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Overdue attorney general's report of mentally handicapped NH deaths coming soon

New Hampshire Union Leader

October 20. 2013 8:37PM

A review into the deaths of mentally handicapped adults — including those shot in a string of police-related shootings two years ago — is long overdue but should be out by this fall, according to people familiar with the process.

A 2007 state law requires the New Hampshire Attorney General to appoint and administer an Incapacitated Adult Fatality Review Committee to review the deaths of adults who are mentally ill, developmentally disabled or elderly. The Review Committee is tasked with making recommendations for policy changes, training needs, public education, and other areas.

Findings are supposed to be made to state leaders every year by Nov. 1.

The last report was issued in 2009, said Sandi Matheson, the outgoing director of victim-witness advocacy for the New Hampshire Attorney General.

"It is overdue, but it's going to be done this fall," said Matheson, who is retiring this year.

Two years ago, the Review Committee received some attention when a lawmaker said it could be used to follow up on a spate of police shootings of people who were mentally ill. Police in New Hampshire shot and killed five people in 2011, all which the Attorney General's Office deemed as justified. A majority suffered from mental illness.

According to Review Committee member Richard Cohen, the police-related shootings have been reviewed by the committee. Cohen, the director of the Disabilities Rights Center, said recommendations have been formulated, and have been forwarded to various public and private agencies.

He said he did not believe he could disclose the recommendations under state law, but felt a public report should be released.

"There needs to be a trail," he said, "for purposes of accountability there has to be a report out there publicly. It's certainly beneficial to make things public."

Matheson would not discuss the recommendations until they are released in a report. The law establishing the Review Committee exempts it from the state Right to Know Law, she pointed out. The exemption allows the Review Committee to receive confidential information about medical conditions, psychological conditions and investigations, Matheson said.

Matheson said the delay is in part because of the loss of the chairman, Tracy Culberson, a former assistant attorney general.

"I took it over (the chairman's job) just to facilitate it," Matheson said. Don Rabun, an ombudsman in the state Office of the Long Term Care, was eventually named chairman.

The 2009 report resulted in 20 recommendations, which ranged from legislative support for suicide prevention programs to community housing and support for people with complex medical and behavioral needs.

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