The death of my sister Carmen Schentrup could have been prevented. Carmen was 16 years old when she was killed in the Parkland massacre on Feb. 14, 2018, along with 16 other students and staff members.
Twenty-three days later, Florida Republicans and Democrats united together to pass Extreme Risk Protection Orders (ERPOs) as part of the “Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School Public Safety Act.”
ERPOs empower family members, intimate partners, and law enforcement who recognize behavioral traits of someone that is a danger to themselves or others with a safe and effective way to intervene before tragedy strikes.
In the case of Parkland, law enforcement was called to the shooter’s house over 40 times. It was clear to law enforcement that he was an extreme risk to himself and the community, but tragically they had no legal recourse to temporarily remove firearms from his possession so they could get him the help he needed.
Instead, he murdered 17 people, injured 17 more, and destroyed the feeling of normalcy and safety for countless thousands.
ERPO’s are not only effective in intervening ahead of violence against others but have also proven to be effective at intervening in suicides.
Through better research around the issues of suicide, violence and mental health we now realize that mental illness does not result in violence. We also understand that of those who attempt to end their own life, the majority have never been diagnosed with mental health issues.
Similar to the ERPO law passed in Florida, the Colorado legislature has now passed this essential legislation, and it is currently on its way to the governor’s desk.
However, Colorado District Attorney George Brauchler recently wrote an op-ed in The Colorado Sun stating that he does not support the current version of ERPO in the Colorado legislature, despite having supported extremely similar ERPO legislation just last year.
Brauchler now claims that he wants only law enforcement to be able to petition, and not include family or household members.
Yet he supported the bill last year that defined family or household members as valid petitioners. In his op-ed Brauchler also mentions how the timelines should not be extended, but the timelines were extended to allow for private attorneys to be provided to the respondent, which are paid for by the state, to maximize due process protections throughout the process. This goes even further than the 2018 legislation does to ensure due process.
The final change cited by Brauchler is that the burden of evidence in the termination hearing was shifted from the petitioner to the respondent.
This change was due to the fact that in the 14 states which currently have legislation for ERPO, only nine allow for an early termination hearing and eight of the nine have the burden on the respondent.
If law enforcement is the petitioner, they don’t have access to health records and don’t know what the respondent has done since the hearing to get mental health treatment to reduce their risk. It only makes sense for the respondent to be the one making their own case for early termination.
While I commend D.A. Brauchler for joining the conversation around this important topic, his claim that the current version of the bill of “too extreme” is not supported by the facts.
Of the only two notable changes made to this legislation from last year to current, one was made to allow for the increase in due process protections, and the other was at the request of law enforcement to make the bill function more effectively.
It is hard not to make the assumption that this has more to do with politics and less to do with any concerns around due process.
As someone who has personally experienced the loss of a sibling, seen my parents deal with the loss of their daughter and having met countless others who have had their lives forever changed by a tragedy that could have prevented, no other legislation has the ability to provide as large of an outsized impact as the ability to issue an ERPO.
I can only hope Gov. Jared Polis signs House Bill 1177 quickly before anyone else has to experience this type of preventable tragedy I know all too well.
Robert Schentrup is the brother of slain Parkland high schooler Carmen Schentrup.