, I reached out to the department on multiple occasions when Miles started to experience delusions or act strangely.
I wanted to let them know that my son is African American, we live in a white neighborhood, and he’s knocking on people’s doors.
I wanted people to know that he belongs here, he’s part of this community.
I wanted them to know they didn’t have to be afraid.
Long stretches of normalcy, then a backslide
For a while, Miles was plugging along. He was doing OK. He was definitely showing signs of mental illness, but it wasn’t very extreme.
I didnt want to get the police involved for every issue. We wanted to manage it ourselves.
But in April 2018, Miles started knocking on doors again so I reconnected with the mental health officer.
She told me they couldn’t get involved unless he wasn’t a danger to himself, a danger to others, or gravely ill.
If that was the case, the officer told me, I might be able to get him involuntarily committed to treatment.
There, mental health professionals would be able to adjust his medication. They could help him.
If there were several of these interactions documented, she said, then I’d be able to apply for a conservatorship and finally have a say in his treatment plan.
A few months later, Miles entered a neighbor’s pool without permission. When police showed up, I saw the silver lining in it. This erratic behavior could show law enforcement, and later a judge, that the conservatorship was a good idea.
Miles was sent to an inpatient treatment center for a few weeks and given injectable medication.
He was diagnosed with with schizoaffective disorder, which explained his behavior.
When he came back, he got a job that he loved. He was doing great. He was making friends and going out. He was a regular dude. It was like we had our old Miles back.
But then a problem arose — our country’s criminalization of people with mental illness struck a blow to the progress our family had made.
After working for three months, police pressed charges against Miles for that 2018 incident because they said he resisted arrest when they showed up to the scene.
I didn’t understand how that could happen when I was working so closely with the department. How could they then press charges? I thought we were working together to help my son.
Miles became paranoid, and stress about the criminal charges took over his life. He told me he wanted to quit his job because he was convinced he was going to jail, even though I was almost certain the case would resolve without such a harsh punishment.
I wanted to ease this burden on my son, so I wrote a big old letter to the public defender. I explained that the point of police being called was because he has a mental illness, and we were trying to get him help — not because he’s a criminal.
What was a nightmare became our reality
Miles continued to spiral, and by May of 2019, he was in a full blown psychosis.
He thought he was Jesus again. He was running around with a ton of energy, planting in the garden.
I called the non-emergency police line on Saturday, June 1, just to let officers know that Miles was in crisis again. I made the call for for his safety, not for their safety. He wasn’t going to hurt anyone.
At no point did anyone give us another resource, and by the next day, Miles was in a full blown mental health emergency.
He was in a delusional hallucinatory state, and a well-meaning neighbor let him borrow a gardening tool.
He went to our window and he broke the door. It was the first time, ever, that Miles had done anything physically aggressive.
My mom who lives with us called 911 and Miles yelled at us to leave the house.
To diffuse the situation, we did.
Then, he started knocking on neighbors doors and one of them called 911, too, also to let them know he’s in crisis and needed help.
The mental health officer called me and said she was on her way to the scene. But she arrived too late.
The officers who arrived before her spotted Miles in the road with his tool. They ordered him to the ground, but he didn’t go. He started running toward our house — which was behind the officers — and they perceived him as a threat.
They shot and killed him in the street.
All the work I put in to prevent this exact nightmare was in vein.
Making the change
After two years of trying to get Miles help, trying to utilize the resources that were there — which was law enforcement — to get someone help when they didn’t understand they were ill, we had to criminalize our child.
It was devastating because Miles died as a result of it.
His presence, his goofy jokes, his caring spirit, are missed every day.
Since then, my family has worked to make sure nobody has to live with this kind of trauma.
We started The Miles Hall Foundation, which advocates for change. As a part of that, I have co-sponsored California bill AB 988. The bill, which is on Gov. Gavin Newsom’s desk waiting to be signed, will link the national 988 crisis hotline to mobile response teams.
When this goes into effect, people experiencing a crisis or their loved ones anywhere in California will be able to call the 988 number and behavioral health experts and peers will be dispatched to the scene to deescalate the situation. The goal is to find immediate and follow-up behavioral health care for the person.
Cities around the country have started implementing these crisis response groups, which respond instead of police. California’s bill is intended to improve how they are dispatched.
Police officers aren’t trained to work in the mental health sphere — and many of them don’t want to spend their shifts responding to these kind of calls. It’s not what they signed up for.
Presumably, they wanted to be police to work with criminals, and people like my son aren’t criminals.
It’s been nice to have a voice in these conversations and in writing legislation that can help other moms.
It may not be exactly everything I would want in a bill, but I know that if we had something like this the day before Miles was killed, it would have made a difference.
He might still be alive.