DA Zappala: Why Wasn't Shick Institutionalized before Shooting?

By BobKerlik | Tribune-Review/Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, March 30, 2012 | Go to article overview

DA Zappala: Why Wasn't Shick Institutionalized before Shooting?


BobKerlik, Tribune-Review/Pittsburgh Tribune-Review


Each month authorities in Allegheny County commit hundreds of people for mental treatment and evaluation against their will. Law enforcement officials want to know why Western Psych gunman John F. Shick wasn't among them.

"The question with Shick is, 'Why was he not institutionalized?' " District Attorney Stephen A. Zappala Jr. said Thursday, a day after he detailed what police learned in their investigation into the March 8 shootings at Western Psychiatric Institute and Clinic that killed one worker and injured five.

Doctors in Allegheny County have involuntarily committed people 21,330 times since 2007. The criteria doctors consider include whether the person is a danger to himself or others. The Department of Public Welfare does not collect statewide numbers.

Deputy District Attorney Mark V. Tranquilli said no one from UPMC attempted to have Shick, 30, of Oakland involuntarily committed when the troubled former grad student twice showed up at its Shadyside hospital with a baseball bat.

UPMC spokesman Paul Wood defended the hospital's actions.

"The circumstances did not, in the opinion of our professionals, warrant a criminal complaint or a civil commitment. When an individual's behavior does rise to that level, we follow through with the proper authorities," Wood said. "He used the bat as a cane; he wasn't abusive and didn't make threats. When security was called, he left."

Authorities say Shick, who was diagnosed with schizophrenia, was angry at doctors -- including some at UPMC -- over what he considered misdiagnosis of his maladies. They are trying to determine why he targeted Western Psych.

Kim Welsh, manager for emergency and community integration services in the county's Office of Behavioral Health, said that police officers, doctors and delegates from her staff can force someone to get an emergency mental evaluation. A doctor in an emergency room would have to agree, and the person could be held and treated for five days.

If a doctor deems further treatment is necessary, a hearing occurs at the hospital. A public defender represents the committed person. A mental health hearing officer decides if the person should be held an additional 20 days. If a doctor deems treatment is necessary after that, the hospital must file a petition and another hearing is conducted. …

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