Would mandatory mental-health reporting have stopped Loughner?

posted at 10:55 am on January 19, 2011 by Ed Morrissey

After every tragic event, people try to figure out what could have stopped it.  In the case of the Tuscon shootings, the debate has finally turned from the ridiculous notion that people should stop using routine analogies lest we disturb the already-disturbed to what steps should be taken when we find someone dangerously disturbed in the first place.  After all, Pima Community College suspended Jared Lee Loughner and required a psychiatric clearance for him to return to the public school after staff and students became convinced that Loughner was dangerous.  Should they have been required to report Loughner to a mental-health facility?  Sally Satel and Jeffrey Geller say yes:

In fact, under Arizona law, any concerned party can petition the court for an Order for Treatment. If Loughner had been found “persistently and acutely disabled” by severe mental illness and “likely to benefit from treatment” — regardless of whether he had a weapon or was suicidal — an evaluation and subsequent care could have been court mandated.

Of course, hindsight is perfect. As incidents unfold in real time, most people are rightly skittish about infringing on a person’s freedom. But given Loughner’s troubling track record — the number of times the campus police were called to intervene; the pressing concerns of his teacher and of other students; and the very fact that the college would not re-admit him after his suspension without psychiatric clearance — it seems that a court petition could have been justified.

Good laws work only when applied, of course. And when Loughner did not return to school, Pima Community College was rid of a very troubled young man and his problems. It did what so many colleges, universities and businesses have done before: passed the problem along. …

Perhaps it is time to require action. When a school or business feels the need to protect itself from someone who is mentally ill, perhaps it should be required to try to protect others, too.

Thus, if a school or a business ejects or otherwise removes a student or employee out of concern about behavior and dangerousness, the principal, dean, or head of the Human Resources department would be required, under a mandatory reporting law, to inform the medical director of the appropriate public health jurisdiction. This public official would then have to initiate an evaluation that might lead to a face-to-face evaluation and, depending upon its outcome, possibly involuntary treatment.

Satel and Geller are on more solid ground when talking about public schools.  Those are public institutions, which exist for evaluation of both performance and behavior.  Working out a mandatory reporting system for public schools would be less complicated.  Even without such a mandate, though, one has to wonder why Pima Community College didn’t follow up on Loughner, other than the understandable relief at having put some distance between its faculty and student body and (at that time) a potentially dangerous young man.

The authors note that mandatory reporting already exists for issues like child abuse, which apply to both schools and medical clinics/hospitals.  The latter already have other mandatory reporting requirements for injuries from violent crimes, such as gunshots and knife wounds.  But again, medical clinics and hospitals exist to conduct health assessments already; adding a psychiatric mandate would add more complication but would be within the mission of the profession.  That, however, does not apply to businesses outside of the health profession.  In fact, it sets up the private sector to act as an expert in mental health when such an expertise lies far outside what they do.

Most businesses do not eject an employee for being crazy.  Thanks to wrongful-termination lawsuits over the last few decades, most business won’t fire anyone at all unless supervisors produce a clear track record of specific failures to perform, documented and corroborated by objective data.  Private-sector employers won’t fire someone over allegations of “dangerousness” alone; if they do, they’d better have lawyers on retainer to handle the lawsuit that inevitably would follow.  And once an employee gets terminated, the private-sector business has no obligation to anyone to act as an arbiter of mental health or to “report” their inexpert opinions to the government.

If we want to insist on mandatory reporting for entities when dangerous psychoses are suspected, let’s start first with those entities that are more equipped to diagnose those issues.  But let’s also realize the limitations of such mandates, and the danger of benign individuals getting caught in a trap where they are forced to prove their relative sanity, rather than having the government prove their insanity.


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I have followed your posts and realize you have personal reasons for feeling the you do. That said, mental evaluation regarding danger to self or others has to be done by someone. Hopefully, it is done by a competent, objective professional, operating in some official capacity.
I recognize that system can be abused. IMO, that potential for abuse can be minimized with proper checks and balances, and is preferable to avoiding the issue altogether. No system will be perfect. The present one is obviously not.

a capella on January 19, 2011 at 12:06 PM

Perhaps you have heard me say:

If we have to err, I would rather err on the side of freedom.

