AURORA REMEMBERS: Pending theater shooting lawsuit to put focus on mental health holds

The Colorado Department of Human Services announced a new task force last week that will review the system and make recommendations about how to improve it.

AURORA | Four years after a gunman opened fire on an Aurora movie theater, killing 12 and wounding 70, state officials are hoping to reform Colorado’s mental health hold system.

The Colorado Department of Human Services announced a new task force last week that will review the system and make recommendations about how to improve it.

FILE - This Aug. 30, 2012 file photo Dr. Lynne Fenton, the University of Colorado psychiatrist who was treating theater shooter James Holmes, is seen through a window leading to a district courtroom in Centennial, Colo. Fenton  who treated Holmes before he attacked a Colorado movie theater said Tuesday, June 16,  that she would have called police and had him detained if she had known his plans. Fenton testified that Holmes acknowledged he was having homicidal thoughts as often as three or four times a day but never let on that he was assembling an arsenal and planning a mass killing. (AP Photo/Barry Gutierrez, File)
FILE – This Aug. 30, 2012 file photo Dr. Lynne Fenton, the University of Colorado psychiatrist who was treating theater shooter James Holmes, is seen through a window leading to a district courtroom in Centennial, Colo. Fenton who treated Holmes before he attacked a Colorado movie theater said Tuesday, June 16, that she would have called police and had him detained if she had known his plans. Fenton testified that Holmes acknowledged he was having homicidal thoughts as often as three or four times a day but never let on that he was assembling an arsenal and planning a mass killing. (AP Photo/Barry Gutierrez, File)

“We are pleased to appoint a diverse and talented group of individuals to this task force,” Reggie Bicha, executive director of the Colorado Department of Human Services, said in a statement. “We look forward to the discussion and their recommendations on the important issues around the rights and health of Coloradans experiencing a mental health crisis.”

After the theater shooting, many questioned why the shooter wasn’t placed on a hold after he told his psychiatrist he fantasized about killing people. His doctor told police at the University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus about the threats but the shooter was never detained.

Gov. John Hickenlooper asked CDHS to create the task force after he vetoed legislation in the spring aimed at improving the mental health hold process.

When he issued his veto, Hickenlooper said the legislation didn’t have adequate due-process protections, but he said the system needed to improve.

The statement from CDHS said the task force will “ensure that Coloradans experiencing mental health crises have access to appropriate mental health services while preserving their fundamental rights.”

Among the group’s specific charges are that they ensure proper mental health treatment for people in crisis, no longer jail the mentally ill who have committed no crime, and streamline regulatory oversight of the mental health hold process, according to CDHS.

The group, which consists of 30 lawmakers, mental health and law enforcement professionals from around the state, will have its first meeting Aug. 4.

And with the civil lawsuits against the theater largely complete, the lawsuit against University of Colorado and James Holmes’ psychiatrist — which is expected to focus attention on whether Dr. Lynne Fenton and school staff could have done more to prevent the attacks — remains one of the case’s last court fights.

That lawsuit says Holmes told Fenton on June 11, 2012, that he fantasized about killing people.

Fenton told the university’s Campus Wide Threat Assessment Team about the threat. Sometime after that, Officer Lynn Whitten of the CU Police Department at the Anschutz Medical Campus offered to detain Holmes for a 72-hour psychiatric hold. Fenton rejected the idea, the lawsuit said.

The lawsuit was put on an “administrative hold” last year pending the outcome of the civil suits accusing the theater’s owner, Cinemark Inc., of having lax security. A jury in a case against Cinemark sided with the theater chain this summer and a district court judge dismissed another case against them.

But the theater chain has said it plans to compel the victims who sued to pay its legal costs, estimated about $700,000.

Pending the outcome of that piece, lawyers for the victims and CU said their lawsuit will remain on hold indefinitely.

Comments are closed.