Critics shake their heads.
In northern Illinois, the courts refuse to
commit a man with a decade of mental problems. In a paranoid
rage, he later shoots and kills two family members.
Critics shake their heads.
It's those two extremes that shape the debate about Illinois' mental
health commitment law and have led to the scheduling next month
of a summit on the issue to include teachers, patient advocates,
lawmakers and others.
The Alliance for Mentally Ill has organized the Feb. 14 forum in
The pro-treatment group's executive director, Randy Wells, said
the meeting is open to all views.
"We don't want people to think we're stacking the deck, " said
"Believe me, there are people here that we don't see eye-to-eye
with on anything. "
Wells said the hope behind the forum is to provide state
lawmakers with a blueprint for changes.
"There could be some legislation being introduced in this (spring)
session, " he said, citing the public outcry over the Allen ordeal.
"This is not the type of legislation that you want to craft hastily. "
In Allen's case, her family convinced a Christian County judge to
force her to submit to a psychiatric exam because they feared she
was becoming dangerously delusional.
But Allen wasn't asked. Instead, the judge issued an order for
sheriff's deputies to detain her and take her to a Springfield
The shotgun-wielding Allen didn't want to go, so, despite having
the power and water shut off at her rural Roby home, she held
police off for 39 days.
Under Illinois law, people can be involuntarily committed if they're
deemed a danger to society or themselves. To prove that to a
judge, prosecutors must have at least two psychiatric exams
stating that the person fits the legal guidelines. And, before being
committed, he or she has a right to a hearing and a legal defense.
But many times, those facing committal don't want to undergo
exams, or they may be perceived as being too dangerous to
So a judge can order police to detain the person.
Allen recently said that, had she been sent a summons to appear in
court, she would have gone without a fuss.
"The way they're doing it now . . . anybody that doesn't like you
can go to a judge and say you're mentally incompetent or
something, and he'll write a petition for a D &E (detention and
evaluation), and you're stuck with it, " Allen said.
Though free now, the fate of Allen, 51, is still being decided by the
courts. She spent 47 days in mental hospitals until her release Dec.
16, when a psychiatrist determined she was not a danger.
Allen was scheduled to undergo another psychiatric exam
Thursday. Based on that exam, prosecutors could push for
committal, for up to 180 days, or drop the case.
"It may be days or weeks before I get his (the psychiatrist's)
written report, " said Christian County State's Attorney Teresa
Allen has admitted believing that her house was bugged and
helicopters spied on her, but she maintains that she is not mentally
ill. And she has said that, throughout her hospital stay, she never
took medication -- her right under Illinois law.
But that right may have backfired for a 41-year-old Aurora man,
Jerry Piazza, in June 1996.
Piazza fatally shot his father and brother, capping a 10-year slide
into paranoia and schizophrenia.
Although Piazza had been hospitalized five times, his condition
never met the strict guidelines of having someone committed. So,
he was free to leave the hospital as long as he promised to take his
His mother, Norma, said he rarely did.
In the meantime, his bouts with the disease led him to frequently
assault his parents. That prompted a domestic battery charge, in
which Piazza spent two weeks in jail in April 1996.
But he refused to take his medication and was released from
custody before a court-ordered psychiatric exam. He never
showed for the exam and, a week later, shot his father and
brother. He was captured after a three-hour standoff with police.
Norma Piazza has stood by her son as his case winds its way
through the legal system. She also has spent the past year
advocating for mental health laws -- through the Alliance for
Mentally Ill -- that would permit forced treatment.
"You don't want to trample over people's rights, but what do you
tell Norma Piazza? " Wells said. "Her husband and other son had
civil rights, too. "
And therein lies the debate for next month's summit.
"We'll look at Illinois' statute. Does it work? Not work? Do we
need to do something drastic as rewrite this statute, or do we need
to do some . . . tweaking and do some changes on implementation
of the law? " Wells said.
The forum, which is free and open to the public, will be held at the
Provina Mercy Center, 1325 N. Highland Ave., in Aurora.
Registration is at 9:30 a.m., with the forum from 10 a.m. to 12:30