Monday, January 10, 2011


by Ben Small (scribed 1/9/11, the day after...)

I grieve for those we lost yesterday, for the injured, the witnesses, and all of their families. And I ask why.

Where were Jared Lee Loughner's parents, the school officials, his friends? Why was this nut-job free?

Loughner was so disruptive in class, so dangerous in his actions, a teacher reported him to the principal, who then tossed Loughner out and sent letters to his parents saying Loughner would not be permitted back until a medical evaluation determined him not to be a threat to himself or others.

The military refused Loughner; they won't tell us why.

Did anyone follow this stuff through? Were there any mental evaluations? If not, why not? Why didn't anyone refer Loughner to the prosecutor for Civil Commitment proceedings?

You know the answer: red tape, bureaucracy, privacy laws...fear.

I saw the Pima County Sheriff's news conference, his blame on Talk Radio, on the polarization of politics. Dupnik. Yeah, he's one of those open-border guys, a one-worlder -- the UnSheriff Joe. Joe receives lawsuits for enforcing border laws; Dupnik files lawsuits to prevent their enforcement -- and like Joe, Dupnik's never found a microphone he didn't like.

But, c'mon. This is nonsense. Beck didn't do this, nor did Palin, although her judgement certainly comes into question. No, I doubt Loughner is political, as we think of the term. I doubt he listened to Rush Limbaugh, Ann Coulter or Sean Hannity. His fellow students called Loughner a "Leftist." He read Hitler, Marx and Plato.

Besides, we've certainly had more turbulent political times -- think Civil War. Think 60s, the assassinations...

No, I suspect this young man found most of his inspiration through video games and from porn and gory movies, from his drugs, the internet and from his readings and music.

Have you watched Loughner's videos? Loughner's videos.

Nice lyrics. "Let the bodies hit the ground!" So laid back...

[Huff, huff, huff... Whew...!
Sorry, the beat's a bit tough for dancin', and I'm outta breath tryin.']

Who knows if Loughner meets the legal standard for insanity; I'll leave that for a jury. But he's dressed as a reaper, for goddsake -- one-armed, he reminds you. He creeps to our flag bent over, his music, notes and actions ominous. He faces us, pulls fire from his breast and lights the flag.

Seriously. Do you not see or hear this guy's insanity? Did he not play this stuff at home? Think Son of Sam or Mark David Chapman. Think Holden Caulfield. This guy is nutz.

Yet, his parents, the school authorities, Loughner's friends, his doctors... Yes, he's an adult. But nobody ever said, "Stop. We wanna look at you."?

Loughner'd had run-ins with the law, it's clear. Yet we know of no psychiatric examination referrals, no warnings to Homeland Security or cops.

And no security detail at the mall.

I am reminded of something that happened years ago, a near miss if you will.

One evening, while still at the office, I got a call from our V.P. Personnel. He'd found an employee, Wilbur Coffner***, in our parking lot, staring at the sun, talking to God. He brought him in and asked some questions. When he decided Coffner was bonkers, he called a local mental institution to pick him up for a twenty-four hour mental fitness evaluation, something permitted by Illinois law and required by our federal contracts.

While Coffner was at the facility, our V.P. did more research. He learned Coffner was passing a journal around the plant, one he'd written about pulling a loaded shotgun on William Steckler, Chief U.S. District Court Judge in Indianapolis, and about three murders he committed later.

I got a copy of the journal, read through it. I made two phone calls: one to Chief Judge Steckler, a long-time family friend and a judge before whom I'd practiced; the other to our local prosecutor, a personal friend.

Judge Steckler told me Coffner got a parking ticket in front of the U.S. District Court in Indy, grabbed a loaded shotgun and took it to the Chief Judge's Office to rectify things. Steckler's secretary hit the silent panic button, Steckler scurried out a back door, and U.S. Marshalls took Coffner into custody. After evaluation, Coffner was found incompetent for trial and insane at the time of his acts, so he was committed to an Indianapolis mental institution.

How did Coffner get out? Steckler had no idea.

Locally, my friend, our prosecutor, wanted to see the journals, interested in whether any of the crimes described matched any open cases, in Rockford or Indianapolis. He came around to pick them up.

