Officers save woman's life, thanks to instincts, suicide prevention training

When Beaufort police officers arrived at an apartment Thursday, they found a woman standing on the second-floor balcony, a noose around her neck and cuts on her arms and legs.

Moments later, she jumped.

Three officers moved fast to avert a tragedy, in part by calling upon training they received as cadets, in part by resorting to their instincts.

"Obviously, there is no class on how to handle a situation exactly like that, but at the academy, they receive training on the state laws and what the laws allow them to do in those situations," said Beaufort Police Chief Matt Clancy.

Officers were called to the Beaufort-area apartment at about 5:30 a.m. and reported finding a 24-year-old woman on the balcony, bleeding from self-inflicted gashes to her wrists and legs. The woman had a makeshift noose around her neck and had fastened the other end of the rope to the balcony railing.

As Officer James Sanders talked to the woman, she jumped over the rail. Sanders grabbed her before the rope pulled taut and held onto her so her neck would not snap. Meanwhile, Officer Bruce Rhoads cut the rope with his pocket knife. Freed from the noose, she fell to the ground and into the waiting arms of Cpl. Raymond Heroux. She was taken to Beaufort Memorial Hospital. Her condition is undisclosed.

Clancy said the officers used good judgment, teamwork and quick thinking to save the woman's life.

"I'm very proud of them," he said. "The strength of a department lies in the ability of individual officers to respond properly under pressure. This was a call that they don't respond to every day. It was a high-stress situation, and they used good judgment and maturity to take action."

Sanders, Rhoads and Heroux were unavailable for comment Thursday.

Beaufort police are called to deal with emotionally disturbed people about once or twice a week, Clancy said.

Clancy said officers receive training on dealing with suicide attempts and other mental health-related scenarios at the S.C. Criminal Justice Academy in Columbia before becoming officers.

"They put them through mock situations on how to apply the laws under pressure," Clancy said. "They have to understand the framework of the laws and the department policies and procedures and apply them in a couple of seconds."

Officers of every Beaufort-area law enforcement agency undergo the state training, and some departments, including the Bluffton Police Department, put officers through additional training every two years.

Lt. Bryan Norberg, Bluffton police spokesman, said officers just completed such a course in November. Bluffton officers respond to attempted-suicide calls about once a month, he said.

Beaufort County Sheriff P.J. Tanner said responding to suicide attempts forces officers to recall many aspects of their training.

"Unfortunately, we take a fair share of these kinds of calls, and they all require different kinds of training," he said. "Officers have to use conflict resolution, defensive tactics, verbal judo, officer survival training and common sense. All of those skills combine to contribute to defusing a lot of these situations."

Officers can take a person into protective custody if that person is suicidal or appears to have suicidal tendencies. Once in custody, the person is taken to the nearest hospital.

Clancy said calls for suicide attempts require officers to be compassionate, while also protecting themselves and others.

"You're dealing with an individual who obviously has no problem injuring or killing themselves, so they're likely to have no problem injuring or killing someone else," he said. "At the same time, you have the element of compassion. There is something obviously going on with this person, and you want to help them and make sure they don't further injure themselves or anyone else.

"The officers in this case were able to make sure that this woman didn't sustain any further injuries."