this is "nightline." >> tonight -- >> what is your emergency? >> she called the cops to get help for her son. instead he got shot. the officers say it was self-defense. but could proper training have prevented tragedy? tonight we're with the specialized mental health squad. how their new approach could revolutionize the force. >> have you ever attempted suicide in the past? >> on the edge of the void. >> he talks the talk. but can he walk the walk? how joseph gordon-levitt learned from a legend to play "the man on the wire." a deeply private actor opening up tonight about the challenges onscreen and off. and up in the air. and a hotel taking vacation to dizzying new heights.
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many of us know someone who struggles with mental illness. when cops are called into the picture these encounters can turn deadly. tonight we're on the streets with two remarkable police officers using new tactics to save lives. >> reporter: a mother's call for help gone terribly wrong. >> 911 are what's your emergency? >> my son needs to be taken to parklond, he's bipolar. make sure they're trained police officers. >> okay. >> reporter: this body cam video shows two dallas police officers responding to a 911 call about a bipolar schizophrenic man off his meds. we have to warn you what happens next is hard to watch. >> bipolar schizo. >> reporter: 38-year-old jason harrison comes to the door. screw driver in his hand. >> drop it for me! >> drop it, drop it! >> jay, jay! oh, you killed my child!
oh, you killed my child! >> shots fired! >> reporter: eight seconds after he came to the door, harrison lay dieing in his mother's driveway. shot five times, twice in the back. >> the morgue got called. for mental health. >> reporter: the officers insist they had no other choice, they fired in self defense. >> they could have tasered him or something. they didn't have to come out straight with the deadly force. >> reporter: a grand jury declined to indict. the harrison family is now suing the officers and the city of dallas who have sought to dismiss the lawsuit, arguing use of force was reasonable under the circumstances. >> the training that these guys are lacking is what needs to be changed. >> reporter: jason harrison's name has now become one among many others. names like laval hall, dontrey hamill, mentally ill, ended up
on the wrong side of an officer's gone. in what many even inside law enforcement are calling a crisis in american policing. >> what i can't stress enough, i feel in my heart, this is the future of policing. >> just hours from where jason harrison was killed, a specialized team is working to revolutionize policing from within. they're san antonio's mental health unit. >> she's calling in stating she has depression and she's feeling suicidal. >> reporter: meet patrolman joe smara, ernie stevens. their task to responding with calls involving emotionally disturbed persons anywhere in the city. >> my name's ernie, you called the police? >> i promise i'm not like any police officer you've probably ever met. >> reporter: today it's a young woman who called 911, contemplating suicide. >> have you ever attempted suicide in the past? >> no. >> no? >> i don't even know how to do it. >> you don't have a plan right now? >> no. >> reporter: these officers are experts in what's called crisis intervention training. >> would you say that you really don't want to die but you want the pain to stop? >> yeah. >> okay, okay.