I researched some more, and found Coffner's former Indianapolis lawyer, another friend. I called him; asked how Coffner got out.

He said Coffner was a paranoid-schizo, who was okay on his meds but dangerous off them.

I asked again how Coffner got out.

He said they'd had no choice; that Coffner was brilliant and had threatened malpractice actions against his doctors, the hospital, staff -- and him. Coffner showed them professional-looking Complaints he'd drafted, said he'd file unless released. My friend then complained about his malpractice insurance premiums, about the difficulty of obtaining insurance at all. He said the staff, docs and mental institution had similar concerns.

In other words, Coffner scared them.

I knew the rest. They took the easy way out. They freed Coffner.

Now he was my problem.

Our local mental institution called, said they couldn't make a decision. They thought Coffner was crazy but were afraid to say he was likely to be a threat to himself or others because he was threatening to sue them.

I phoned my friend, our prosecutor. He'd read through the journals, but found no matching murders. I told him what the mental institution said. He said not to worry. He'd start Civil Commitment proceedings and have a jury determine Coffner's sanity.

And that's when the death threats began. Both letter and phone calls, to me and to the prosecutor, at our homes.

At first, just a card. You know the drill: pasted letters on a blank postcard. I turned them over to my friend.

I came home one day and found my wife shaking. She said a federal attorney had called and that I was in danger. I was being investigated, watched.

"A federal attorney?" I said. "Were those his exact words?"

She wasn't a lawyer; she didn't know there's no such title.

"Yes," she said, still shaking. "He said he was the 'Federal Attorney' in Rockford.' "

"Coffner," I said, pulling her into my arms. "I'll bet it was Coffner." She remembered the post cards, the special reason we locked our doors. And she knew where I kept my gun; we'd talked about self defense.

I called my friend, the prosecutor. He ordered a record of our phone calls.

A week or so later, I caught the flu and was laid up for a few days. The phone rang, and my wife answered. A few moments, and I heard her running up the stairs. She burst into the room, thrust out the phone and whispered, "It's him!" She was shaking, breathing at a pace, her face in a flush.  "I told him to wait, that I had to let the dog in."

I grabbed the phone and said, "Coffner, you a**hole."

I heard hesitation on the line. A lot of air. Then, "How'd you know it was me?"

Well, duh...

Coffner was committed and life went on.

We were lucky then, so many years ago. Yesterday, Gabby Giffords, John Roll, Christina-Taylor Green, a nine year old child, and four others, not to mention the injured and their collective families, could have been lucky, too.

If only somebody had recognized Jared Lee Loughner was a looney and that he might be dangerous...soon.

Yet, nobody knew this? Nobody saw it coming?

Yeah, this tragedy culminated only yesterday, so we don't know the full story yet. But I wanna blame the parents, the school, the laws and regulations, the health care system possibly -- and fear of taking action.

Inertia is a bitch, like quitting smoking.

And we have so many enablers: Political correctness; an abundance of excuses and excusers; too many conflicting and bulbous laws and regulations; too many lawyers; too many grievances and lawsuits, and a 24/7 media environment that must have blood. The media thrives on controversy, reporting a story slant-and-all or creating one, stirring the pot as the bubbles rise.

It's easier to pass the buck, to let your progeny play violent video games, watch porn and wall off the blood-curdling screams coming from his bedroom television than it is to pay attention to him, to investigate and take curative action if appropriate.

Because, my goodness, your son might not regard you as a friend. 

And costs of treatment? Institutional, transportation, medical appointments, drugs... Who's gonna pay for all that when you're middle class? You're not Lindsay Lohan.

Face it, it's easier -- and safer -- to let someone else take responsibility, take those risks, pay those costs. You may be too busy, or maybe too stressed. Besides, the kid's okay; he can watch himself while you get a beer and...well... maybe another one. You'll get him a new video camera tomorrow, give him something more to play with, so you get more time alone. The drugs? Oh hell, everybody's got 'em. What can you do? Besides, he's of age, an adult. And the Lakers are on tonight; Auburn vs. Oregon tomorrow...

Somebody dropped the ball here, probably lots of people, probably a system, probably several of them.