I have a big problem with locking up people that haven’t been convicted of or even tried for crimes. That being the case, it seems as though the Pima County Sheriff’s Office failed to pursue probable cause in Loughner’s crime of making death threats. Not just once or twice, but numerous times. That is why I believe the Sheriff’s office has more culpability in all this than Jared Loughner’s parents do.

Courts have held time-and-time-again that law enforcement agencies or officers can not be held responsible for failure to respond to, or prevent a crime. That’s probably as it should be, but Clarence Dupnik’s ass belongs firmly in the hotseat. He exemplifies everything that is wrong with bureacracy.

gryphon202 on January 19, 2011 at 12:11 PM

but we can agree that there is some cost to be borne by the parents.

ted c on January 19, 2011 at 11:59 AM

No we can’t…not without more facts, and “facts” seem to be misplaced in this event. Lots of innuendos, but little facts.

right2bright on January 19, 2011 at 12:11 PM

There’s a clear disconnect between Loughner and his parents here that’s really sad.

RepubChica on January 19, 2011 at 12:05 PM

That’s true. But that disconnect is enough to convict his parents and take away all of their worldly possessions as accessories to murder as you’ve stated. That disconnect, though sad and unfortunate does not rise to that same level for me.

catmman on January 19, 2011 at 12:13 PM

The cost to be borne by the parents won’t be in a criminal court. There’s simply nothing to charge them with as there is no law to charge them under. Perhaps a civil action, but somehow I doubt that the hassle and cost of pursuing a tort would be worth it in the end, for the victims’ families to have to relive all this.

gryphon202 on January 19, 2011 at 12:06 PM

right, and therein lies the limitation of the courts. Despite what they could be charged with, just put that aside for a moment and ask yourself if a young man living under your roof uses your home as a staging ground to commit murder if you should accept some level of responsibility for that? That responsibility may manifest itself in many forms–criminal responsibility, civil responsibility or personal responsibility, either way, responsibility nonetheless.

ted c on January 19, 2011 at 12:13 PM

No we can’t…not without more facts, and “facts” seem to be misplaced in this event. Lots of innuendos, but little facts.

right2bright on January 19, 2011 at 12:11 PM

I’m not connotating ‘responsibility’ with purely civil or criminal responsibility, ie that which could be tried in court and punished in that way. Responsibility goes far beyond that which can be divined by a court.

ted c on January 19, 2011 at 12:14 PM

Krauthammer mentioned this last week. It’s a lot harder to deal with people suffering from mental illness than it used to be.

I would recommend encouraging places to report people they believe need a mental health evaluation, and for mental health facilities to actively try to get those folks to come in. People who have problems need help, and everyone who deals with a troubled person is responsible to some extent for making sure they get help.

hawksruleva on January 19, 2011 at 12:15 PM

right, and therein lies the limitation of the courts. Despite what they could be charged with, just put that aside for a moment and ask yourself if a young man living under your roof uses your home as a staging ground to commit murder if you should accept some level of responsibility for that? That responsibility may manifest itself in many forms–criminal responsibility, civil responsibility or personal responsibility, either way, responsibility nonetheless.

ted c on January 19, 2011 at 12:13 PM

That is why we are a nation of laws rather than a nation of men, my friend. I would weep for my republic if it were otherwise. Our republic would be gone, ground into dust, if the actions of one insane man could make it otherwise.

gryphon202 on January 19, 2011 at 12:16 PM

ted c on January 19, 2011 at 12:13 PM

I think the term “staging ground” may be a bit unfair. It implies his parents knew he was planning such an act and their is no evidence they had any idea.

The Columbine killers used their houses to store their stuff but their parents were not held criminally or civilly responsible (as far as I know) for what their underage children did.

catmman on January 19, 2011 at 12:18 PM

People are responsible for their own actions.

catmman on January 19, 2011 at 11:52 AM

I agree with the inherent idea in that statement, but it doesn’t apply to the mentally-ill in this society. You’re not of sound mind or reasoning. From what I understand, 2 Psychiatrists can still sign an unconsenting adult for treatment if that’s what they diagnose (following some kind of incident like suicidal thoughts, attempts, nervous breakdowns, violent outbursts, etc).

