Tuesday, June 3, 1997
Enough guilt to share
in Collins death


BY LAURA PULFER
The Cincinnati Enquirer

If you want somebody to blame while we're waiting to see what happens to the two police officers who shot the man waving a brick, you might start with Richard Celeste. He helped dump mental patients like Lorenzo Collins on the street.

Governor of Ohio from 1983 to 1991, Mr. Celeste signed a bill in 1988 to restructure Ohio's mental health-care system. At the time, he said, "It sets a course for bringing appropriate care as close to home as possible."

Drastic consequences

Is it unkind to note that not every acutely ill mental patient should be closer to our homes - or theirs? A family crisis, Mr. Celeste said, spurred his efforts to help the mentally ill. He described his then-wife Dagmar's bouts of depression. Lorenzo Collins threatened to kill his family and was arrested after choking his brother.

Then-Gov. Celeste insisted that his plan would have "no drastic consequences" for the three Cincinnati mental hospitals run by the state: Rollman Psychiatric Institute, Pauline Warfield Lewis Center and Millcreek Psychiatric Hospital for Children. Only the Lewis Center still exists. Closing two-thirds of Cincinnati's mental health hospitals sounds, well, kind of drastic to me.

When Rollman was closed in 1990, a doctor working there said the closing would result in "more homeless, more stress on families and, sadly, more involvement with police."

Sound familiar?

Then-Police Chief Lawrence Whalen warned a task force of community leaders that police are not mental health experts. "Is it fair to the patient? I don't think so. Is it fair to the community? I'm certain it's not."

Typically, a patient would enter Rollman, a short-term crisis facility, then transfer to the Lewis Center for a longer stay if needed. Ideally, the next stop would be a neighborhood treatment center. Both Lewis and Rollman were at capacity, so losing the 120 beds at Rollman immediately put pressure on the Lewis Center. To let somebody in, it has to let somebody out.

As for the Millcreek Psychiatric Hospital, it was closed in June 1995. Plans now are afoot to turn it into a juvenile jail. What does that tell you? We apparently think that it's better to lock kids up than to treat them.

And it's more proof that we don't understand the difference between a criminal and a person who is mentally ill. It has been suggested that the killing of Lorenzo Collins stems from a lack of police training. Although police say they were unaware that Mr. Collins was a mental patient, officers were calling desperately for a Taser.

No going back

In 1990, a U.S. district judge looking into the death of mental patient Thomas Bubenhofer (who was white, by the way) said the stun gun used against him was about as helpful as jabbing a fighting bull. Taser darts and 50,000-volt shocks so enraged Mr. Bubenhofer that he ignored point-blank wounds from .357-caliber Magnum revolvers. Shot more than 20 times, he fell down a flight of stairs and still came at police officers with a knife.

Surely there must be something in our arsenal of equipment that might present police officers with better choices than turning somebody into a charcoal briquette or shooting them.

There is, of course, no going back. Although Mr. Celeste is the best-known of several Democrats mentioned as potential gubernatorial candidates, he appears headed for a job as U.S. ambassador to India. So Ohioans will be deprived of his experience in this matter. We will have to muddle through on our own.

Representatives of Cincinnati's Police Division are to meet today with mental health professionals to discuss police procedures. Hamilton County Prosecutor Joseph Deters, who declined to prosecute the officers who shot Mr. Collins, has said darkly that "this does not mean these officers are out of the woods."

The FBI is investigating. Police Chief Michael Snowden said he expects an administrative review to be complete within 30 days. Someone will officially get the blame. You can bet on it.

Meanwhile, there's always Dick Celeste.

UNION PLANS RALLY FOR COPS IN SHOOTING

Laura Pulfer's column appears in The Enquirer on Sunday, Tuesday and Thursday. Call 768-8393 or fax 768-8340. She can be heard Monday mornings on WVXU radio, and as a regular commentator on NPR's Morning Edition.

PULFER ARCHIVE

Previous stories

SHOOT FIRST, ASK QUESTIONS LATER Peter Bronson column, June 1, 1997
COLLINS PROTESTS CONTINUE May 31, 1997
RADIO LINKS ERRATIC IN COLLINS CHASE May 30, 1997
POLICY ON POLICE HOLDS UNCLEAR May 30, 1997
POLICE SUMMARY OF ITS INVESTIGATION May 29, 1997
DIAGRAM OF THE SHOOTING SCENE May 29, 1997
NO CRIME FOUND IN COLLINS SHOOTING May 29, 1997
NINE MINUTES OF CONFUSION: THE SHOOTING OF LORENZO COLLINS May 27, 1997
DIAGRAM RECONSTRUCTING THE EVENTS May 27, 1997
TRAINING, POLICIES AND POLICE ACTION May 27, 1997
WHY DID THE COPS KILL LORENZO? Peter Bronson column, May 25, 1997
BORGMAN CARTOON May 25, 1997
PUSH FOR POLICE REVIEW FEARED May 9, 1997
FBI TO REVIEW COLLINS CASE May 8, 1997
MARCHERS VOW SEASON OF DISRUPTIONS May 5, 1997
PROSECUTORS GET REPORT ON FATAL SHOOTING April 29, 1997
SHOOTING PROTESTERS ALLEGE POLICE BRUTALITY April 17, 1997
DEMONSTRATORS CITE SHOOTING OF MENTAL PATIENT March 24, 1997
BAPTIST MINISTERS PROTEST AGAINST POLICE March 20, 1997
LAWSUIT SEEKS $5 MILLION March 13, 1997
PUNISH POLICE, MARCHERS URGE March 5, 1997
FATAL SHOOTING CONCERNS COMMUNITY March 2, 1997
PROBE: POLICE FIRED FOUR SHOTS AT MAN WITH BRICK Feb. 25, 1997
MAN SHOT BY POLICE AFTER CHASE Feb. 24, 1997