California Dreamin’

I’m just a plainspoken Colorado criminal defense lawyer, but the way I see it…

I will not talk about gun laws. As many people were killed in Isla Vista by a knife as by a gun.

But the horrific event on the street where my son lived until four days before the slaughter might have looked different had police carried as standard equipment one weapon that neither cuts nor fires a projectile at anyone.

The police had three opportunities to take a good look at the killer of these students, three chances to change the fatal timeline. Had one of the cops been more than cursorily trained in mental health aspects of police work, one of those contacts might have borne fruit. Had a forensic psychologist been a member of the police force, they might have seen how rotten that fruit was.

Ten months before came the first chance to look harder at this miserable young man. He’d tried to push some girls who’d ignored him off an apartment ledge; they pushed him off instead and he broke a foot. Embarrassed by his impotence, he said the other men on the ledge had pushed him. The how of it was investigated (and dropped because of conflicting and inconclusive evidence); the why of it, never.

A second chance came in mid-January, when the killer again came to police attention. He accused his roommate of stealing three candles, tried to make a citizen’s arrest, his effort again impotent, and police were called. Nobody asked the question, who tries to arrest his own roommate?

The YouTube video the killer recorded the day before the rampage wasn’t his first. On the last day of April, his mother had seen some others. She had seen enough: she called mental health providers, some of whom had treated her son for years, who in turn called the sheriff. But no mental health worker went with the deputies who talked with the killer and found him quiet as a mouse. No deputy asked to come inside, as a mental health worker might have, where there were three semiautomatic handguns, dozens of rounds of ammunition for the guns, and a 137-page statement telling how he planned retribution for his impotence. And, why.

There’s little dispute that law enforcement and mental health issues are thoroughly enmeshed. Is there a chance that an officer fully trained in mental health, or a mental health professional working for the police, could have made a difference, in this and other cases?

I’d like to think my son, when he goes back to school in the fall, might have that chance those other kids didn’t.


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