Sunday, May 1, 2011

The Best Tribute for a Fallen Officer

It's been a sad week here in the Eugene, Oregon area.  Last Friday, April 22, motorcycle officer Chris Kilcullen was headed home along highway 126 when a beat up red Buick Skylark tailgated him, according to a witness.  The Buick then tried to pass Officer Kilcullen, and at one point swerved dangerously into his lane, almost hitting him.  Kilcullen then turned on his lights, and the Buick suddenly raced off, with Kilcullen in pursuit.  The chase left Eugene and headed into Springfield.  Finally, at a busy crossroad, the motorist pulled over to the side of the road.  Kilcullen pulled his motorcycle up to the driver's side door, at which point the driver pulled out a .38 revolver and shot Kilcullen once in the side, just above his body armor.  Kilcullen fell off his bike and slumped against the wheel of a neighboring big rig.  The Buick then sped off, with officers in pursuit.  It eventually wound up way down near Lowell and onto some Forest Service roads until it hit a dead end.  Officers began a long negotiation and eventually arrested the suspect.
Eugene Police Officer Chris Kilcullen

The shooter turned out to be 56 year-old Cheryl Kidd, a developmentally disabled woman with a long history of schizophrenia and erratic behavior.  In her schizophrenic mind, she had thought the police had been following her prior to the incident, and had trouble focusing during the interrogation after being caught.

Officer Chris Kilcullen died soon after, at the hospital.  Kilcullen is the third officer to be shot in the line of duty in Oregon in the short 4 months of this year, and the second to die as a result.  And in the city of Eugene, this is the third officer to die while on the force this year (the first accidentally shot himself at a shooting range, the second had a heart attack).

The entire week, our city experienced a unified sadness and outpouring of grief at the death of this 12-year veteran of the police force.  A father and husband.  A man who volunteered with local non-profits.  A man resoundingly loved by his fellow officers.  Blue lights were being put into porches as a sign of support.  The legislature is considering a bill to erect signs to commemorate a stretch of highway for him.  There are even online murmurs of renaming the entire highway after him.  On Friday, April 29, a procession of around 400 emergency vehicles from all over the state and surrounding states, and even Canada, drove a long route past the point of the shooting, through downtown Eugene, and to the new Knight arena where a memorial service was held.  Thousands showed up to pay their respect.  Flags are still being flown at half mast, by order of the governor. 

Wow.  This is an amazing tribute to a fallen officer.  And well-deserved, I'd say.  Our law enforcement officers take their life in their hands every day, with every traffic stop, to protect and to serve.  They are all heroes.  I could only wish that my passing could be so marked.

And yet, despite all of this outpouring, what, if anything, is being done to keep it from happening again?

How did this woman, who had such a long history of severe neurological problems, get a handgun?  Did she steal it?  Did she buy it on the black market?  No.  It turns out she went down to Mazama's Sporting Goods store at the local mall a year ago and purchased it like anyone else can.  After a 5-minute background check, which she cleared, she walked out with it, ready to do as she pleased, schizophrenic or not.

But wait!  Don't background checks look for mental illness already?  Yes, but you can only be entered into the NICS background check database, and rejected for gun sale, if you have been ruled as mentally ill in a court of law or been committed to a mental institution.  Neither of these are the case with Kidd.  Nor was she a convicted felon, abuser, or on parole.  In short, despite her long illness and reduced mental capacity, there is NOTHING that kept her or anyone like her from purchasing or possessing a firearm. 

Nor for Michael Thomas Mason, who suffered from severe PTSD and last December shot randomly at cars in the parking lot of the same mall where Kidd got her weapon (less than 50 yards away, in fact) and was subsequently shot by police and made a paraplegic.  Nor for a mentally ill man who had a shootout with police in Eugene in 2006.  Nor for untold numbers of other shooters elsewhere in the U.S., such as Jerod Lee Laughner of the 2011 Tucson shooting, or Seung-Hui Cho of the 2007 Virginia Tech University shooting.

So what can be done?  Certainly not everyone who is mentally ill is a danger to himself or others, so you can't just remove the second amendment right for all mentally ill or mentally handicapped individuals, right?  But clearly something must be done to keep those who are dangerous to themselves and others, or have reduced mental capacity to understand when it is right or wrong to pull the trigger, from being able to possess guns.  Even the father of the slain officer Chris Kilcullen agrees.

As a result of this tragedy, at last Oregon lawmakers are considering this loophole

It is my opinion that there should be a clear mechanism where a mental health professional, believing a subject to be a danger to himself or others, should be able to put that patient on a list for a temporary suspension of gun rights, subsequent to consideration by a panel of mental health experts to put the subject into the NICS database for a longer period, there to stay until the subject can get that panel to judge him or her reasonably cured of the illness.

