17-year-old Stephen Morehouse was diagnosed with autism when he was in second grade. He suffers from severe anxiety and often has meltdowns, which can result in violent and self-harming behavior.
John and Lindsey Wiley, Stephen’s mom and stepdad, are his primary caregivers. They have done everything they can to get the proper intervention for Stephen, including bi-weekly counseling and monthly doctor visits. They’ve also made a safety plan to help the family respond to his outbursts properly. The last step in that emergency plan is to call 911 if Stephen begins to threaten his own life so that he can be taken to the hospital for help.
On May 8, 2018, the Allendale, Michigan, couple put that plan into action exactly as it was supposed to be done.
Stephen and the Wileys’ other two sons were all playing electronic devices, and John decided they’d had enough screen time and took them away. Stephen immediately became enraged and started screaming. He followed John down the hallway and tried to hit him, and John, following protocol, pushed him back toward the living room, where he would be in a better position to put Stephen in a basket-hold to help calm him down.
“That was the only physical contact in the house,” John says.
But things escalated from there. Stephen began to threaten to harm himself, so John called 911 so that he could be transported to the hospital for his own safety. The officer who arrived to the scene gave Stephen the choice between jail and the hospital, and he chose the hospital.
Captain Mark Bennett with the Ottawa County Sheriff’s Department confirms that 911 is absolutely the appropriate call to make when someone is threatening their own life. He also says the officer did the right thing too, filing a police report about the incident.
Stephen was released from Holland Hospital a few hours later, and all seemed well with the world again. Until two weeks later, when paperwork regarding the incident, which labeled John as the victim of a domestic violence case, showed up in the mail. The next day, a warrant for Stephen’s arrest was found in the mailbox.
“The meltdowns are going to happen, people need to know how to react to the meltdowns—and that’s where we were failed,” John says.
The papers ordered for John and Stephen not be in the same residence, so he could not even accompany the teenager to the jailhouse where he would spend nearly 24 hours. Lindsey called the jail in an attempt to ensure that her son would be given his medication while he was there, but she was never given a direct answer about it.
A day later, when Stephen was released, Lindsey says she received a phone call requesting that she pick him up within 15 minutes and asking where Stephen would be taken, since he couldn’t be at home with John. The situation seemed humiliating and unfair, but they had to figure out other arrangements until they could get the bond arrangements changed.
Captain Bennett says the case will not likely lead to a conviction or more jail time, but rather to some assistance for the family.
Watch the video below to learn more about Stephen’s unfortunate situation and what the family is doing about it.
Elizabeth Nelson is a wordsmith, an alumna of Aquinas College in Grand Rapids, a four-leaf-clover finder, and a grammar connoisseur. She has lived in west Michigan since age four but loves to travel to new (and old) places. In her free time, she. . . wait, what’s free time?