Prior to suicide, state Rep. John Kivela told arresting officer: 'My life is over'

LANSING, MICH. - Former state Rep. John Kivela, who committed suicide one day after his second drunk driving arrest on May 8, repeatedly told the arresting officer “my life is over,” according to records released Thursday under Michigan’s Freedom of Information Act.

At one point during Kivela's arrest, he attempted to walk out onto southbound US-127, where vehicles were racing by during rush hour, answering, "Why not?" when the arresting officer physically restrained him and said he didn't want Kivela walking into traffic, the records show.

The arrest records appear to contradict Clinton County Sheriff Lawrence Jerue’s May 10 statement to the Free Press that Kivela, 47, showed no signs of being suicidal.

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They also raise questions about what, if any, responsibility police agencies have when they release a potentially suicidal person on bond.

Jerue said Thursday that officers believed Kivela was talking about his political life being over and Kivela never made an explicit suicide threat that would have allowed them to hold him in protective custody pending a mental health assessment.

Kivela was specifically asked whether he was feeling suicidal in a jail booking questionnaire and answered no, Jerue said.

"This is a terrible tragedy," said Jerue, who added that he has lost a sister to suicide. "I feel sorry for the family, and for him, too."

However, "I don't want to say there isn't more that could have been done -- I just don't know what that might have been."

But Mark Reinstein, president and CEO of the Mental Health Association in Lansing, said Kivela's comments and actions during the arrest sound like a "red flag," and any indications that someone may be suicidal should be taken very seriously.

"It would be good practice ... to make a referral and at least get that person hooked up with some mental health assistance and some specific suicide prevention," said Reinstein, who is not a clinician but has a doctorate and has worked in the mental health field in Michigan for more than 30 years.

"You need to err on the side of caution," he said.

Kivela, a former Marquette mayor who was completing his third and final term in the state House and had announced plans to run for the state Senate, was monitored in his cell prior to his release but was not on a suicide watch, Jerue said.

A Democrat who had acknowledged an alcohol addiction and pledged to seek treatment after an earlier drunk driving arrest in 2015, Kivela was released on bond in the early morning of May 9 after he was arrested and gave a blood alcohol level reading nearly three times the state's .08 legal limit for being considered drunk late in the afternoon of May 8.

He was found dead from an apparent suicide inside a Lansing home he owned on the afternoon of May 9.

According to the police report released under FOIA, Kivela was "mumbling my life is over" during his arrest, and after being physically restrained from walking onto the freeway said: "It doesn't matter, my life's over because I'm so drunk."

Kivela later made that statement a third time while police were taking a blood sample, the report said.

A police dashboard camera video of the arrest shows Kivela at one point turning to walk onto busy US-127 before being restrained by the arresting officer.

"I don't want you walking out into traffic," the officer told Kivela.

"Why not?" Kivela asked.

"Why do you think?" the officer replied.

Kivela can't be heard saying "my life is over," in the arrest video released by the sheriff's office. Lt. Jeffrey Clarke said Thursday that the comments were made later, during portions of Kivela's arrest, blood sampling and booking for which there is video, but no audio.

Kivela also told the officer: "Make sure my wife knows I love her -- and my kids."

That statement sounds like another red flag, Reinstein said.

Through a family friend, Kivela’s 25-year-old daughter Shelby, a Boston registered nurse, declined to comment Thursday on statements her father made at the time of his arrest. But she said she wanted greater attention and resources devoted to addiction, mental health issues, and suicide to be part of her father’s legacy.

Gov. Rick Snyder on Thursday called an Aug. 8 special primary election and a Nov. 7 special general election for candidates interested in completing Kivela's term.

Contact Paul Egan: 517-372-8660 or pegan@freepress.com. Follow him on Twitter @paulegan4.

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© 2017 Detroit Free Press


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