Alaska’s Unique Circumstances, Culture Colors Judgments Experts Must Make In Deciding On Involuntary Commitment Cases

In continuing coverage of fallout from the Fort Lauderdale, FL airport shootings, the New York Times (1/14, A9, Johnson, Subscription Publication) reported that in Alaska, where shooter Esteban Santiago lived, mental healthcare professionals “and legal experts said the distinctive demographic, geographic and cultural stamp of the state also colors the often nuanced judgments that doctors, law enforcement officers and judges must make in deciding whether to hold a disturbed person against his or her will.” The state, “they said, is ingrained with a deep tradition of tolerance – fueled by libertarian instincts holding that people should be able to believe what they want, however eccentric or irrational.” Even in circumstances in which “people are involuntarily committed for treatment, the median length of stay, at only five days, is shorter than in almost any other state.”

The AP (1/14, Kennedy) reported that Florida airport shooter Esteban Santiago’s visit to an FBI office in Alaska, where he told “agents the government was controlling his mind and that he was having terroristic thoughts,” highlights what authorities say is “the difficulty is in assessing whether people are reporting a credible threat, or whether they need medical help.” Federal Law Enforcement Officers Association executive director and former Secret Service supervisor and Pat O’Carroll said, “A lot of resources, time and effort are all put into dealing with mentally challenged people and trying to sort through that type of information to find out what’s valid.” This also poses a challenge for authorities who “don’t have the expertise to make that determination and don’t want to stigmatize people.”

Related Links:

— “A Rampage in Florida Shines a Light on Alaska,”Kirk Johnson, The New York Times, January 13, 2017.

Posted in In The News.