Arizona's Surprisingly Good Mental Health Laws Might Have Prevented Tragedy
|Charles "Chick" Arnold|
"While our system sucks, our statutes are the best in the country," says Arnold -- Arizona's godfather of mental health law and plaintiff in the decades-old funding case Arnold v. Sarn.
Arnold is quick to explain that he doesn't have all the facts about Loughner. But given what is known, he says there's a chance that Pima Community College staff could have at least asked for help.
The lawyer explains that in most states, simple concern for a person's mental health is not enough to ask authorities for an involuntary evaluation.
But in Arizona it is.
The state is among only three or four that allows -- along with "danger to self," "danger to others," and "grave disability" -- a category for the "persistently and acutely disabled."
College authorities might have least argued for that category, Arnold says. "They could have knocked over a domino . . . that might have gotten him treatment."
Threats or reports of disturbing behavior -- like that reported to have led PCC officials to ask Loughner to not come back to school -- are enough to make an "application for an involuntary evaluation," Arnold says.
That would have led to an involuntary visit to a psychiatric emergency room and, depending on that evaluation, a 72-hour evaluation. Those doctors would then file a "petition for treatment" that gets a patient a lawyer and a hearing before a judge.
That hearing, Arnold says, could result in a judge filing the paperwork that would have been "the impediment to him getting a gun."
"But none of that happened," he concludes. "I can't tell yet whether somebody should have done something that they didn't do."