Hammer attacker shouldn’t have been on the street

Thomas Scantling, who attacked a subway rider with a hammer, would not have been on the streets if the healthcare system had paid closer attention to his case.

You hear voices. Everyone you see is out to get you. Maybe even kill you. You hallucinate, and you don’t know the difference between reality and imagination.

It sounds crazy, but that’s reality for Thomas Scantling, 26, who attacked Dewayne Taylor, 20, with a hammer on the Broad Street Line.

Since the Sept. 4 attack, Scantling was identified as a paranoid schizophrenic and ruled unfit to stand trial due to mental illness. His perception of danger on the subway and his violent behavior are symptoms of that illness.

“[Schizophrenia is] a medical illness that affects the brain, so insight and ability to inhibit any kind of impulse is reduced,” explained Tania Giovannetti, Ph.D., an assistant professor of psychology. “The reason paranoid people are often more prone to violent outbursts … is because they have these delusions that people are out to get them, and so in their minds, they’re defending themselves against some threat … to them it’s very real.”

As reported Sept. 11 by various local news media, Scantling’s family had him involuntarily committed to Charter Fairmount Behavioral Hospital four weeks prior to the attack. The hospital released him for “insurance reasons,” despite his mother and sister’s pleas for treatment.

That means Scantling’s own family was afraid of and afraid for him. From their point of view, he was a danger to himself and others.

Why, then, was Scantling, who is severely mentally ill, released without proper treatment?
Insurance isn’t a good enough answer.

“The worst part here is you have a family that’s begging for help and they’re not getting it,” Giovannetti said. “This is where insurance and the system [are] failing them. That’s what makes this a tragedy.”

She’s absolutely right.

Since the attack, everyone has pointed fingers.

Police Commissioner Charles Ramsey condemned the some 10 witnesses to the attack who “did nothing” to help; newspaper columnists crucified the now-infamous cell phone thief.

These are valid points, but someone needs to be held accountable for what happened.

Giovannetti, who stressed that schizophrenics rarely commit acts like Scantling’s, said if a psychiatrist released a patient prior to a similar attack, the psychiatrist could lose his or her license.

Insurance companies and health facilities should bear similar responsibility and face consequences for forcing sick individuals and their families to handle serious illnesses alone.

Local news media reported Thursday that Scantling will undergo treatment at Norristown State Hospital.

Is that what it takes to get help?

It’s like they’re saying you need to beat an innocent person to a bloody pulp, and then we’ll get you proper care.

Psychiatric care is a basic human right, and that right is not OK to deny for insurance (read: money) reasons.

I guess it’s about common good, but I don’t buy it.

This has affected common good – it scared a city, shocked a nation and ruined lives – and it was preventable.

I’m not justifying – just adding perspective. Scantling had a criminal record and has been charged with rape, robbery, you name it. I know that.

He may be a criminal, but he is also very ill. And though the only crime he’s been formally convicted of is robbery as a juvenile, in a way he’s already paid a price worse than prison by being sentenced to walk streets where, in his sick mind, a threat looms around every corner.

Morgan Zalot can be reached at morgan.zalot@temple.edu.

1 Comment

  1. NO SIR, the worst part is this very same ‘very aware and concerned’ family left a child in this sick individual’s care. This stinks to high heaven.

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