State senators approved a bill named in honor of slain Clark County Sheriff’s Deputy Suzanne Hopper that’s designed to keep law enforcement officers safe by giving them access to more information about potentially dangerous suspects with a history of mental illness.
Approved Wednesday, the Deputy Suzanne Hopper Act, Senate Bill 7, honors Hopper, who was shot and killed in the line of duty Jan. 1, 2011, by Michael Ferryman at the Enon Beach Campground.
Ferryman was barred from having weapons as part of his conditional release from a mental health facility in 2005, according to Springfield News-Sun reports. He was still reportedly under the supervision of mental-health case workers when Hopper was killed, but local law enforcement had no knowledge of that.
If enacted as approved by the senate, it would require a court to report to a local law enforcement agency that it approved “the conditional release of a person found incompetent to stand trial or not guilty by reason of insanity or orders a person convicted of an offense of violence to receive a mental health evaluation or treatment for a mental illness,” according the bill.
The policing agency would then enter the information into the National Crime Information Center file and law enforcement would be notified through the Law Enforcement Automated Data System of the person’s potentially violent status, according to a press release from Sen. Chris Widener, a sponsor of the bill.
Ferryman was involved in a similar incident in another Ohio county about a decade before he killed Hopper and wounded German Twp. Officer Jeremy Blum in a gun battle.
“Hopper’s killer had been convicted of a violent offense years before his encounter with her, yet this court public record was not noted on LEADS at the time and was not immediately available to Hopper’s dispatchers,” Widener’s release said.
Widener, R-Springfield, could not be reached for further comment.
“(Ferryman) was working with mental health, but we had no knowledge of that,” Clark County Sheriff Gene Kelly said Thursday. “If (dispatchers) had that info on that fatal day, they could have popped up that information and notified (Hopper). Things could have been very different today.”
Clark County has already flagged three or four residents who’ve been found not guilty by reason of insanity, Kelly said. That alerts officials to use extra caution when making contact with these individuals.
But that only covers county residents, and a statewide bill would have a broader impact on the safety of law enforcement officers and fire and EMS personnel who may have contact with potentially violent, mentally ill people statewide, Kelly said.
The only downside of the pending legislation, Kelly said, is that it’s only for one state.
“It should be across the board in all 50 states. Michael Ferryman was ready to go to Georgia, and law enforcement there would have had no information for him,” Kelly said.
The act passed 32-1 with Sen. Michael Skindell, D-Lakewood, voting no. The bill was jointly sponsored by Bill Beagle, R-Tipp City.
It will now move to the Ohio House of Representatives.