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The Argument In Motion: Why Mental Illness Is Not A Simple Answer To Understanding Murder

Peggy Lowe
KCUR 89.3

Dairian Stanley’s ex-girlfriend was warned before she met up with him that Sunday morning in September 2016.

Stanley had been missing for two days, had been talking “crazy stuff” and threatening to kill himself, his mother told her. When the ex-girlfriend found him at a BP gas station on Van Brunt Boulevard, Stanley demanded to know who she had been with.

“If I can’t have you, nobody can have you!” Stanley, then 21, said to her, according to court documents.

He threatened to kill her and her kids, the ex-girlfriend later told Kansas City Police, so she let him into her car and they drove to the other man’s home, at 5603 Hardesty. The ex-girlfriend jumped from the car and ran.

Torrence Evans, 26, came out of the house, and Stanley gunned him down, witnesses told police.

Credit Facebook
Torrence Evans, 26, was allegedly gunned down by Dairian Stanley, who was reportedly jealous that Evans was with Stanley’s ex-girlfriend.

“I just assume what happened with Darian was that some guy messed with his girlfriend,” is what Jonathan Mcclinton, Stanley’s former counselor, thought when he heard about Stanley’s arrest.

Rumors quickly swirled on the street that Stanley was mentally ill — though that’s not confirmed. But singling out mental health as a cause — in this case and others — is really not accurate.

Consider how President Donald Trump blamed “a deranged individual” when a shooter killed 26 people at a Texas church in November.

“We have a lot of mental health problems in our country, as do other countries,” Trump said. “But this isn’t a guns situation.”

Advocates for the mentally ill were angry at Trump’s comments, saying studies show that the large majority of people with serious mental illnesses are never violent. Richard Van Dorn, a mental health researcher at RTI International, an independent non-profit research institute, says his work shows quite the opposite of what many people think.

Adults with mental illness are more likely to be victimized by violence than they are to perpetrate violence, Van Dorn says. Studies also show mental illness is strongly associated with increased risk of suicide, which amounts to over half of U.S. firearm–related deaths.

“This notion of painting people with a broad brush is … a dangerous proposition,” Van Dorn says. “I think it is a disservice to adults with mental illnesses.”

If mentally ill people are violent, Van Dorn says, it’s most often about other factors, like drug or alcohol use, childhood abuse or neglect or lack of mental health treatment.

’I’m big, I gotta be tough’

Jonathan Mcclinton counseled a 17-year-old Dairian Stanley when he was in the Northwest Regional Youth Center, a juvenile lock-up in Kansas City.

“Dairian, he was a big kid. Looked almost like a grown man, had the body of a grown man,” Mcclinton says. “So you know you have those kids that have to have that persona, ‘I’m big, I gotta be tough.’”

Stanley was in the lock-up for some “street stuff,” Mcclinton says, like drugs, and some violence. On Sundays, which were set aside for family and other visitors, Mcclinton remembers that Stanley never got a visit. 

Part of Mcclinton’s job called for giving Stanley his medication. 

This story is part of The Argument, KCUR's series in which we explore the emotional forces behind many of the murders in the Kansas City area.

“He just refused to take them and you can’t make them take them, so he just refuse,” Mcclinton says. “But he was on medication, you know, and I used to tell them, ‘They prescribed it for a reason.’”

Stanley has been charged in Jackson County Circuit Court for first-degree murder, kidnapping and armed criminal action.

His trial is set for Jan. 8. His public defender, Paige Bremner, declined to comment for this story.

At a pre-trial hearing this month, Stanley was in the orange jumpsuit of the Jackson County Detention Center, where he’s been for 15 months. His legs and wrists where shackled. His hands were shaking as he read court documents.

Police say that when Stanley fled from 56th and Hardesty, he ran to Oklahoma. The U.S. Marshal’s Service ultimately arrested him in Tulsa, about a week after the murder.

Last week, Stanley refused the services of his public defender and said he wants to represent himself, saying he’s a “sovereign citizen.” At the Dec. 13 hearing, Jackson County Circuit Court Judge Charles McKenzie peppered Stanley with questions, making sure he understood that if convicted, he faces life in prison without parole.

Among other questions, McKenzie asked Stanley if he’s ever had mental health treatment.

“No, sir,” Stanley said.

Mental health treatment ‘taboo’

Mental health treatment carries a stigma in parts of the African-American community, says Monique Willis, founder of Momma On a Mission, a Kansas City advocacy group for the families of homicide victims.

“It’s taboo to say, ‘I’m not OK.’ To say that ‘I have issues,’ to take a pill to actually fix my mental health,” she says.

This idea may be slowly changing in the community, Willis says. Still, most people take their troubles to church, she says.

“They just pray about it. It’s always been — within your mothers, your grandmothers, your grandparents, within the community — we just pray about it,” Willis says. “You know, let God. Put it in his hands and handle it.”

Damon Daniel, the president of Ad Hoc Group, an anti-violence organization in Kansas City, helped the family of Torrence Evans after his murder. (The family did not want to comment for this story.)

Daniel says that family or friends who have known someone for a long time should speak up when they see them behaving in certain ways.

“So when they act out or when they do things, you just sort of normalize it or you say, ‘Oh, that's just the way they are,’” Daniel says. “But that doesn't make the behavior OK.”

Peggy Lowe is an investigative reporter for KCUR and Harvest Public Media. She’s on Twitter at @peggyllowe.

Follow our work and get behind-the-scenes information on The Argument by following us on Facebook.

I’m a veteran investigative reporter who came up through newspapers and moved to public media. I want to give people a better understanding of the criminal justice system by focusing on its deeper issues, like institutional racism, the poverty-to-prison pipeline and police accountability. Today this beat is much different from how reporters worked it in the past. I’m telling stories about people who are building significant civil rights movements and redefining public safety. Email me at lowep@kcur.org.
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