Posted by: L | April 22, 2007

Chris Wallace – Psychiatric/legal issues at V. Tech

Chris Wallace on FOX this morning ( 9 AM) on how universities are ham strung with regard to psychiatric illness and privacy laws.

Lt Gov. Bill Bolling is talking about Va. law and how it conflicts with federal law on guns. Bolling has previously supported concealed weapons on campus and Wallace asks if that would have prevented the V. Tech shooting.

Bolling replies that he is unwilling – probably wisely – to take on the gun debate at this point.

The George Washington University (in Washington, DC) president is on. Notes that GW security police is unarmed (??).

Arlen Specter (Republican Senator from Pennsylvania) suggests that state law should be brought into conformity with federal law and that a national repository of information should exist. He admits there was a definite failure of communication between state and federal agents. He proposed national legislation to this end. (Needs further clarification)

Charles Schumer (Democrat Senator from New York) is on. He has legislation in the works to give money to states to update their registry to fit federal requirements. NRA advocates have teamed up with Democrats on this previously.

Chris Wallace asks why not push for a renewal of the assault weapons ban which expired. Asks if Schumer hasn’t done so because it is a political loser.

Again, here is the review panel appointed to study what happened at V Tech:

Independent review panel (appointed by Governor Timothy Kaine of Virginia)

1.Headed by Retired Virginia State Police Superintendent Col. Gerald Massengill.Massengill, 64, led the state’s response to the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attack on the Pentagon and the 2002 sniper attacks in the Washington area, says this Washington Post story.

2. Former Secretary of Homeland Security Tom Ridge

3. Gordon Davies, Director for the State Council of Higher Education for Virginia for 20 years.

4. Diane Strickland, who served as a judge of the 23rd Judicial Circuit Court in Roanoke County, Roanoke and Salem between 1989 and 2003 and a victim assistance expert from Fairfax county5. Carroll Ann Ellis, director of the Fairfax County Police Department’s Victim Services Division on the review panel.

6. FBI retiree Roger L. Depue, former administrator of the FBI National Center for the Analysis of Violent Crime.

7. Child and adolescent psychiatrist Aradhana A. “Bela” Sood. 

8. Dr. Marcus L. Martin of the University of Virginia School of Medicine.

On Friday, Richard Bonnie, chairman of the Virginia Supreme Court’s Commission on Mental Health Law Reform, stated that a special justice’s order in late 2005 that directed Cho to seek outpatient treatment and declared him to be mentally ill and an imminent danger to himself fits the federal criteria and should have immediately disqualified him.

Currently, only 22 states submit any mental health records to the federal National Instant Criminal Background Check System, the FBI said in a statement on Thursday. Virginia is the leading state in reporting disqualifications based on mental health criteria for the NICS system, the statement said.

But Virginia state law on mental health disqualifications to firearms purchases is worded slightly differently from the federal statute. So the form that Virginia courts use to notify the state police about a mental health disqualification only addresses the state criteria, which lists two potential categories that would warrant notification to the state police – someone who was “involuntarily committed” or ruled mentally “incapacitated.”

My Comment:

So, the problem was that Cho went “voluntarily” and wasn’t ruled incapacitated.

But didn’t anyone realize the potential danger here. OK. the two VTech students didn’t press stalking charges, but what happened to the arson charge? How does that not pose a threat to anyone else? Didn’t any of the teachers, like Nikki Giovanni, who found him so intimidating in class, want to find out where he was with his treatment?

Here’s a comment from one of the students (I think he was in Edward Falco’s class):

Before Cho got to class that day, we students were talking to each other with serious worry about whether he could be a school shooter. I was even thinking of scenarios of what I would do in case he did come in with a gun, I was that freaked out about him. When the students gave reviews of his play in class, we were very careful with our words in case he decided to snap. Even the professor didn’t pressure him to give closing comments.

After hearing about the mass shootings, I sent one of my friends a Facebook message asking him if he knew anything about Seung Cho and if he could have been involved. He replied: “dude that’s EXACTLY what I was thinking! No, I haven’t heard anything, but seriously, that was the first thing I thought when I heard he was Asian.”

While I “knew” Cho, I always wished there was something I could do for him, but I couldn’t think of anything. As far as notifying authorities, there isn’t (to my knowledge) any system set up that lets people say “Hey! This guy has some issues! Maybe you should look into this guy!” If there were, I definitely would have tried to get the kid some help. I think that could have had a good chance of averting yesterday’s tragedy more than anything.”

My Comment:

Cho went voluntarily to police, and they referred him to a mental health agency off campus, Flinchum said. A counselor recommended involuntary commitment, and a judge signed an order saying he “presents an imminent danger to self or others” and sent him to a psychiatric hospital for evaluation.

Sounds like bureaucratic confusion and disconnect.

More in this Time article about the responsibility of the University and possible questions with Virginia state law:

“But Virginia Tech is a state institution, and Virginia is a state where the doctrine of sovereign immunity remains quite robust. That doctrine, a relic of English common law, essentially says the state can do no wrong because the state creates the law and thus cannot be subject to it. Many states have relaxed sovereign immunity and made it possible for victims of, say, botched operations to sue state hospitals. But Krauss of George Mason University says the Virginia Tech victims’ families would probably have to seek an exception to sovereign immunity from the Supreme Court of Virginia in order to sue the school. There’s a simpler way: Steger, the university president, should stop withholding documents on how the university mishandled Cho and take responsibility for his school’s lax approach. And then he should resign.”


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