Eviction shooting case: Did county notify police of mental health issues?

Don Meyer

HARRISBURG, Pa. (WHTM) – When someone is involuntarily committed for mental health issues, the facility where they are committed must notify the county. The county is then required to notify state police so they can put the information into their background check system, preventing that person from purchasing firearms.

That did not happen with Don Meyer Jr., the man charged in the death of his 12-year-old daughter Ciara, ABC27 News has learned.

Ciara Meyer
Ciara Meyer

Meyer allegedly pointed a rifle at a constable serving an eviction notice at the family’s home near Duncannon last month. The constable fired one shot that went through Meyer’s arm and into Ciara’s chest, killing her. Police said Meyer should not have owned guns because he was involuntarily committed to a mental health institution.

ABC27 News obtained a gun application Meyer filled out in 2012, the year after he had been involuntarily committed to a mental health facility in Dauphin County. Last week, we asked state police why the application was not flagged. They said they were never notified by the county that Meyer was involuntarily committed.

ABC27 filed a right-to-know request with Dauphin County, asking for any documents that would show the county had notified state police about Meyer’s involuntary commitment in 2011. In an email, the county open records officer said the county is prohibited by law from commenting on specific mental health-related cases.

“Following the media reports of this incident, the county conducted a quality assurance review and determined that all proper procedures were followed,” said Scott Burford, Dauphin County’s open records officer.

We showed this response to Pennsylvania State Police.

“We have no record of having received a notification, either in our database or paper archives of this particular Act 77 notification form,” said Trooper Adam Reed, a state police spokesman.

Don Meyer
Don Meyer

The gun Meyer purchased in 2012 was not recovered when police conducted a search warrant at this home after his daughter’s death, but they did recover five other weapons and hundreds of rounds of ammunition. Four years after he had been committed, Meyer still had weapons.

Michael Giaramita, a Harrisburg-based attorney who deals with gun laws, says under the law Meyer should not have had any weapons in his home.

“Under Pennsylvania law, those who have been committed under the Mental Health Procedures Act have 60 days to get rid of those firearms,” Giaramita said.

In this case, State Police say they did not know Meyer had been committed, but if they had, would they have been required to go to his home and remove any guns?

“I am unaware of any law that requires them to go to the person and remove the firearms from the home,” Giaramita said.

An issue that can be added to the mental health/gun debate.

“There is a need to enforce the existing laws, and until they begin enforcing the existing laws, we are wasting our time searching for a broader solution,” Giaramita said.

In 2011, involuntary mental health commitment notifications were done by fax or mail. Dauphin County is now using an online option that allows them to enter the information directly into the State Police database.

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