Untreated, Quoyah Carson Tehee’s schizophrenia was essentially a death sentence.
The night before he hanged himself at his home in Cloverdale on Dec. 10, 2015, Tehee was plagued by paranoid delusions. The 37-year-old stood in the rain with no shirt and shoes, wielding a pitchfork over his head, screaming and yelling. He threatened his neighbors and accused them of taking his cigarettes. He threw a rock through their car window and assaulted a cyclist after knocking him off his bike.
Public records and interviews with his family paint a portrait of Tehee’s final hours.
Tehee was taken to Sonoma County Jail. His mother, Denise Bleuel, says everyone who knew him — his neighbors, the local grocery clerks and especially the Cloverdale police — was aware Tehee had mental illness. That night, however, he was released after spending five hours in the drunk tank.
When he got back to his home, he called his mother and stepfather at 3:15 a.m. and left a voice message that said, “You police stole my computer. Now, I kill myself.”
That morning, police found him hanging from the ceiling at the end of a packaging strap.
“He didn’t have to die that night, you know,” said James Warnock, Tehee’s stepfather. “He had a terminal disease; he had schizophrenia, and untreated, it’s terminal — and he would die eventually from it, but he didn’t have to die that night. He didn’t have to die that night.”
His life and death illustrate the challenges of caring for people with severe mental illnesses in Sonoma County, as well as the toll it takes on the people who love them.
Bleuel and Warnock are angry. They’re angry at the Sheriff’s Office, contending that it released their son from jail without providing proper care. They’re angry with the county, saying it does not provide enough psychiatric hospital beds.
They are angry at the mental health system, arguing that it repeatedly failed their son by setting such a high bar to obtain emergency psychiatric treatment for someone who does not want it. They say it’s a standard that, by definition, withholds care until someone’s life is in danger and too often leads to tragic endings, as it did with their son.
And they’re angry with the medical industry, saying it views mental illness as undeserving of the same attention, empathy or degree of treatment as cancer, heart disease or other physical illnesses.
“His suicide was not planned. It was a reaction to his inner delusions and voices, and it was an impulsive act,” said Bleuel. “The police were the gatekeepers and had him in the palm of their hands. He was treated like he did not matter. Well, he mattered more than anything to his family and his neighbors.”
Cloverdale Police Chief Stephen Cramer, who is out on medical leave, expressed disapproval in an email Friday that only the family’s version of the story is being printed but offered no additional comment. The Press Democrat reached out to the Cloverdale Police Department in October, in February and again this week.
Debbie Latham, chief deputy county counsel, said she could not discuss the details of Tehee’s medical treatment in the jail, citing privacy laws. All inmates with mental illness are evaluated before they are released, she said.
Crisis care: The new mental institutions
Sonoma County has a chronic shortage of psychiatric hospital beds. As as a result, a growing number of mentally ill residents are ending up in local emergency rooms and in the jail system. A four-part series, run on four consecutive Sundays, examines the causes and ramifications of the current state of the county’s mental health system, and the people who are impacted the most.
Aug. 6 — Hospitals: The closure of two psychiatric hospitals in Sonoma County has left a gaping hole.
Aug. 27 — Your response: Readers share their stories about Sonoma County's mental health system.
Ongoing coverage: www.pressdemocrat.com/crisiscare
Share your story
We want to hear about your experience with local psychiatric emergency services. What do you do when you or a loved one faces a mental health crisis? Have you or a loved one sat in a hospital bed waiting to be transferred to an out-of-county psychiatric hospital or other mental health facility? Have you or a loved one received psychiatric services in the Sonoma County Jail’s mental health unit? Please send a brief account of your experience to Martin Espinoza at email@example.com.