Davidson County judge explains intercepting the dangerously mentally ill

by Dennis Ferrier Tuesday, April 24th 2018

A person with mental health problems commits a crime, goes to court and then is surrounded by people and services and monitoring to slowly move toward a normal productive life.

This is the formula; Diagnosis, medicate, monitor, and work through it.

When mental illness is unchecked, someone with a history like Travis Reinking is accused of mass murder. While the man accused in a mass shooting at a Antioch Waffle House may be off the streets forever, it is too late. And if he did this was there any way to stop him? Mental Health Court Judge Melissa Blackburn said there are limitations to what the courts can do.

“You can't just pick someone off the street," Blackburn said. "You have a reason. They have to commit a crime or a be a danger to themselves or others, prior to him showing up at the Waffle House on that day he hadn't."

Even if you are lucky enough to pick someone up because they seem to be a danger to themselves or others, Blackburn said the court still can't really render them harmless.

Metro Nashville Police Department

“No one has the authority at that point to seize their weapons if they have weapons under Tennessee law," Blackburn said. "I can't take their weapons. The sheriff can't, the police can’t, no one can unless they commit a crime."

Judge Blackburn deals with mental illness everyday, but this often is not mental illness at its earliest stages. These folks Blackburn sees have grown up to adults and are now committing crimes. Nevertheless sitting on this bench everyday, she will tell you its not the system that fails the mentally ill. It's their own families.

“Daily we have instances where mom, dad grandma whoever is raising that young adult will hide the mental illness," Blackburn said. "I don’t know if it's shame or concern. They just don’t seek help for the individual, and it leads to big problems down the road." Judge Blackburn said the results of that approach are always harmful, and of course sometimes fatal.

“A lot of these instances, these individuals wouldn't become mass murderers because hopefully they would have gotten help earlier and their trajectory might have changed,” Blackburn said.

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