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Doctors missed several opportunities to commit Western Psych shooter, amended lawsuit says

| Monday, April 29, 2013, 4:57 p.m.
John Shick
John Shick

UPMC doctors missed several opportunities to commit John Shick to a mental facility before his March 2012 shooting rampage at Western Psychiatric Institute & Clinic — one of several detailed allegations to emerge in a lawsuit.

The lawsuit by receptionist Kathryn Leight, who survived a gunshot to the chest, accuses University of Pittsburgh Physicians, UPMC and several subsidiaries of failing to act to prevent the shootings that killed therapist Mike Schaab, 25, of Regent Square and wounded Leight and four others before Pitt police killed Shick, 30, of Oakland.

One doctor in January 2012 noted that Shick was “floridly psychotic at the moment” but did not think his behavior fit criteria for commitment. A month later, a second doctor called Shick “acutely psychotic, delusional, but not threatening,” the lawsuit says.

“It was clear that this guy was incapable of controlling himself due to mental illness,” said Mark Homyak, the lawyer representing Leight, 66, of Shaler.

Homyak said doctors should have sought hospitalization for Shick when it was clear he posed a threat to himself.

“Then he also became an imminent threat to others, and they still didn't do it,” said Homyak, who amended a June 6 lawsuit on Friday.

Dr. Thomas Weiner and Dr. Jason Kirby of Shadyside Family Health Center asked Western Psych for involuntary commitment papers but didn't follow through with filing them, the lawsuit says. Neither Weiner nor Kirby could be reached for comment.

Leight's complaint initially named Shick's estate as defendant. The amended version adds the university, UPMC, University of Pittsburgh Physicians, re:solve Crisis Network and Shick's mother, Susan.

UPMC spokeswoman Gloria Kreps said the 89-page complaint, “while aggregating much information and many allegations about Mr. Shick and the tragedy he inflicted on our community, falls far short of the standards required to impose responsibility for his actions on UPMC, its constituent organizations, or any of their dedicated professionals.”

University spokesman John Fedele declined to comment.

Susan Shick, who is sailing on a yacht in the Bahamas with her husband, Larry, could not be reached.

In a June 2012 posting to their website, The Log of Moira, Shick's parents wrote they could not compel their son to go to doctor appointments or take his medications. They gave him support to live independently but could not assuage his feelings of alienation, they wrote:

“At the end he was simply exhausted by the struggle to achieve, yet ultimately knowing that he would not be successful. So to some extent we worried that there would not be a good ending. The horror of the actual ending went beyond anything we ever imagined.”

Shick, diagnosed as schizophrenic during involuntary commitments in New York and Oregon, began seeing doctors at UPMC's Shadyside Family Health Center in 2011 when he moved to Pittsburgh to begin graduate school at Duquesne University. The school expelled him in October 2011 and banned him from campus because he harassed female students.

According to the lawsuit:

• Dr. Thomas Weiner evaluated Shick on July 22, 2011. After several follow-up visits and referrals to specialists, Weiner noted on Oct. 17, 2011, that Shick's pain complaints might be from mental illness and he might benefit from psychiatric referral.

• After evaluating Shick on Nov. 28, 2011, University of Pittsburgh Physicians psychiatrist Jatinder Babbar diagnosed him as a schizophrenic not taking his medications.

• Numerous doctor visits followed as Shick refused treatment for schizophrenia and became convinced he had ailments ranging from parasitic worms to erectile dysfunction. His behavior at doctors' offices and hospitals became increasingly erratic.

• On Feb. 10, 2012, he brought a baseball bat into Shadyside Family Health Center and banged it on the counter, an incident Weiner relayed to re:solve Crisis Network. Weiner said he was afraid of the patient and didn't want his name disclosed. Shick turned away a re:solve mobile team that went to his apartment.

• Shick brought a baseball bat to an appointment with a UPMC surgeon on Feb. 20, 2012, using it as a cane. He again refused treatment from a mobile crisis team.

The lawsuit claims Susan Shick assumed responsibility for ensuring her son stayed on his medication. She left out important details of his five involuntary mental health commitments in New York and Oregon when discussing his history with doctors and mental health professionals at UPP and re:solve.

Two commitments happened because Shick attacked police officers in New York and airport security officers in Portland.

Margaret Harding and Brian Bowling are Trib Total Media staff writers. Reach Harding at 412-380-8519 or Reach Bowling at 412-325-4301 or

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