Ohio considers database of insanity defendants
Monday, January 2, 2012
ENON, Ohio (AP) — The fatal shooting of a sheriff's deputy last New Year's Day has lawmakers considering how Ohio could track information on suspects who are found not guilty by reason of insanity, possibly by putting their names into a database accessible to law enforcement officers.
The man who killed Clark County Sheriff's Deputy Suzanne Hopper before he was shot by police at a trailer park had been accused of shooting at officers in 2001. Michael Ferryman had been found not guilty by reason of insanity and lived in a mental institution before receiving a conditional release, but officers responding to the scene a year ago didn't know that, The Springfield News-Sun (http://bit.ly/tzqRe9 ) reported.
Lawmakers are researching how Ohio could make information about such defendants available to emergency responders in a database.
"We track sex offenders in a very confined and detailed database, but those that are typically adjudicated for mental health illnesses, we don't have a database for law enforcement officials," Republican state Sen. Chris Widener of Springfield told the newspaper.
Legal and privacy concerns would have to be considered if legislation to create a tracking system were introduced, said Republican state Rep. Ross McGregor, also from Springfield.
"You have to be careful," he said. "Something that seems so simple and reasonable as a database, you also have to think about people's privacies so you have to balance a lot of things out."
Sheriff Gene Kelly said Clark County has its own local database of people in the county on conditional release.
"We only have four people (in the county) but across the state there are many, many more," Kelly said. The gunman in the New Year's Day shootout, Michael Ferryman, had moved into the county after his conditional release.
A spokeswoman for the Ohio Department of Mental Health said as of this summer, Ohio had 430 people on conditional release after being found not guilty by reason of insanity.
"It basically says the person is not guilty because of a mental disease of defect and the lack of ability to know the difference between right and wrong," Clark County Prosecutor Andy Wilson told the newspaper. "It's not saying they didn't do it. It's saying they did it but because of this mental disease, they're not responsible."
That defense is used in a very small number of cases and is successful in only some of those, Department of Mental Health spokeswoman Trudy Sharp said.
It remains unclear whether more information could have prevented the shootout with Ferryman.
"Could we have prevented his girlfriend from giving him a gun? Likely we couldn't," Sharp said. "But we must do our best every day to make sure that people receive the treatment they need and that their safety and the safety of the community is a priority."
Information from: Springfield News-Sun, http://www.springfieldnewssun.com
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