Senator sues state, mental health officials over son's death

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RICHMOND, Va. (AP) — A Virginia state senator whose son stabbed him multiple times before fatally shooting himself has filed a $6 million wrongful death lawsuit against the state and a mental health agency.

Sen. R. Creigh Deeds of Bath County claims in the lawsuit that his 24-year-old son, Austin "Gus" Deeds was improperly denied mental health treatment before the deadly November 2013 incident.

Defendants in the lawsuit are the state, the Rockbridge Area Community Services Board and Michael Gentry, a mental health worker for the community services board who evaluated Gus Deeds the day before the attack. Gus Deeds stabbed his father 13 times before shooting himself.

The lawsuit claims the community services board and Gentry breached their duties by releasing Gus Deeds after failing to find a psychiatric bed in the area.

"Virginia's mental health care system failed my son, Gus," Deeds said in a statement released Tuesday by his lawyers, John E. Lichtenstein and Monica M. Mroz. "I am committed that my son's needless death shall not be in vain, and that no other Virginia family suffer this tragedy."

John D. Young, interim executive director of the community services board, declined to comment on the lawsuit.

Attorney General Mark Herring had not seen the lawsuit and could not comment, spokesman Michael Kelly said.

According to the lawsuit, Gentry determined that the younger Deeds needed to be hospitalized but released him to his father's care after being unable to find a bed. The complaint says Gentry claimed to contact 10 facilities, but phone records showed he only called seven — and two of the three that were not contacted had space available.

Gus Deeds' mother, Pamela Miller Mayhew, told Gentry that her son "was in a very bad place" and pleaded to have him hospitalized, the lawsuit says.

"She told Gentry that Gus would kill Creigh and himself if he was not hospitalized," it says.

About 13 hours after Gus Deeds was released, he attacked his father outside a barn on the family farm. The senator was flown to a nearby hospital, where he was initially in critical condition. A short time later, his son shot himself with a rifle.

The lawsuit faults mental health officials for not making improvements recommended by the state inspector general's office after the 2007 Virginia Tech shootings. Those recommendations included steps to improve coordination between community services boards and hospitals to ensure that people who are found to pose a danger to themselves or others are not prematurely released.

"Gus Deeds' violent acts and death could have been avoided" had state mental health officials acted on the inspector general's findings, the complaint says.

Deeds had filed a notice of his intent to sue in May 2014. The lawsuit was filed in November, but escaped notice until it was reported by The Rockbridge Advocate, a monthly newspaper.

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