>> i don't want to leave my kid. >> are you willing to get some help today? >> yeah. >> reporter: this woman agrees to get help. >> we'll go in there together. you'll ride with us in an unmarked car -- >> reporter: it's part of a pioneering program where the mentally ill are diverted out of jails and into treatment. how is your approach different from the average cop, if you will? >> it's the complete opposite. we're in plain clothes. unmarked car. we walk in, it's not i'm officer smara, it's how you doing? i'm joe, this is ernie. we're here to 10 you. >> reporter: 15% to 20% of law enforcement agencies in the country laugh crisis intervention training programs. >> suicidal, do you know if she's taken an overdose or anything? >> reporter: ernie stevens says he helped start the one in san antonio. >> that was the call i hated most. when you heard that dispatcher call in and say, there's an individual at this house that has schizophrenia, hearing voices, talking about suicide. >> reporter: all that changed, officer stevens says, after he reluctantly attended a week-long crisis intervention training class and met a woman with a
schizophrenic son. >> shouldn't, one way one of you officers might have to come to my house, shoot and kill my son. i want you to know that's okay because i want you to go home safe to your family. it was at that moment we made a pact, we were going to go and ask the chief if we could start a mental health unit to help family members like her. >> reporter: watch as they watch the jason harrison video. their facial expressions say as much as their words. >> oh, they killed my child! >> you're talking to family members in san antonio, this is their biggest fear of calling the police. that's why the training is so important. >> reporter: according to a survey by the police executive research forum, new recruits typically spend 60 hours learning to handle a gun, compared to eight hours learning strategies for handling the mentally ill. >> look at our police academies. how close do they mimic military boot camps? the only difference a lot of times is you get to go home at the end of the day. there's that in your face,
high-intensity yelling, training. that's great. then you graduate and go to the streets of, my 18-year-old daughter is wanting to kill himself. all of a sudden we've got to calm down. >> reporter: for joe this work is personal. as a marine corvette ran he's battled ptsd. >> person a question, you ever considered suicide? >> i have, absolutely. and more than once, to be honest with you. and so, you know, that's another thing where -- i don't shy away from the tough questions, byron. again, i hope that it will help somebody. >> when you go on these calls, you sometimes see yourself? >> a lot of times i see myself. and that's what allows me to do what i feel is a good job. >> reporter: this new approach may be saving lives and it's certainly saving money for the city of san antonio. around $50 million in the past five years. >> do you feel that she's suicidal? >> reporter: their specialized training is put to the test almost daily. >> a complainant is asking for a
welfare check on his estranged wife. she's a veteran. wounded warrior. she called him this morning and was crying and told him that she was in a lot of pain. he's unable to get a hold of her for the past hour. he's at her house. he's banging on the door. no answer. >> reporter: they race to the scene. we could sense their heart rates rising. >> police, are you okay? >> that's the victim's estranged husband who called 911. >> is she breathing? >> reporter: all they can do now is pace and pray. ea . >> they had to kick the door to get inside. they found the woman unconscious. >> can you coordinate -- i mean, she's unconscious, she's taken a lot of pills. >> we found her face-down in her bathroom with a lot of empty pill bottles. at least seven. we tried to do what we could. till e.m.s. got here. we have a faint pulse. >> my heart's broken for her.
i'm sad for the family. sad for the husband. you know. just wish you could do more. >> you can see the emotional toll this takes on the officers. and they do this every day. >> you guys kicked the door in having no idea what you might find inside. >> certain officers are going to see us as foolish. we don't know what's on the other side of that door, you're right. every possible call that police officers get dispatched to has the potential to turn violent. and like i said, our mindset is always ready to go there if needed. >> reporter: the woman survived. ernie and joe likely saved her life. >> i saw two cops go in. i saw two human beings come out. >> reaction is that because of how you see it affect us? there's no way you can do this day in and day out and not have a human approach or respond with emotion. i don't think it's possible.
>> our thanks to the san antonio police department. next, joseph gordon-levitt opens up about learning to walk on wire. plus we're going up, up and away to luxury hotel unlike any other. with heat. unlike creams and rubs that mask the pain, thermacare has patented heat cells that penetrate deep to increase circulation and accelerate healing. let's review: heat, plus relief, plus healing, equals thermacare. the proof that it heals is you. dads don't take sick days, dads take nyquil severe dave, i'm sorry to interrupt. i gotta take a sick day tomorrow. the nighttime, sniffling, sneezing, coughing, aching, fever, best sleep with a cold, medicine. i struggle with bipolar depression, and it's hard. ♪ i miss out on life's little moments. so i talked to my doctor and he prescribed latuda.
