On Monday morning, in New Orleans, Bernel Johnson wrestled a gun away from a young police officer and shot her dead. Johnson, 44, who had a long history of psychiatric problems, was not supposed on the street, says the New York Times. On Jan. 4, the police “observed him to be mentally ill and dangerous to others,” said Dr. Jeffrey Rouse, the chief deputy coroner, who signed papers committing him to involuntary treatment. He was sent to a state mental institution; for reasons that remain unclear, the institution released him before the shooting.
Police officers are furious over what they see as a shortage of acute-care psychiatric beds at the remaining public hospital in the city and a lack of follow-up treatment. A prominent judge says the parish jail has become a de-facto replacement for closed psychiatric wards, and the sheriff who runs the prison agrees. “This is a dangerous situation,” said Judge Arthur Hunter Jr., a former police officer who now presides over a special court dealing with mentally ill nonviolent people. “Citizens need to know how dangerous it is. They don't.”