LUBBOCK, Texas – Hollis Daniels III will spend the rest of his life in prison after his capital murder conviction for the death of Texas Tech Police Department (TTPD) Officer Floyd East Jr. back on Oct. 9, 2017.
East’s’ widow Carmen East was in the courtroom for each day of the trial that lasted for two and a half weeks in February.
Following her husband’s death, Carmen started a nonprofit called “Texas 635” and has dedicated her time to helping families of other fallen officers as well as peace officers in need of support.
“Police officers see the worst of humanity, and it’s a constant thing that they see,” Carmen East said. “As a peace officer, they need to have a peaceful mindset.”
Just four months after Officer East’s death, Carmen created the organization which has now helped hundreds of officers, all in honor of her husband who was killed in the line of duty.
Originally she wanted to help these families financially but soon learned of the need for mental health resources for these officers.
“The main mission for Texas 635 is to provide funds for Fallen Officer families, Carmen East said. “We send a $635 check to families who have lost a loved one in the line of duty. We also found that we have a second mission, which is extremely important to us. And we call that program “Blue’s Space,” and that program is mental wellness for police officers.”
The Blue’s Space Program is a 3-day mental health retreat for officers nationwide. It’s led by fellow officers who are certified in critical incident training to allow these officers a chance to unpack their on-the-job stressors with others who can relate.
“The profession itself has a lot of stigmas, especially in the area of mental health, which already carries its own unfounded stigma,” said retired El Paso Police Department Sgt. Mike Short. “Police officers have this belief that they always have to be strong and virile. I’ve always told them, you wear a bulletproof vest, you are not bulletproof. There are certainly things that affect a police officer in their day-to-day life.”
Sgt. Short is using his 30 years of crisis negotiation experience to lead others at these retreats. He said the main problem with mental and emotional trauma is that you never know when it’s going to resurface.
“You may be fine that day, you may be fine in the next week, five years from now, and all of a sudden, you get boomeranged by things that you’ve seen,” Sgt. Short said. “I have 10,000 pictures in my head I wish I could forget, but it just doesn’t happen that way. It’s a lifelong commitment to be aware and to be always considering your own state of mental health.”
Cpl. Russell Scarborough with the Lubbock County Sheriff’s Office (LCSO) made the decision to go on one of the men’s retreats last year. He described it as an unforgettable experience.
“It was so relieving to share in the comforts of that time in that space that was private,” Cpl. Scarborough said. “It was just us. We’re in the middle of nowhere in the mountains. Nobody could penetrate what we’re talking about and disrupt us. We were a force.”
LCSO Deputy Miriam Huerta also experienced something horrible while on duty. She was fearful of having to relive the trauma by talking about it, but she would find comfort in the fact she was not alone in her thoughts.
“Mental health wellness for officers is very important because until we realize that we have so much that we have to process, we’re just like this ticking time bomb waiting to just go off,” Huerta said. “You come back as a different person with new ideas and trying to help others and it’s important for us to be able to help our fellow officers because if they’re not good, we’re not good.”
Sgt. Short said the journey of life should not be traveled alone.
“We care for each other so that we can continue to keep the community safe, which is what is in our hearts to do,” Sgt. Short said.
It took Carmen three years to forgive Daniels for murdering her late husband in the line of duty. She said it was only through sharing her traumatic experiences with others that she was able to find a way to move forward. She now hopes to give peace officers nationwide that same opportunity.
“It’s just an overall sad situation, nobody won,” Carmen East said. “My forgiveness for him has come just from knowing and giving me the strength to be able to do something for others.”
To learn more, visit the Texas 635 website.