LaFayette shooter John “Rusty” Houser was able to legally purchase the gun used in the movie theater shooting because he was never involuntarily committed, despite a protective petition filed in 2008 that claimed otherwise.
According to Carroll County Probate Judge Betty Cason, her order only authorized deputies to detain Houser – against his will, if necessary – and take him for a mental health evaluation. Cason said this is where her role ended.
The petition in question was filed in the Carroll County Georgia Superior Court. It details how Houser’s family labeled him as a danger to himself and others. The order cited various acts of family violence. It also said Houser was involuntarily committed to a Columbus hospital.
According to Candice Person, a representative from Hope Harbour, who works closely with the Muscogee County Superior Court, everything in a protective petition is not always factual.
“It doesn’t necessarily mean it’s true,” Person said. “You have to swear in, this is true and correct, I’m in fear of my safety, I need this person away from me. Then it has to be determined whether or not that’s true within 30 days of that,” she said.
Person said the best way to avoid errors in petitions is to have documentation that supports the claim.
“Of course, anything to back up what you’re saying,” Person said. “You know, if I say somebody has a criminal background, ‘Ok, do you have the police reports to show that this person has been arrested?’ That way, you can put that with it or say, ‘Oh, this is a mistake, here’s the reports to back all that up,'” she said.
It remains unconfirmed at this time as to who is responsible for the discrepancy in the Houser petition.
According to the Associated Press, Houser’s record in Carroll County regarding his mental health evaluation is being corrected.
According to the Georgia Bureau of Investigation, John “Rusty” Houser was never involuntarily committed in 2008 in Carroll County, Ga., contrary to what some media outlets have reported.
According to Georgia law, probate court judges are required to report involuntary commitments to the Georgia Bureau of Investigation, or GBI.
WRBL reached out to the Carroll Co. Probate Judge Betty Cason, who other media outlets have said involuntarily committed Houser in 2008.
Cason said she never ordered such thing.
She said the confusion came from an error in paperwork in the Carroll Co. Superior Court – a petition was filed against Houser for a protective order. In that petition, it was erroneously stated that Houser had been involuntarily committed by Cason.
Muscogee County Probate Judge Marc D’Antonio, who did not handle Houser’s case, offered an understanding of how this process works; he said there’s a difference between being involuntarily committed and an order to apprehend for evaluation.
“An order to apprehend, or a 10-13, are basically orders that say somebody has behaviors in the past 48 hours that might be construed as a danger to themselves or others,” D’Antonio said. “It’s not an involuntary commitment that would trigger having to report it to the GBI.”
That report would have to be filed with the GBI within 30 days.
“If somebody has had their day in court where they’ve gotten to tell their side of the story and the folks seeking the petition to determine the need of involuntary treatment have told their side of the story, then I would issue an order finding that the person is in need of involuntary treatment,” D’Antonio said.
D’Antonio added this isn’t something that happens in an instant.
“It’s a very serious matter to be taken off to a psychiatric hospital against your will,” D’Antonio said. “You wouldn’t want that happening to you without there being due process.”
Federal law prohbits anyone who has been involuntarily committed from buying a firearm.
According to the National Rifle Association, a person can’t be federally disqualified based based on a psychiatrist’s diagnosis, a doctor’s referral, getting a drug prescription or seeking mental health treatment.
WRBL will be following up on this story.