So, while it was nice to have the memorial service, flags at half mast, blue lights on porches, a 400-vehicle procession, and the potential naming of a highway as honors for this fallen officer, wouldn't it be a more fitting tribute to keep it from happening again?  Let's make a new trajectory for our communities and do better at adding dangerously mentally ill people to the background check databases.

(Post-script:  only 3 days after Officer Kilcullen was shot by Cheryl Kidd, a well-to-do doctor purchased a gun and ammo, came home and, after scaring his wife by leaving some ammo and the receipt for his new gun on the kitchen table, shot up the neighborhood  and then killed himself.  The news report is sketchy, but I happen to know a neighbor of the shooter, who told me about the terror of that day and some information about the shooter and his family.  Severe depression is just as deadly as other mental health disorders, and should also be grounds for temporary suspension of gun rights if diagnosed).

UPDATE (5/2/11):  A psychiatric evaluation showed the suspect, Cheryl Kidd, to be diagnosed with "schizophrenia, grossly disorganized thinking, extreme paranoid delusions and the inability to differentiate the past from the present."  Also, "In January, Kidd's primary health care provider sent her to the emergency room for a mental health evaluation."  In her delusion she thought the police had fired at her a couple times in the past, and that officer Kilcullen had shot out her window.  Too bad there wasn't a mechanism to stop her from possessing a gun back in January.

(image taken from HERE)


  1. Thank you for this moving tribute and for exposing the problems with our background check system. It simply does not stop everyone who is prohibited. But we can do better and there needs to be some serious discussion about what we can do to stop people such as the shooters you have written about from getting guns.

  2. Baldr,

    I find it amazing and indicative of your obsession that you focus on the firearm instead of trying to improve the mental health system in our country.

    The woman's mental illness was the issue not the firearm.
    Would it have been better if she had ran him over with her vehicle?

    Instead of trying to get people the help they need, you want to use their illness -- and sorry but that is the only way to describe your attempt here-- to limit the rights of others.

  3. Your response is bizarre, Bob. Are you saying that you think individuals who are dangerously mentally ill SHOULD have access to guns? You seem to take issue with my advocation against it.

    It is "indicative of your obsession" that you would put the rights of those who are clearly dangerous to society over the protection of the rest of us.

    Yes, they should get treatment for their mental illness, but that must be *in addition to* removal of their ability to legally purchase a firearm until they have been determined to no longer be a threat.

  4. Baldr,

    You focus on the fact that a mentally ill person had access to firearms. I do have a problem with that.

    Let's discuss it.

    First, define mentally ill and the conditions associated with that that causes people to lose their rights?

    Second, What methods are available to determine when a person is a danger to themselves or others?
    Please be specific and include a discussion of the accuracy of those methods.

    Third, If those people are a danger to themselves or others, what do you propose to do about it -- other than stripping them of their right to keep and bear arms?

    Fourth, in this case specifically, please enumerate the signs this woman was "clearly dangerous to society"?

    Are you saying that all people with "a developmental disability and a history of mental illness" are a danger to society?

    What do you base your comments on?

    I notice no condemnation of her illegal and deadly behaviors with her vehicle -- is that your only 'danger' signs?

    Fifth, I find your response to be typical of the anti-rights cultists. You state mentally ill people must have their rights removed "until they have been determined to no longer be a threat" but you don't indicate exactly how that can be determined.

    Can you cite credible sources that show any psychological test or method of determine that with 100% accuracy? Heck, with anything greater than 50% accuracy?

    You could have focused on the need to provide treatment. You could have focused on the actions of her family -- who if are telling the truth -- allowed a danger to society to drive around town!

    You don't address the fact that she was driving a 2,000 pound vehicle. You don't address that she attempted to kill the officer with that vehicle.

    Lastly, do you think that people with mental illness have less of a right to effective self defense?

  5. Goodness, Bob, you must think me a psychologist! Are YOU qualified to deem her safe enough?

    I'll leave the determination of "danger to self and others" to a licenced psychologist. Newspaper reports cite her has having had a long history of schizophrenia and erratic behavior, combined with reduced mental capacity that required her to work with the Pearl Buck Center to adjust to society. Is this severe enough to warrant removal of her second ammendment rights? Seems pretty clear to me. But as I said, I'd feel more comfortable with her psycologist and social worker making that determination, then making a recommendation to a panel of experts. Currently there is no mechanism like that.

