Two years after the shooting death of a Clark County sheriff’s deputy, state legislators introduced a bill that would give law enforcement access to information about mentally ill individuals with a criminal history in their community.
The Deputy Suzanne Hopper Act was introduced this week by senators Chris Widener, R-Springfield, and Bill Beagle, R-Tipp City, in honor of Hopper, who was killed on duty Jan. 1, 2011.
Under the bill, courts will be required to report people who have been found not guilty by reason of insanity or those who have been convicted of a violent offense and ordered to get mental health treatment for inclusion into the Law Enforcement Automated Data System, or LEADS.
Hopper was ambushed by a man who had been found not guilty by reason of insanity after an armed standoff with deputies in Morgan County in 2001.
Area police who responded to the scene did not know about 47-year-old Michael Ferryman’s violent past or that he was to be under court-ordered psychiatric care until 2012.
Clark County Sheriff Gene Kelly said having that information in the LEADS database will give officers statewide information they need to better protect themselves.
“Knowledge is power,” Kelly said. “This is a great step in the right direction.”
After Hopper’s death a similar database was created locally, said Kelly, who worked with the Mental Health and Recovery Board of Clark County to create a database of people in the county who are on conditional release.
Kelly said a state or national database could alert responding officers to use extra caution or consider different tactics when responding to a situation involving individuals who have been adjudicated criminally insane or have severe mental illness, coupled with a history of violence.
Clark County Prosecutor Andy Wilson said when Hopper responded to a shots fired call at Enon Beach Recreation Park, she didn’t realize she was walking into a situation with a man who had fired shots at police in the past.
“Anything that arms front-line officers with more information is a good thing. They should know when they’re responding to a situation involving a person who has a mental health issue that is significant enough to require court action in the past,” Wilson said.
“Officers are going to always going to use caution and follow standard procedures, but certainly if there’s something out of the ordinary where you have a guy who has shot at officers before, that’s information we want officers to have.”
Currently, 443 people in Ohio and three people in Clark County are on conditional release after being found not guilty by reason of insanity, said Trudy Sharp, spokeswoman for the Ohio Department of Mental Health.
Widener said the goal is for the information to available to Ohio and national law enforcement agencies.
He also said officials have spent the last couple years crafting the bill and gaining support law enforcement agencies, the court system and judges involved in mental health cases.
“I’m sure judges and courts are concerned with workload, but I believe they will want to be involved, and that’s why we worked with their practitioners on the details of the bill, word by word,” Widener said.
Beagle said the bill could be discussed in senate hearings as early as next week, Beagle said.
“This is just more information that might help them assess the situation … because in the end it could help the subject. If an officer is prepared and understands a person has mental issue, they may approach them differently, and they might have a better outcome,” Beagle said.
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