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Courts must report violent offenders with mental illness

Clark County Sheriff Gene Kelly stands by one of the Deputy Suzanne Hopper Memorial Highway signs that will be placed along a stretch of I-70 after a dedication ceremony at National Road Commons Friday, naming the section of highway after the fallen Clark County deputy. Hopper was killed in the line of duty at Enon Beach two years ago. (AP photo/Bill Lackey, Dayton Daily News)

Legal News Reporter

Published: February 7, 2014

In a rule changed sparked by the murder of a Clark County deputy sheriff, the Ohio Supreme Court has instituted a new reporting rule for violent offenders who have been adjudged mentally ill.

Effective Jan. 1, 2104, the new Rule 95 and Form 95 of the Rules of Superintendence for the Courts of Ohio, called the Deputy Suzanne Hooper Act, seeks to notify law enforcement officers of potential trouble from people with a history of both violent crime and adjudged mental illness.

While acknowledging the need to protect law enforcement and the public, officials with local mental health courts also advise caution in the implementation of this rule. While the new rule applies to all courts, mental health courts have already been dealing with these issues for some time.

“There are some significant issues and concerns that I have with the Hooper Act,” said Anthony Ingram, chief probation officer for the Akron Municipal Court and one of the founding team members of that institution’s mental health court.

“There are still some questions to work out.”

Magistrate Dennis Serisky, of the felony mental health court division of the Mahoning County Common Pleas Court, also has questions about the law, particularly in issues of privacy and the stigma that can be attached to someone adjudged mentally ill.

“Releasing any type of medical information may infringe upon the defendant’s constitutional privacy rights, as well as HIPPA rules,” said Serisky. “The defendant becomes labeled as mentally ill. What happens if the defendant is later evaluated as not mentally ill? I do have concern about their medical evaluations.”

Serisky presents seminars to Mahoning County law enforcement about how to handle situations where the potential arrestee may have mental health issues. These people are hurting,” he said. “They may be depressed, may have stopped taking their medication or their medication may not be working. They may have gone off their meds and are taking street drugs, which compounds the situation.

“In the seminars, we try to get the officers to realize that there may be a mental health issue, and then try to get the subjects off of the street and into treatment.”

The new rule may help officers with recognizing mentally ill people who they are dealing with in potential arrest scenarios.

The rule creates a report to local law enforcement, which would then be uploaded into the “National Crime Information Center Supervised Release File (NCIC)”.

That report would be generated for any defendant who is subject to an “issuance, modification, or termination of a court order doing any of the following: (1) ordering a person who pled guilty to or who was convicted of an offense of violence to receive a mental health evaluation; (2) ordering a person who pled guilty to or who was convicted of an offense of violence to receive treatment for mental illness; (3) approving a conditional release of a person who was found not guilty by reason of insanity; and/or (4) approving a conditional release of a person who was found incompetent to stand trial with no substantial probability of becoming competent again even with a course of treatment.

The new rule was sparked by an incident that occurred on New Year’s Day in 2011 at a trailer park in Enon, a village in Clark County, which is northeast of Dayton.

Deputy Suzanne Hooper was responding to a report of shots being fired, when she was fired upon herself. She was shot and killed by one Michael Ferryman from inside his trailer five feet away from Hooper. Unbeknownst to Hooper at the time, Ferryman had been declared criminally insane in 2002 and had a history of violence against law enforcement.

The new rule will put information of violently-inclined, mentally ill people on the national database in the hopes that that information may save future lives.

While the new rule impacts all Ohio courts, Ingram said that mental health courts are particularly involved because of their diversion programs, which also raise their own concerns.

He raised a question about whether or not this puts a different perspective on a defendant pleading into a mental health diversion program. Is this subject to an NCIS report?

Another issue, raised by Serisky and Ingram, is treatment. If a person is put into a mental health diversion program, and responds positively to treatment, is there an effect on the new rule?

But while some questions remain, both Serisky and Ingram generally favor any rule which protects law enforcement in the field.

“There are still some questions to work out, to see if this is” implemented for positive impact,” said Ingram. “But we also have to make sure that this act does not stigmatize people.”

And, even though Serisky has similar questions, in the end, he said that, “anything that protects people gets a thumbs up.”