RepubChica on January 19, 2011 at 12:19 PM

I agree with the inherent idea in that statement, but it doesn’t apply to the mentally-ill in this society. You’re not of sound mind or reasoning. From what I understand, 2 Psychiatrists can still sign an unconsenting adult for treatment if that’s what they diagnose (following some kind of incident like suicidal thoughts, attempts, nervous breakdowns, violent outbursts, etc).

RepubChica on January 19, 2011 at 12:19 PM

In what state? You can not hold someone for more than 72 hours in any state that I’m aware of, against their will and without a court order. And good luck getting that court order — it’s not easy.

gryphon202 on January 19, 2011 at 12:20 PM

That is why we are a nation of laws rather than a nation of men, my friend. I would weep for my republic if it were otherwise. Our republic would be gone, ground into dust, if the actions of one insane man could make it otherwise.

gryphon202 on January 19, 2011 at 12:16 PM

I guess you’re right. If we are to err, it should be erring on the side of holding the individual responsible because, once he stands before God on judgment day, dad’s not going to be there to take the fall for him.

ted c on January 19, 2011 at 12:22 PM

That’s true. But that disconnect is enough to convict his parents and take away all of their worldly possessions as accessories to murder as you’ve stated. That disconnect, though sad and unfortunate does not rise to that same level for me.

catmman on January 19, 2011 at 12:13 PM

??? You know I was only kidding about that, don’t ya? Pretty sure the sarc tag was in the original post.

RepubChica on January 19, 2011 at 12:23 PM

But it is sure easy to say “They should have” without living with the outcome of the action.

right2bright on January 19, 2011 at 12:08 PM

Excellent post.

The same applies to people who live with those suffering from alcoholism and drug addiction. Until someone wants to be helped, it’s hard, if not impossible, to force them to get help.

BacaDog on January 19, 2011 at 12:23 PM

The Columbine killers used their houses to store their stuff but their parents were not held criminally or civilly responsible (as far as I know) for what their underage children did.
o
catmman on January 19, 2011 at 12:18 PM

I guess that’s a good point. Again, I’m not specifically advocating his parents assuming either civil nor criminal ‘responsibility’ ie–paid for by fines/jail time. However, simply by their proximity, I would think that any man’s heart would be compelled to assume some responsibility for this crime committed by his son.

ted c on January 19, 2011 at 12:24 PM

I guess you’re right. If we are to err, it should be erring on the side of holding the individual responsible because, once he stands before God on judgment day, dad’s not going to be there to take the fall for him.

ted c on January 19, 2011 at 12:22 PM

The victims of Loughner’s rampage can take a degree of comfort in knowing that if Loughner does manage to plead insanity, he’ll spend the rest of his life in either a mental hospital or prison. He’ll never see the light of day again.

gryphon202 on January 19, 2011 at 12:24 PM

Until someone wants to be helped, it’s hard, if not impossible, to force them to get help.

BacaDog on January 19, 2011 at 12:23 PM

You ever watch that show “Intervention” on A&E? My heart goes out to those families.

gryphon202 on January 19, 2011 at 12:25 PM

The victims of Loughner’s rampage can take a degree of comfort in knowing that if Loughner does manage to plead insanity, he’ll spend the rest of his life in either a mental hospital or prison. He’ll never see the light of day again.

gryphon202 on January 19, 2011 at 12:24 PM

true, but is that any comfort to the families of the dead? I ask because I don’t know.

ted c on January 19, 2011 at 12:26 PM

true, but is that any comfort to the families of the dead? I ask because I don’t know.

ted c on January 19, 2011 at 12:26 PM

Neither do I, but I would hope they find some small measure of comfort in knowing that justice has been served, when it eventually is served. I do know that Christina Green’s father has already shown more strength and grace publicly than I think I ever could privately. People can surprise you with the good they are capable of, too.

gryphon202 on January 19, 2011 at 12:28 PM

RepubChica on January 19, 2011 at 12:19 PM

Yeah, but if a person is determined mentally incapable, the courts nor anyone else hold the next sane family member responsible for what the crazy person did, not in a murder case.

