Irreconcilable differences

Micah Abbey and his mother, Denise Abbey, pose in happier times.

Micah Abbey and his mother, Denise Abbey, pose in happier times.

Photo/courtesy Denise Abbey

Bad things shouldn’t happen on Christmas day, but sometimes they do. People shouldn’t be alone on Christmas day, but sometimes they are. People shouldn’t work on Christmas day, and sometimes they don’t. But sometimes they do. The world is filled with such inconsistencies.

Micah Abbey, 33, had wanted nothing more than to play penny slots at John Ascuaga’s Nugget on the evening of December 25, 2011. He’d been to a Christmas party earlier, and he was happy. He had plans to go to the Nugget with his buddy James Faulkner, but it turned out Citifare stopped service at 5 p.m., Faulkner said, and Abbey would have been stuck in Sparks. Since he lived at 9801 Crystalline Drive out in Stead—a group home owned by Project Uplift for people with mental illness who are transitioning to living on their own—coming to town seemed impractical, so they had to cancel.

Abbey was undoubtedly disappointed, and it’s pretty obvious that Faulkner feels some guilt over it, especially in light of what happened.

It’s hard to gain perspective on the evening of Abbey’s death at the hands of police. Police reports are certainly a version of the truth, records down to the minute. But the story they tell of the person is diametrically opposed to what the people who knew him best had to say. It’s a question of perspective, isn’t it? Police—and the public, generally—want to see evidence of the bad guy whose actions put him in a position where he essentially killed himself, although he used other people as his agents. It’s human nature. Friends and family see the guy who took care of his grandma, who didn’t drink, smoke or do drugs, who worked hard despite his bad back, who helped his aging housemates, who wasn’t unstable, just a bit emotionally damaged by a divorce. It’s human nature.

Here’s how one investigator described the man: “Micah Steven Abbey had a history of mental illness to include major depression, anxiety disorder, post traumatic stress disorder, and rule out bipolar disorder. Micah injured his back in an accident and had a herniated disc operated on. Micah was left with 25 percent numbness starting in his lower back and going down his legs to his feet. Micah was taking several medications to include Depakote, Paxil, Geodon, Diazepam, Flexeril and Oxycodone. Micah had a history of drug abuse to include synthetic marijuana known as “Spice,” and conflicts involving violence, the police and suicidal statements.”

The investigator said that Abbey was upset because his brother was about to be released from prison. “The daytime caretaker Anita Ritt said that Micah was pacing, grunting like an animal, and had to go on several walks to calm himself down. Micah made comments about “going gangsta” on the people that put his brother in jail.”

Michael Ross gave him his medications at 7 o’clock, but it was less than an hour later that, police say, he was yelling at another resident about his missing backpack. “Michael told Micah that he couldn’t handle the situation by yelling and getting upset. Micah shoved Michael, slammed his body into Michael, and was yelling at Michael while holding a fork in his outstretched arm.”

Ross called 911.

There are three public documents associated with this incident, one from the Washoe County Sheriff’s Office at; one from the University of Nevada, Reno, Police Department at; the complaint in federal court alleging that Abbey was wrongfully killed,

All the documents depict chaos in that small bedroom. That a 165-pound man with a bad back could take on up to four trained police officers from Reno and the University of Nevada, Reno is hard to reconcile. It’s hard to reconcile that to restrain him up to four men would have to beat him with batons, taser him 26 times, place him in a chokehold or hogtie him on his stomach with his wrists and ankles cuffed and tied together. It’s hard to reconcile that they didn’t need expend this much energy to subdue him, either, simply because, if they didn’t need to, why would they?

And yet, there’s little in any of these documents that disputes these facts.

Micah Abbey’s grandmother Anita Nelon cries when she talks to a stranger on the telephone about his death. She’s still got the accent from her native lands of Copenhagen and Denmark, but she’s been here for decades.

“It’s such a big loss, such a big loss,” she said. “He was such a soft soul. He was the sweetest, most thoughtful boy. ’Grandma, what can I help you with today?’ It’s been like a nightmare. That should not have happened. Not to him. Not to him.”