there are many forms of depression. latuda is fda approved to treat bipolar depression, which is different from other types of depression. in clinical studies, once-a-day latuda was proven effective for many people struggling with bipolar depression. latuda is not for everyone. call your doctor about unusual mood changes, behaviors, or suicidal thoughts. antidepressants can increase these in children, teens, and young adults. elderly dementia patients on latuda have an increased risk of death or stroke. call your doctor about fever, stiff muscles and confusion, as these may be signs of a life-threatening reaction, or if you have uncontrollable muscle movements, as these may be permanent. high blood sugar has been seen with latuda and medicines like it, and in extreme cases can lead to coma or death. other risks include decreased white blood cells, which can be fatal, dizziness on standing, seizures, increased cholesterol, weight or prolactin, trouble swallowing and impaired judgment. avoid grapefruit and grapefruit juice. use caution before driving or operating machinery. i spend time with my family just doing everyday things, really.
but you know what? they feel pretty special to me. ask your doctor if once-daily latuda is right for you. pay as little as a $15 copay. visit latuda.com it's not about hugging trees. it's not about being wasteful either. ♪ you just gotta find that balance. ♪ where taking care of yourself takes care of more than just yourself. ♪ lease an mkz hybrid for $299 a month only at your lincoln dealer. ♪
it's from virtually anywhere.rn of danger it's been smashed, dropped and driven. it's perceptive enough to detect other vehicles on the road. it's been shaken, rattled and pummeled. it's innovative enough to brake by itself, park itself and help you steer. it's been in the rain... the cold... and dragged through the mud. introducing the all-new mercedes-benz gle. it's where brains meet brawn. joseph gordon-levitt is a very private man but if anyone can get him to open up it's not to be my "nightline" coanchor juju chang. tonight he tells us about jumping into a high-stakes, high-wire act in his new movie. training with a real-life legend who walks between new york's twin towers in the 1970s. what's the secret ingredient
they body credit with their success? >> reporter: it's the epitome of death defying. suspended more than 100 stories high with no safety net. one man's walk on a wire between the world trade center's twin towers. >> people ask me, why do you risk death? for me this is life. >> reporter: joseph gordon-levitt plays the really-frenchman whose steps years ago are retraced in "the walk." the towers recreated with the actor shooting against a green screen 12 feet in the air but with movie magic seemingly above an endless void. >> are you afraid of heights? is there fear involved? >> every human being is born somewhat afraid of heights. it's in your instinct, it's dangerous. i don't think i'm more afraid of heights than anybody else. >> reporter: until now the view from the wire had only been experienced by one man. petite walked back and forth for 45 minutes, even laying down for
a break. >> describe the moment when you put your foot out on the wire. >> my left foot was on the wire. my right foot was anchored to the solidity of the tower. without asking me my right leg went on the wire. and here i was walking. >> reporter: he insisted on training gordon-levitt himself. >> i feel safe in saying that it was probably the most challenging job i've ever done. >> tell me a bit about the training. i know you trained him. was he a good student? >> in eight days it went from him lying on the floor to the last day by himself seven feet high, 30 feet long, on a wire with a balancing pole. >> learning to walk on the wire during those eight days was very important. but i think the number one thing i took away was your optimism. the fact that you believed in me. that made me believe in myself. >> reporter: this is not the first time petite's story has been told on the silver screen. the 2008 oscar-winning documentary "man on wire" introduced his walk to a new generation of fans.
>> there is nobody out there -- >> reporter: today's high-wire acts come from people like nik wallenda who walked across niagara falls in 2012. >> nik wallenda! >> reporter: this free spirit views himself more an audacious artist, not a performer. >> the circus people, from which i do not belong, they have a tradition of showing, making the crowd around by almost misstepping on the wire purposely. i never inherited that. i learned by myself almost the opposite. the simplicity, the elegance, the majesty, which i had a very good teacher as well. >> reporter: perhaps there's no better choice to play petite than an actor who embodies those artistic qualities. gordon-levitt fell in hoff with acting as a kid. but it was in his role as a man-child alien on "third rock from the sun" that made him a
reluctant star. >> what is it trying to tell sinus. >> i always found it uncomfortable when people would say, "i saw you on tv." that felt awkward to me. i privately wished that we could go on set and do the work that i loved but then burn the film afterwards. >> do you feel like fame is toxic? >> i think it can be. you know, i think if you chase after fame and money, it's sort of a recipe for unhappiness. but if instead, like this man, you're really just driven by what it is that you're doing -- he didn't make any money. that's not why he did it. >> reporter: gordon-levitt took a break from acting and studied french lit at columbia university. he eventually returned to acting with newfound enthusiasm, disappearing into pivotal roles in blockbusters like "inception." "the dark knight rises." >> i need to see bruce wayne. >> reporter: he took chances on indie films that paid off like "50/50."
