The family of 21-year-old Tania Silva is pleading with the sheriff to release her from the Travis County Jail and to take her to a mental health facility.
Austin police said the woman was arrested for assaulting a police officer while suffering some kind of mental health crisis. Once in jail, she was placed on an immigration hold.
“She deserves psychiatric care in a proper environment, not a prison cell,” said Pamela Silva, Tania’s sister.
Tania’s family said she is diagnosed with a mental health disorder and, because of it, they've called for help from Austin police in the past, but when they called officers on Thursday, things went much differently than they expected.
“This time we called for help and they didn't help her,” said Pamela.
“Unfortunately, it did turn into a violent incident where an arrest had to be made, but, the beginning, or ultimate goal of the call, was to give her help,” said Austin Police Officer Destiny Winston.
Police said before they even arrived to Tania’s East Austin home, four people called to warn them Tania was acting aggressively and hitting people. But, according to officers, they took every step to calm Tania down by requesting a female officer and a mental health officer.
After explaining to Tania she was going to be taken to a mental health facility, officers tried to handcuff her. Officers said that is standard policy for police transports.
“She then proceeded to kick one of the officers twice and also scratched him causing him pain,” Winston said.
After that happened, the plan to take Tania to a hospital changed.
“They decided to arrest Silva for assault on a public servant because, again, she assaulted him causing him injury and pain,” said Winston.
Tania was then taken to the Travis County Jail where Immigration and Customs Enforcement placed her on a federal hold because of her immigration status.
That has her family and immigration advocates concerned.
“Our worst fear right now is that she is not medicated and receiving help in a hospital where she needs to be. She might not be able to recover, ever,” Pamela said.
“We know Sheriff Hernandez wants to do the right thing. We think she has a lot of power and discretion as sheriff. We are asking her to do everything in her power,” said Emily Timm, senior organizing director with the Workers Defense Project.
Travis County Sheriff Sally Hernandez said in the past she would've denied the immigration hold, but state law, SB4, doesn't allow her to do that anymore.
Hernandez released a statement regarding Tania’s situation that reads:
Situations like this are heartbreaking and unfortunately, not uncommon. We deal with this issue on a daily basis in our jails as men and women suffering a mental health crisis are arrested and booked instead of being diverted to treatment facilities. A person’s immigration status compounds the matter. This is one of the reasons I continue to oppose SB4. It denies law enforcement the discretion to do the right thing for the right reason.
In the Travis County jails, we have a contract psychiatrist from Integral Care and four advanced nurse practitioners offering care and treatment to inmates with mental illness. Additionally, we have over 20 counselors who monitor the mental health status of inmates. While not ideal compared to a hospital setting, we provide conscientious care to inmates with mental health conditions. The transfer of an inmate from our facility to a hospital is a process that rests on the shoulders of many in the judicial system and we’re working diligently together. It’s a mission for us, not just awareness.
-Travis County Sheriff Sally Hernandez
Austin police said they do have a history with Tania, but would not disclose whether she has any kind of criminal history.