CHESAPEAKE, Va. (AP) — A man fatally shot by a Virginia state trooper after a police chase and a crash that killed his passenger had been mentally ill for years, according to court records.
Brian Michael Price, 45, was judged not guilty by reason of insanity to malicious wounding after striking his mother with a baseball bat in the southeastern Virginia city of Chesapeake in 2014.
He was released from a mental hospital in March 2020 under conditions including that he take his prescribed medications, go to therapy and routinely meet with a psychiatrist, according to court records first reported on by The Associated Press.
What led to the police shooting on Nov. 6 remains under investigation. But Price is already part of a glaring statistic: More than one in five people who’ve been fatally shot by police since 2015 have been known to have mental illness, according to a Washington Post database.
In Virginia, lawmakers have increased their focus on the issue, passing legislation last year that aims to dispatch mental health providers alongside police to help stabilize people in crisis situations. Named after a Black high school teacher killed by police in Richmond, the law takes effect in parts of Virginia in December.
Price, who was white, also was among a much smaller group of people charged with a crime but held not responsible because of mental illness. Many are eventually released from hospitals, under orders by the courts, and required to live under restrictions to ensure mental stability.
“The majority of people do well,” said Michael J. Vitacco, a psychiatry professor at Augusta University in Georgia who has conducted research on insanity acquittals, including in Virginia. “The combination of mandated treatment and follow-up is very much protective for the community.”
Price was driving a Chevy sedan in Newport News when officers tried to stop him for suspected aggravated assault, abduction and impaired driving. He drove onto an interstate instead, and state police took over the pursuit. Price's car and a trooper's vehicle eventually “made contact, causing both vehicles to run off the roadway in opposite directions,” a state police statement said.
Price’s vehicle overturned in a line of trees, killing passenger Amity Jo Grey on impact, the statement said.
“As the trooper attempted to verbally engage the male suspect, an altercation ensued during which the trooper was assaulted by the male suspect,” the statement said. "The trooper then shot the male suspect.”
Grey's family “has more questions than answers,” according to her former stepmother, Lynn Teravainen. She said she didn't know Price and hadn't seen Grey — who was known as Ami — for years. But she has been speaking to the media on behalf of Grey's family.
“They were in love. They were planning to get married,” Teravainen said of Price and Grey. “We're still waiting to find out what caused the chase ... Did Ami make the call? ... We can't even get an answer as to who actually made that 911 call.”
Price was treated at Eastern State Hospital in Williamsburg following his insanity acquittal. The Virginia Department of Behavioral Health & Developmental Services, which oversees the state's mental hospitals, declined to comment on any former patients because of privacy laws.
Speaking generally about the insanity acquittal process, Deputy Director of Forensic Services Christine Schein said punishing people for crimes that were due to mental illness does not serve a purpose.
“The thought is if we can work on the mental illness and provide them support, then they’ll be able to safely return to the community,” Schein said.
After Price left the hospital last year, his care was managed by Chesapeake Integrated Behavioral Healthcare, a community services board that filed reports on his mental health and treatment with a Chesapeake court. Executive Director Joseph J. Scislowicz declined to comment, citing federal privacy laws.
Price's diagnosis included schizoaffective disorder, court records stated. The condition is characterized primarily by schizophrenia symptoms, such as hallucinations or delusions, as well as symptoms that can include mania, according to the National Alliance of Mental Illness.
Price initially struggled after his release — he was incarcerated and hospitalized twice during a “chaotic” first six months, according to evaluations submitted to a Chesapeake court.
But he also showed signs of improvement this year, according to an evaluation from September. He was working in construction, living in an apartment approved by the community services board and keeping his appointments with his case manager and others overseeing his care.
Despite some illegal use of amphetamines to self-treat his attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, the September evaluation recommended that his conditional release from the hospital continue.