and wrote and directed "don jon." >> when i started acting again my attitude had changed. when people now come up to me and they say, i saw "50/50," and that meant a lot to me because a friend of mine dealt with cancer. or, i saw "500 days of summer" and it helped me deal with getting dumped. whatever it is. if people connect to something i've done, that's very meaningful to me. >> reporter: but his most meaningful project? cocreated with his late brother who died at the age of 36. >> and this is my production company. hit record. >> reporter: a revolutionary crowd-sourcing production company. hit record features artistic content. anyone from anywhere can contribute. it's morphed into a tv show. >> hit record on tv! >> if there's an impossible dream in my life that i could somehow draw a parallel to felipe and his incredible walks, "hit record" is like that. >> reporter: for such a public artist, he keeps his private life out of the spotlight. his recent marriage never made
the gossip pages. and he has profound reasons for saying very little publicly about his new baby. >> i look at my son and i say, he's awesome. he's going to grow up and he's going to do such incredible things. here's the thing, this is why i feel private. i don't want him to feel the pressure of me having been on tv and seeing that. what if he just wants to go off and live in tibet and be a monk and never be heard from again? i want to support that, i want him to feel encouraged to do that. >> reporter: the whole world was his stage when petite took on the towers 41 years ago. but it was as much a work of art as it was a coup that he pulled off. >> it has the potential to be a caper movie. a heist movie that's just a thrill ride. >> i need you to help me pull this off. >> i've got just the guy. >> i love that it's a heist. but the characters aren't looking to steal money. they're looking to create a work of art. >> we give instead of taking. >> reporter: perhaps that's, why
even though he was promptly arrested, his punishment was a free high-wire performance for children in central park. today, petite still sees artistic challenges everywhere. >> big dreams start with little steps sometimes. such as getting the little cord out. >> reporter: though the towers are now gone, according to petite the memories of his act live on. >> the movie experience is that the spirit is right. the character is right. the wire is alive. and everything is joyful and that's important. >> this has been called a love letter to the twin towers. >> hm. >> do you feel that way? >> yeah, very much. certainly any time any of us think of the world trade center towers our mind is first going to go to the tragedy. and i think that's appropriate. but i think with any tragic loss it's also worth remembering good times. that's what the movie is, a celebration of one of the most beautiful moments that happened with those two buildings, right when they were being born.
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our final adventure tonight takes us to a hotel perched on a mountaintop. and you can't just jump in a car to get there. it's called sky lodge. travelers who want to live and sleep on the edge. in a completely transparent room, guests sleep perched atop a 1,200 foot high cliff. checking in requires a steep
four-hour climb. guests at the time tore a safety line as they scale the mountain. once there, the company, tour a vive, offer luxury amenities and a bathroom in dangling capsules. the payoff, watching peru's magical valley of the incas unfold before your eyes. dinner and wine are includedal with the view. thrills don't end at checkout. guests zip line back down the mountain to the valley floor. so if the sky lodge is now on your bucket list, it costs about $300 per night to reach these dizzying and spectacular heights. >> i'm an elevator guy myself. it was the great comedian milton burl who said, laughter is an instant vacation. and it's free. thank you for watching abc news. tune into "good morning america" tomorrow. as always, we're