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Gun Reform? Start With Keeping Guns Out of The Hands of Mentally Ill

Did you know that the 36-year-old woman who commandeered a COTA bus on April 5 and held a loaded 9mm to the driver's head has a history of mental illness?

Did you know it's the same loaded handgun that police confiscated from the woman in February and later returned it?

Bettie Smith

The Sussi Report connected those disturbing dots and is the only media outlet to report it.

Does it concern you? It worries me, and that is why I continued to dig and answer the question – why did the police return a gun to a woman with a history of mental illness?

On February 24, the Columbus Division of Police responded to a disturbance call at 1909 Sullivant Ave. The incident report states that it is a "group home." I dropped by the shabby, two-floor brick building, and according to a resident I spoke with, it is not a group home but an apartment building.

Smith told the officers that she got into an argument with her roommates and "threw water with bath soap on the floor so they would slip and fall." Smith told the officers that she suffers from depression but is not on medication.

The report states that Smith's caseworker from Southeast Healthcare happened to be at the apartment to conduct a site visit when officers arrived on the scene. Officers asked Smith to accompany her caseworker to Netcare Access, a non-profit mental health and substance abuse crisis intervention center, and get a mental evaluation. Smith agreed.

As Smith packed her bag, she admitted to the officers that she had a loaded handgun. Smith told the officers that she had purchased the gun legally for protection. According to the report, the officers took possession of the firearm, determined it was not stolen, and turned it into the CPD Property Room. The same pink 9mm that Smith used to commandeer a COTA bus on April 5.

The Sussi Report contacted Sgt. James Fuqua, Public Information Officer for the Columbus Division of Police. Sgt. Fuqua stated, "the gun could not be held once her evaluation was completed, and she requested to remove the gun from the property room. Since we had no charges at the voluntary submission, she was allowed to have her gun back."

Sgt. Fuqua said Smith picked up her handgun on March 25.

The Sussi Report contacted Myken Pullins, Executive Assistant and Public Affairs Director for Southeast Healthcare. Pullins said that Southeast Healthcare operates two residential treatment facilities in Columbus and has a "no-firearms policy within all of our facilities."

The police report states that a Southeast Healthcare case worker was on the scene when they arrived and confiscated the handgun from Smith. The report also states that Smith accompanied the caseworker to Netcare Access to get a mental evaluation.

Did the report confirm that Smith is mentally competent to possess a firearm? Is Southeast Healthcare aware that Smith retrieved the weapon from the Columbus Division of Police following her mental evaluation?

Pullins refused to answer those questions. "We adhere to the HIPAA privacy laws and regulations, and for that reason, we cannot disclose further information," she said.

The Sussi Report learned that on March 27, just two days after CPD returned Smith's handgun, CPD officers pink-slipped Smith and transported her to Mt. Carmel in Franklinton for another mental health evaluation the incident report. (The term pink-slipped means that if a law enforcement officer believes a person is unstable and could be a danger to themself or others, the officer has the authority to have that person admitted to a hospital for a mental evaluation.)

According to the police report, Smith told officers that she wanted them to drive her to the YMCA family shelter on Van Buren Drive "to fight with the staff." Smith told officers that she was suicidal and "would take pills" to kill herself.

The Sussi Report contacted the Mount Carmel Health Systems' Media Relations Office Wednesday to learn when they released Smith. Samantha Irons, who works in the Media Relations Office, emailed this response. "Patient privacy laws prevent us from speaking about any specific patient or the care provided."

Then, there is that alarming and eye-opening February 3, 2021, CPD incident report. The report shows that the officers transported Smith to Netcare Access for a mental evaluation.

Smith told the officers that she spent four days at a Cincinnati hospital for "having suicidal thoughts." She said the hospital provided her with a Greyhound bus ticket to Columbus. Smith told the officers that she was homeless and "feeling suicidal."

What we don't know is where and when Smith purchased the firearm.

Whenever our country witnesses mass shootings or homicides and gun violence statistics rise, lawmakers and politicians, including Columbus Mayor Andy Ginther, rattle their sabers and demand stricter gun control laws.

Can we start with keeping firearms out of the hands of people with a history of mental illness?

Smith is charged with abduction. Her preliminary hearing is scheduled for Thursday at the Franklin County Municipal Court. Smith remains at the Franklin County Jail on a $50,085 cash or surety bond.

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