Also, I missed the sarc tag earlier, my bad. I apologize.

catmman on January 19, 2011 at 12:30 PM

ted c on January 19, 2011 at 12:24 PM

You’re right. But I think these folks do as you said about the statement they released.

catmman on January 19, 2011 at 12:32 PM

People can surprise you with the good they are capable of, too.

gryphon202 on January 19, 2011 at 12:28 PM

I know. great point.

ted c on January 19, 2011 at 12:33 PM

If our psychiatric commitment laws were like those we had in the 1950s, it is not unlikely that the family might have had the boy committed. The ACLU has stripped those laws from us. Now it’s so hard to do this, that such a course of action doesn’t even occur to most people.

I thank the ACLU everytime I see an obviously crazy homeless person wandering the streets in obvious distress. Now that’s some social justice for ya.

theCork on January 19, 2011 at 12:36 PM

theCork on January 19, 2011 at 12:36 PM

I should have said young man.

theCork on January 19, 2011 at 12:37 PM

theCork on January 19, 2011 at 12:36 PM

It’s a damn good thing that most “crazy” people aren’t a threat to society, isn’t it? :-|

gryphon202 on January 19, 2011 at 12:39 PM

And good luck getting that court order — it’s not easy.

gryphon202 on January 19, 2011 at 12:20 PM

Getting that court order and holding someone for more than 72 hours is a whole lot more commonplace than you might think. Most judges are too busy to read every word handed to them i.e medical records…I’d imagine they’d see two MD signatures and pass it through. Now I could be wrong, but this makes more sense to me in our steeped-bureaucracy.

RepubChica on January 19, 2011 at 12:41 PM

Getting that court order and holding someone for more than 72 hours is a whole lot more commonplace than you might think. Most judges are too busy to read every word handed to them i.e medical records…I’d imagine they’d see two MD signatures and pass it through. Now I could be wrong, but this makes more sense to me in our steeped-bureaucracy.

RepubChica on January 19, 2011 at 12:41 PM

That’s like saying that judges can’t be bothered to read criminal complaints. The standards are quite similar. If there is not bright-line evidence, beyond a reasonable doubt, that someone is a danger to themselves or others, those orders don’t get signed off on.

If a doctor persists in keeping someone past a 72-hour hold without a finding of legal incompetence, it is false imprisonment. Forcing someone to accept treatment of any kind against their will without such a court order is battery.

Legal competence is what it hinges on, and there’s a lot more to that issue than other people getting to make health care decisions for you.

gryphon202 on January 19, 2011 at 12:47 PM

It is quite possible, and given what I know of the situation, quite likely that had Loughner been held for 72 hours, he would have been found legally competent, released, and could have went on his rampage anyway.

In the vast majority of cases of involuntary committal beyond 72 hours, there is an actual history of violent crime involved…yet another reason for me to believe that Sheriff Dupnik dropped the ball in dealing with Loughner.

gryphon202 on January 19, 2011 at 12:51 PM

You can’t hold anyone who has not been deemed a danger to himself or others. The decision to put a temporary hold on them is also reviewed by a court.

Blake on January 19, 2011 at 12:57 PM

I seriously cannot imagine even a large state university taking responsibility for a disturbed person to the point of seeking a court order for an involuntary commitment. And remember, this was just a community college. It probably doesn’t even have a fulltime lawyer on staff who would have handled something like this, or any liability insurance to cover a countersuit by the student’s family.

And what happens if the college seeks a commitment order and is denied? You have a disturbed student with yet one more grievance that could lead him to violence, this time against you.

rockmom on January 19, 2011 at 12:59 PM

And what happens if the college seeks a commitment order and is denied? You have a disturbed student with yet one more grievance that could lead him to violence, this time against you.

rockmom on January 19, 2011 at 12:59 PM

There’s that, too.

gryphon202 on January 19, 2011 at 1:00 PM

Again, people who do psychiatric interventions are very good at talking people into voluntarily signing them selves into hospitals.

As to the parents, of course you can’t legally blame them for the shootings, but I’ll be damned before I claim them innocent victims if they never did anything to help their son get treated for his mental illness. As of yet, they aren’t talking which is more than bizarre.

Blake on January 19, 2011 at 1:00 PM

As to the parents, of course you can’t legally blame them for the shootings, but I’ll be damned before I claim them innocent victims if they never did anything to help their son get treated for his mental illness. As of yet, they aren’t talking which is more than bizarre.

