Why was Gus Deeds released by the mental health facility?

November 21, 2013

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Good morning:

Why was Gus Deeds released by the mental health facility?

Austin “Gus” Deeds, 24, was released from a mental health facility on Monday after undergoing a mental health evaluation to determine if he were a danger to himself or to others. The evaluation occurred at the end of a prior emergency commitment.

He assaulted his father, Virginia State Senator R. Creigh Deeds, with a knife on Tuesday morning stabbing him in the head and upper torso multiple times.

Gus committed suicide by shooting himself with a rifle.

His father was airlifted to the University of Virginia Medical Center in Charlottesville where he is now listed in good condition.

The Washington Post is reporting today that,

officials initially said the reason he was not admitted to a hospital was that no bed was available. But multiple nearby hospitals later confirmed that they had available space but were never contacted.

The implication in this statement is that a mental health professional determined that he was a danger to himself or to others and would have been committed but for the lack of a bed.

Three issues are raised by this statement:

(1) whether a mental health professional (i.e., psychiatrist) evaluated Gus Deeds and concluded that he was a danger to himself or to others (the implication is that this happened); and would have involuntarily committed him to a secure mental health treatment facility, but for the lack of an available bed; and

(2) whether Gus Deeds was released without checking with other mental health facilities to determine if they had an available bed, which would be patient abandonment; and

(3) whether Gus’s father was warned that Gus was dangerous and if not, why not?

I have previously written about a mental health professional’s duty to warn others in Is the University of Colorado Potentially Liable to Holmes’s Victims? I said,

In Tarasoff v. Regents of the University of California, 551 P.2d 334 (1976), the California Supreme Court created a new cause of action in tort for the negligent failure of a mental health professional to notify the police and potential victim regarding a threat to harm or kill communicated by a patient to the mental health professional. Before Tarasoff, mental health professionals were prohibited by the therapist/patient privilege of confidentiality from disclosing threats to harm or kill others uttered by patients during treatment.

The unique facts and equities of Tarasoffcompelled a majority of the California Supreme Court to ignore legal precedent and create a new cause of action against mental health professionals founded in negligence to compensate victims of violence committed by a patient under the care and treatment of a mental health professional who failed to warn the police and the victim of a threat to harm the victim uttered by the patient.

See also: Holmes: Does the Colorado Statute Bar Recovery?. Note that Virginia will have its own statute that may vary from the Colorado statute.

Virginia Governor Robert F. McDonnell (R) has ordered the Virginia Inspector General to find out why Gus Deeds was released.

“We’re going to investigate the circumstances that led up to Austin Deeds’s release at the expiration of the emergency custody order,” said G. Douglas Bevelacqua of the Office of the Inspector General.

Finally, please read this comment by Gytannia, a reader who commented regarding the Washington Post article:

Speaking from experience when someone who is mental “flips out”. It can happen very fast from calm to extremely dangerous. Like a light switch. The son could very well have been seemingly calm and cooperative all day Monday. This tends to convince the family that maybe they don’t need to be hospitalized. Especially a politician wouldn’t want public to know, so would put it off possibly. Then, when something in a conversation flips that switch or even if he sees something online, it’s game over for self control or decent behavior. While attacking, who or whatever is closest, it’s like watching a movie that you can’t stop, even if part of your brain is screaming to stop. Often the shame afterwards of acting like that and causing harm or fear to your loved ones is too much to take. Every time it happens, it takes another piece of your self worth, of self confidence, and soon you think you don’t “belong” among the “normal”. anymore. And you don’t want to harm your loved one..again. At the time, your brain refuses to think consequences or any rational thought, and there seems to be no solution short of drugs to make you drool into oblivion. Hence the suicide following the outburst. It seems that suicide is always the first thought after a big mental outburst of violence on a loved one.

We will have to wait and see the result of the Inspector General’s investigation, but right now the assault and suicide appear to have been preventable, but for the negligence of the mental health facility that released Gus Deeds.

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