Don't believe me? Talk to a middle-or-high school teacher. They see dereliction of parental responsibility every day, and they see layers of school administrators who are politicians, afraid to offend anybody or take any risks. A bureaucracy at work, stacks of regs, few decision-makers -- mostly ass-covering at the administrative and board levels.

And god forbid a lawsuit...

[Cut to News Flash. "More at Ten!"]

No, teachers are scared, and I don't blame them for it. Some of my middle-and-high school teacher-friends have been attacked by students, many more threatened. Teachers feel hamstrung, caught in the middle, between parents who expect teachers to parent or just don't give a damn, and school administrators and boards afraid of lawsuits, unions, the media and claims of discrimination or insensitivity.

Well, just look what we have wrought...

Jared Lee Loughner was nuts, starved for attention and intent on going out with a bang. And apparently, nobody did much of anything to stop him.

Roll presses. Legislation and lawsuits, scripts, blogs and stories coming.

Ready? Roll cameras.


Yeah, I'm pissed off. You should be too.

***Name changed to protect the guilty. Coffner later sued our company and me in U.S. District Court, for religious discrimination. Said he was terminated because he was God.


Because he was God.

The court granted our Motion to Dismiss.


Shane Cashion said...

Scary stuff, Ben. A couple years ago a guy in one of our suburbs shot and killed 5 municipal employees during night court. This same guy used to rage at city council meetings over the years and had even been arrested at two of them for disorderly conduct. They knew he was "disturbed" inasmuch as he demonstrated a pattern of abnormal behavior, yet they did nothing more than issue citations for his outrageous behavior and release him. That night he left a note on his pillow ("The truth will come out in the end"), and proceeded to shoot six people at city hall, killing five. We hear stories like this all the time, all over the country. This just happened to be a more high profile person. Nevertheless, the story always ends the same way with folks simply overlooking and/or ignoring the signs of danger.

Ben Small said...

Shane, you're much more concise than me, but you're spot-on. It's becoming more and more clear that the signs were there; they were just ignored. And where was any security, mall or otherwise?

Ben Small said...

Shane Cashion said...

How about the comments by the profs in that article? Why wouldn't they have done something? Report him? Is there really that big of a gap in the justice/mental health systems? Would the profs complaints have fallen on deaf ears, or is it akin to what you write in that people are so fearful of malpractice or other suits that no one wants to get involved, in anything...?

Ben Small said...

But we have some heroes here too, some really brave folks, two of them older women, I understand. A woman smashed him with the flat side of a chair, and another one grabbed the new magazine he was inserting while two men hung on seeking purchase. One of the heroes carried a gun, I understand, but as trained, he chose not to use it, rushing the shooter instead. Chair-lady may have saved their lives, he said. They used the momentum she generated to pound the guy into the floor. Some very brave and strong people, who never dreamed they'd be thrust into such dire circumstances, with such little time to react and so much counting on how they did.

Death staring in your face.

Hats off to them and to all those who have responded to this insane assassination attempt and murder rampage in such an inspiring way. First Responders, medical response, transport -- all top-flight level. Gabby's response, so far; indeed, the responses too of the others surviving, has been encouraging. Doctors are optimistic. Looks like Gabby may have gotten some breaks. Meanwhile, the outpouring of sympathy and support from the Tucson and Arizona community, indeed, at the national level, has been a rallying point.

Jean Henry Mead said...

Good article, Ben, and I share your anger.

Jaden Terrell said...

I know, Ben. The signs were there. It's just unbelievably hard to get anything done. Often you "know" someone is dangerous, but you can't prove it until it's too late.

When I worked at a summer camp many years ago, a friend of mine had a full-blown schizophrenic break with reality. It was almost impossible to get anyone to even call his parents because he was an adult and until he proved he was a danger to himself or others, the administrators felt they couldn't contact the parents on his behalf. Finally, we talked him into trying to call his parents. Although he didn't get through, we were able to tell the director that he had tried, and at that point, his family was contacted. He ended up being hospitalized for quite a long time.

The policies that protect people from being institutionalized for political reasons or by abuses of power also make it hard to force someone to get treatment when they really need it.

Ben Small said...

Ben Small said...