Blake on January 19, 2011 at 1:00 PM

I’m going to go out on a limb here and guess that you’ve never had to deal with a mentally ill family member.

gryphon202 on January 19, 2011 at 1:03 PM

I have also read he yelled death threats at local neighborhood kids — as in “I’m going to kill you” sort of thing. Why didn’t anyone report that and ask for a police intervention/interview?? I know our police officers have a heavy caseload, but that was another missed intervention opportunity.

EasyEight on January 19, 2011 at 1:15 PM

I can tell you from experience what parents usually do when they have a adult child with sz that refuses to get treatment and does not yet meet the standard for involuntary commitment. They hope and pray that their child will do something that will get them committed, but that will not ruin their life or that of someone else.

Sometimes it works out and the person gets treated, other times the person gets shot dead by the cops, kills themselves, or like Loughtner, kills other people. It’s a Catch-22. I’m hestitate to judge Loughtner’s parents too harshly until I hear their side of the story.

drflykilla on January 19, 2011 at 1:20 PM

I hate to whine about this, but do we have to keep seeing his ugly face everywhere? I can’t look at it, the lack of eyebrows and the sickness inside just creeps me out.

Allahs vulva on January 19, 2011 at 1:23 PM

ask yourself if a young man living under your roof uses your home as a staging ground to commit murder if you should accept some level of responsibility for that?

Unless I whispered in his ear while he slept that he should do these things, or he pronounced his intentions in my presence, then I have no more responsiblity than Sarah Palin.

I R A Darth Aggie on January 19, 2011 at 1:44 PM

Loughner seemed to have made a conscious decision to pull the trigger. He bought the ammo,called his friends, posted on the internet… It appeared that he knew what he was doing. But in a disturbed mind, did he really know? Was he thinking logically as a “sane” person would?

Mandatory reporting may or may not have helped in Loughner’s case. If a person could call a special phone # and report someone as mentally ill, then who is going to go pick them up? The cops? A special paddy wagon? Could you believe the stigma attached to that? How would a lay person define mentally ill because everyone may have a different perspective. Just because someone acts odd or has unusual behavior, it doesn’t automatically mean they’re suffering mental illness, yet they’re often labeled that way in our society today. Would the family of a suspected mentally ill individual be required to call and report them? How would you get around a family in denial of the problem? If families should have called but didn’t, would they then be found liable?

Regarding speculation that Loughner nor his family sought medical help, none of us know that answer yet. HIPPA laws would prohibit his doctors (if he has any) from disclosing his case and treatment.

GrannySunni on January 19, 2011 at 2:04 PM

Can we require a mental health exam of all politicians and maybe throw a weekly lie detector test in as well?

chickasaw42 on January 19, 2011 at 3:31 PM

I think Pima Community College should consider itself and it’s students extremely lucky. Loughner could have just as easily chosen them as a target instead of Giffords. At least Giffords and the people at her event had the right to carry and protect themselves, even if they chose not to. Most schools are sitting duck zones and would be defenseless.

Did the school officials really think that a piece of paper forbidding him on campus would prevent him from coming back for revenge?

Common Sense on January 19, 2011 at 3:40 PM

We don’t need to look at new reporting procedures, had Sheriff Dupenik done his job, this crime would not have happened. Loughner made multiple threats against Tucson figures, and Dupenik by his own admission did not do all he could in response, perhaps because Mrs. Loughner worked for the same county that he did.

If Dupenik had pursued criminal charges for those threats it is likely Loughner would have been charged with a felony. A felony means no gun purchase. It means going to court where Loughner’s mental problem would have become apparent.

Dupenik is the problem, not guns, not Arizona’s mental health reporting procedures.

slickwillie2001 on January 19, 2011 at 3:55 PM

A youthful picture of Doctor Evil before he became a doctor?

chickasaw42 on January 19, 2011 at 4:15 PM

A youthful picture of Doctor Evil before he became a doctor?

chickasaw42 on January 19, 2011 at 4:15 PM

Or a picture of Ed on election night this last November?

bayam on January 19, 2011 at 5:22 PM

I think that AZ has a habit of ignoring their own power.

He could have been stopped. I think the police are over-politicized, actually.

They didn’t take commonsense steps.

AnninCA on January 19, 2011 at 7:39 PM

Organizations, such as colleges, fear lawsuits and privacy concerns in dealing with the mentally ill and won’t get involved.

Dhuka on January 19, 2011 at 9:54 PM

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