    Could she have killed the officer with her car? Yes, but she didn't, and though it was dangerous, there's no evidence either way that her tailgating or swerving was purposefully aimed at harming the officer. I would think it would have been easy to do so if she had meant to.

    As I said in the post, I don't believe that all people with any mental illness or reduced mental ability are a danger or should have their gun rights removed, but those who are dangerous certainly should.

  6. Bob, if you still have doubts about the shooter's sanity, please see the update I just posted.

  7. Given the degree of her "illness", she should have been locked in a padded room until treatment. Knives, power tools and automobiles are all incredibly dangerous in the hands of such a person.

    I'm all for some oversight, but let's not make it a "gun" issue, let's make it a "keep dangerously crazy people off the street" issue.

  8. Baldr,

    Now you are flat out lying.

    You say "if only there had been a mechanism" when in fact there is a mechanism already in place.

    So, why do you lie?

    Why do you make it seem as if there was no means available to take care of this person?

    Why do you not castigate her family, her medical and psychological professionals for allowing a 'danger to society' to walk the streets?

  9. Knock off your disrespect, Bob, and read your own links. The statute you cite is for taking custody of a mentally ill suspect and forcible commitment of them to a mental health institution for evaluation and care, not for removal of gun rights. While that could be an option, I would say it is more extreme of an option and is not always necessary, such as for severe cases of PTSD.

  10. Bob, I'm not posting your further comments. Repeatedly and baselessly calling me a liar will not get you posted.

    The additional statue you cite still requires a court hearing, which requires a crime to have taken place already, and which also requires commitment to a facility (as an outpatient), all of which has to happen before the firearm is prohibited. Again, not effective for cases like this one, or for other cases of severe illness, to prevent gun violence.

  11. Okay then. You give some interesting ideas.

    Not accusing here, just want clarification:

    The diagnosis of mental instability, and history would be confirmed by a licenced psychologist and a social worker or similar professional to determine danger before such action is taken, then a panel makes the final decision.

    In cases where the mental issues are deemed "curable", would you allow for restoration of rights where the person has been judged to be "cured"?

    I don't believe anyone wants people with dangerous instability to have easy access to firearms.

    However, there have been anti-gun groups in the past who have been all too quick to make such a judgement of advocates of responsible gun laws, that's where the whole "gun nut" slur started.

  12. Hi, Guy. That's correct; that's what I'm proposing.

  13. So, once we've officially deemed someone as dangerously unstable or dangerously mentally ill, you suggest we should prevent them from legally buying firearms. How do you propose we prevent them from buying firearms illegally?


  14. One step at a time, Orygunner. The first thing is to get a mechanism in place to stop it from happening with state approval.

    But what about private sellers? Even if a person is excluded in the NICS background check system, a private seller would never know it since private sellers are not required to run background checks for gun sales, in Oregon, and they aren't even required to ask. So anyone, mentally ill, felons, abusers, can purchase a gun from a private seller and that seller would never know. This is why we need background checks for ALL gun sales.

    Once that becomes law, then the excluded buyer would be required to find a contact for an illegal seller, which isn't easy to do for most people, and involve an accomplice (the seller), which will drive up costs.

  15. I know this seems to be a difficult concept for "gun control" supporters to grasp, but if a law works the way it was intended (and, in this case, it did), then there is no "loophole".

  16. Thing is, requiring a background check would require private sellers to go through a FFL, which may not always be possible.

    If such a requirement is passed, it should include access to NICS for everyone, not just FFLs. This would help reduce the difficulties of a transaction.

  17. Anonymous, are you seriously suggesting that the law intends for dangerously mentally ill people to be armed? If so, please feel free to return to the real world with the rest of us.

  18. Baldr, unfortunately these are tricky situations. No, I don’t want dangerous mentally ill people buys guns, but the problem with your proposal is that it violates patient/doctor confidentiality. If a psychologist knows that someone is dangerous, but it is not a court ordered evaluation in which they can be adjudicated mentally ill, then the doctor is legally and ethically forbidden from reporting this kind of information to the state. Are you willing to throw out patient doctor confidentiality in the name of gun control? I believe the only way a doctor can intervene is if they feel someone’s life is in eminent danger- a much higher standard than just being dangerous.

    What about lawyer/client confidentiality? A lawyer may know that their client committed a felony- maybe even killed a person. Should the lawyer be required to report them to the NICS?

  19. Those are good points, TS. Doctor/patient confidentiality is a serious issue. But which is more important, a doctor's confidentiality, or his oath to protect the well-being of his patient and society? Both concepts are present in the Hippocratic Oath. At some point the patient becomes enough of a danger to himself and others to warrant action to protect health and well-being over confidentiality. It's the psychologist's job to make that call, I argue.

