Could Pima College have done more?

Fearing Jared Loughner was dangerously disturbed, Pima Community College officials banned him from campus until he could produce a mental-health clearance.  But the college “took no steps to mandate that he have a psychiatric evaluation, which in Arizona is easier than in many states,” notes the New York Times.  Could the college have done more to get Loughner into treatment before the shooting that left six people dead and a congresswoman fighting for her life?

The college has released records of Loughner’s run-ins with instructors and campus police.  A number of instructors, administrators, students and plice officers were afraid he’d become violent.

His record of outbursts — and a video accusing the college of “genocide”  and “torture” — should have triggered an involuntary evaluation, said  Laura J. Waterman, the clinical director of the Southern Arizona Mental Health Corporation.

“Where does it reach a level where you say this person shouldn’t be a part of any community and we have a responsibility to do something about that?” she said. The clinic, which offers walk-in psychiatric crisis care regardless of a patient’s ability to pay, is one of the agencies Pima students are referred to when they need mental health services, including students who have been suspended like Mr. Loughner.

It appears  Loughner never sought or received mental health care, the Times reports.

Pima has introduced policies to deal with disturbed students — similar to ones that swept campuses across the country after several deadly shootings, including the killing of 32 at Virginia Tech in 2007.

Last year Pima overhauled its procedure for campus disruptions, creating a team of senior officials to identify students who pose a threat to themselves or others. The team began meeting the same month that Mr. Loughner was suspended.

Suspending Loughner may have pushed him over the edge, isolating him even further from reality.  But Pima Community College has no mental-health center on campus.  It doesn’t monitor its students the way a residential college can.

Still, Arizona law lets any concerned person apply for a court-ordered mental evaluation, which can lead to mandated treatment. While Stella Bay, the college’s police chief, said Loughner didn’t meet the “imminent danger” standard,  only “some evidence of danger” is needed, according to Waterman.

Since the weekend shootings, the number of applications for such evaluations at Ms. Waterman’s clinic has increased, she said, presumably because of widespread awareness of the issue now.

In fact, Ms. Bay called in a case on Monday about a student at Pima who threatened to cause harm on campus, according to Ms. Waterman.

The police brought the student to a hospital for an evaluation.

In addition to remedial math, where Loughner insisted that the number 6 is really 18, he took a jumble of courses, including poetry,  public speaking, sign language, Bible studies and yoga.

His Pilates instructor, afraid of Loughner’s hostile reaction to her plans to give him a B grade, asked a police officer to monitor the class.


POSTED BY Joanne Jacobs ON January 14, 2011

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[…] didn’t file for a court-ordered mental-health evaluation, which Arizona law allows.  Could the college have done more to force Loughner into treatment and protect the Tucson […]

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