Lawsuit: UPMC had chances to have gunman committed

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PITTSBURGH – In the weeks leading up to a mass shooting at a Pittsburgh psychiatric hospital last year, multiple doctors or staffers who encountered the gunman considered having him involuntarily committed but didn’t, an amended lawsuit filed by a receptionist wounded in the rampage alleges.


John Shick, 30, opened fire March 8, 2012, at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center’s Western Psychiatric Institute and Clinic, killing one person and wounding five others. Campus police shot Shick to death.


Shick, who was schizophrenic, had been upset with the health network’s doctors for not diagnosing illnesses that he imagined he suffered, Allegheny County District Attorney Stephen Zappala has acknowledged. The new complaint, based on Shick’s medical records, sheds additional light on his encounters with UPMC-affiliated doctors.


Shick visited a foot and ankle specialist twice in the month before the shooting, both times carrying a baseball bat. Though he used the bat as a cane on one occasion, on the other he banged it on the counter and waved it threateningly, the new complaint said.


Also in the month before the shooting, Shick’s mother called a psychiatric crisis network run by UPMC in hopes its staff could talk Shick into committing himself, but Shick wouldn’t let the workers into his apartment. And a doctor who was aware both that Shick had brought a baseball bat to the specialist’s office and of a confrontation that prompted hospital security staff to draw their guns on Shick also contacted the crisis network about having Shick committed but never followed through, the lawsuit said.


“As Shick’s schizophrenia blossomed he would become more and more delusional and aggressive, eventually escalating to threats of violence and violent acts,” the lawsuit stated.


The lawsuit “falls far short of the standards required to impose responsibility” on UPMC or its doctors, UPMC said in a statement on the 89-page complaint, which was first reported Monday by the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. The complaint was filed late Friday by Mark Homyak, the attorney for injured receptionist Kathryn Leight, 65, and her husband.


The complaint named 17 UPMC doctors or their staff members who were in contact with Shick because he complained of health issues, took issue with diagnoses or had other inquiries or disagreements about his care.


His complaints ranged from neck, chest and ankle pain to high cholesterol, uncontrollable belching and depression, the lawsuit contends.


Homyak contends that “each and every” doctor or security staff who had contact with Shick in the four months leading up to the shooting could have involuntarily committed him “but grossly, negligently, recklessly and/or intentionally failed to do so” causing Leight’s injuries.


Leight was shot four times in the chest and abdomen and has not returned to work because of resulting post-traumatic stress disorder, her initial complaint said.


Shick also was kicked out of Duquesne University because of inappropriate behavior toward female students six months before the shooting, and the lawsuit contents UPMC was aware of the move and still didn’t work to have him committed. Duquesne is not being sued.


Shick allegedly persisted in asking out women after they refused, including asking foreign female students if they knew they could get a green card by marrying an American. Shick also asked several female students for bank account information so “he could give them ‘gifts’ of cash, increasing the amounts offered when he received no response,” the lawsuit said.


When he was kicked out of the university’s doctoral program for biological sciences, he emailed every department member, including every student, asking each for a letter of recommendation, career advice and closed by asking, “What do each of you want out of life and is there anything I could do to help you attain that goal and to encourage you to be happy?”


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