    A defending lawyer, on the other hand, has a different obligation, not to the health of the patient and society, but to advocate for the defendant's innocence. If they can't do so, they should remove themselves from the case.

  20. Baldr, doctors balance public safety with individual privacy right now and there is a mechanism for them to get dangerous people off the street (which also removes gun rights). But it is held to a very strict standard of the doctor believing there is an eminent threat to life (varies from state to state). What you are talking about is lowering that standard to “might be dangerous” which further loosens trust. Consider the consequences of what you are proposing, and the negative effect it would have on mental health care, and medical care. This extends well beyond gun rights, as it affects everyone. Even those who don’t own a gun and never plan to would still get reported to the government as a result of seeking mental health care. And since you are also talking about the very common diagnosis of depression, you can walk out of the doctor’s office with a prescription for Prozac, at the expense of being added to a government list. Trust is gone- for gun rights activists, gun controllers, and everyone in between. The repercussions are that fewer people will seek mental health care, and those who do will be less forthright with their doctor/therapist. That is the whole reason why we have confidentiality, so you can talk to your doctor/therapist in confidence knowing that it is not going to leave the room- it makes their job easier.

    There are a lot of people who might be dangerous. And some of them are actually dangerous, and do bad things. Some of them do bad things with guns. That is a consequence of the ethics behind the Hippocratic Oath, but pales in comparison to the benefit to society resulting from this trust that has been in place for literally thousands of years.

  21. I find it interesting that the pro-gun side argues here that the government should stay away from the patient-doctor relationship.

    And yet, the pro-gun side lately has been supporting the Florida bill that prohibits doctors from asking patients about guns in the home, directly interfering in the doctor-patient relationship.

    It all comes down to a right to privacy, at the expense of the death of innocents, but only when it comes to gun ownership, apparently. Or do you guys care that thousands die at the end of a barrel?

    So far none of you have suggested what can be done to reduce gun violence at the hands of the mentally ill. I've made my suggestion, and yes, I believe that the line between privacy and the common welfare should be tipped more toward the common welfare of our people. It seems to me you guys are just fine with the deaths that happen.

  22. Baldr,

    Since you are so willing to give up other people's privacy, are you going to set the example?

    When will you post your medical records online?
    When will you post any psychological records?
    Criminal and civil legal actions you've been involved in?
    Financial records?

    Yearly or monthly sobriety checks?

    Come on, lead the way - instead of demanding that gun owners give up their privacy, prove that you have nothing to hide.

  23. Baldr: “And yet, the pro-gun side lately has been supporting the Florida bill that prohibits doctors from asking patients about guns in the home, directly interfering in the doctor-patient relationship.”

    Not me. You won’t catch me supporting that gag-order bill. Doctors are free to ask whatever they want, and patients are free to look for another doctor if they are offended. Government should stay out of the doctor/patient relationship. So you drew these two examples as being parallel, but it seems you’re as inconsistent as you expected me to be. If you come down on the side of the public over privacy, that’s your prerogative. Just understand the consequences, and expect to be met with far more resistance than just gun owners. Have you considered my point about all of mental health suffering by loosening this trust? Personally, I think the individual and society would both suffer.

    Baldr: “So far none of you have suggested what can be done to reduce gun violence at the hands of the mentally ill.”

    I bet you’ve heard it before. It starts with enforcement. We have laws in place, but people need to act on those laws. When someone has erratic outbursts such as what Loughner had, charges need to be pressed. Twice he made death threats which are very serious charges. By pressing forward it gets him into the system. The defense attorney would be able to pick up on the fact that he is not all together there, and seek a not guilty for reasons of insanity plea, or plea-bargain to a lesser or dropped charge by committing him to mental health care. The end result is him being adjudicated mentally-ill (which will get him in the NICS), but more important it gets him the care that he so desperately needs. Forcing more and more doctors to betray confidentiality would do nothing to stop a person who never gets into the system, like Loughner.

  24. Aside from the discussion we’ve had so far, Baldr, I am not sure that passing laws can do anything in this regard. You said “It's the psychologist's job to make that call, I argue.” which will always be the case. I think all you can do is lobby individual doctors to lower their standard for violating privacy. In the end, it will always be their judgment.

  25. Anonymous, I've given no warning signs to warrant release of that information to the authorities.

    But if I were to purchase a gun, I wouldn't mind if authorities were given any of that information (though I see no reason to give them my financial records) if it meant a safer society. And they already have much of that information anyhow, through other means (not related to guns or criminality in any way).