NOPD Officer Nicola Cotton
(Times Picayune photos)
This is just a sad story all around. While I think it is something that could have occured in any city and in New Orleans prior to Katrina, the fact remains and has been known for quite some time that there is a continuing mental health care crisis in NOLA post Katrina/federal flood.Below are excerpts from a NYT article on the shooting death of NOPD Officer Nicola Cotton, 24, on Monday. She was shot 15 times by Bernel P. Johnson, a man with a long history of mental illness …
NEW ORLEANS — On Monday morning, in a bleak shopping strip almost under
the Pontchartrain Expressway, Bernel P. Johnson wrestled the gun away
from a young police officer and shot her dead. When backup officers
arrived, he handed them the weapon.
But Mr. Johnson, 44, who had a long history of psychiatric
problems, was not supposed to be anywhere near that street or any
other. Just three weeks earlier, on Jan. 4, the police “observed him to
be mentally ill and dangerous to others,” said Dr. Jeffrey Rouse, the
chief deputy coroner, who signed the papers committing Mr. Johnson to
He was sent to a state mental institution,
to be confined until he was no longer a danger to himself or others.
Somehow, for reasons that remain unclear, the institution released him
before the shooting. Because of privacy laws, state officials are not
saying which institution it was, or how the decision was made.
But the mental health system has been in chaos since Hurricane Katrina,and questions over these kinds of releases are adding to waves of grief, anger and fear that have swept over many in the city, even as it celebrates Mardi Gras.
Police officers are furious over what they see as a shortage of
acute-care psychiatric beds at the remaining public hospital in the
city and a lack of follow-up treatment. A prominent judge says the
parish jail has become a de-facto replacement for closed psychiatric
wards, and the sheriff who runs the prison agrees.
officials contend that they are struggling to rebuild the system, even
as more people here are uninsured and so do not have access to other
treatment. Doctors warn that the stress of living in a deeply damaged
city, often without family and friends, is pushing people over the edge.
And some also say that since Hurricane Katrina, the city has been
attracting transients with mental health problems, who end up homeless
and troubled on the streets. Or, as Dr. Rouse puts it, “It’s almost as
if New Orleans has become a magnet for chaos.”
The Times Picayune had a more detailed article yesterday titledProfile of a Murder.
UPDATE: Link above has been updated with the following…
An autopsy performed on Cotton revealed she was eight weeks pregnant,
said Cedric Pollard, 25, who said he was her boyfriend. Pollard said in
a telephone interview that he’d had some inkling Cotton might be
expecting. He said he found out for sure only after her death.