After John Rush of Pittsburgh was arrested two years ago for assaulting his then-girlfriend, a worker at the Allegheny County Jail’s behavior clinic recommended that he get outpatient treatment for an unspecified mental illness. That detail, and other information about the 21-year-old’s diagnosis, was not available to sheriff’s deputy John Herb last week when he spotted the fugitive who was wanted on two bench warrants and a fresh assault warrant, says the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Rush, police said, punched the deputy and killed a police dog and injured several officers who were trying to arrest him. A history of mental illness, law enforcement officials say, is one of several factors they consider when executing an arrest.
Federal and state privacy laws often prohibit officers from receiving even the most basic information about someone’s mental health status. It’s an information gap local authorities said they hope to bridge. “We believe that such information is critical to the safety of both law enforcement personnel and the person being sought for questioning,” said Mike Manko, spokesman for the Allegheny County district attorney. He said the DA’s office is working with other prosecutors and legislators to amend the state Health Information Act to “provide law enforcement with basic information about whether or not a person being sought on an arrest warrant has had any mental health diagnosis.” Police officers have several tools they can use to check a person’s history. In Rush’s case, they could have used the National Crime Information Center database and discovered that he had been convicted of statutory sex assault, simple assault and other crimes.