Virginia investigator quits over probe of death of senator's son

by Reuters
Tuesday, 4 March 2014 23:39 GMT

By Gary Robertson

RICHMOND, Va., March 4 (Reuters) - A senior Virginia state investigator has resigned his post, citing changes that officials made to his report on a November incident in which the mentally ill adult son of state Senator Creigh Deeds stabbed the senator and later shot and killed himself.

On Saturday, Douglas Bevelacqua resigned as Virginia's director of the inspector general for behavioral health and developmental services. In a letter to Governor Terry McAuliffe, Bevelacqua said revisions in his report on the death of Austin "Gus" Deeds "will diminish the report's usefulness as policy makers consider changes to the Commonwealth's emergency services response system."

Among the revisions to his final report on the incident, Bevelacqua said officials struck a section in which the senator said the state had "failed" his son. That change weakened his review of Virginia's system of responding to people with mental health problems, Bevelacqua said.

Deeds' 24-year-old son attacked his father with a knife on Nov. 19 at their home in Bath County. Only 13 hours before the attack, Gus Deeds had been released from state custody after a mental health evaluation. Authorities responding to Deeds' home after the incident found his son dead of a self-inflicted gunshot wound.

The senator told Bevelacqua that "the system failed that day," and the inspector said authorities struck that statement from his final report.

"That statement was considered too emotional for this report," said Bevelacqua, a former construction executive who was appointed to the inspector general's office by Republican Bob McDonnell, who preceded Democrat McAuliffe as governor.

"I regret this resignation more than I can put into words, but I feel that I can no longer be an authentic, independent voice of accountability for the citizens of Virginia on matters of behavioral health and developmental services, and that I must move on," Bevelacqua said in his resignation letter.

Bevelacqua could not be reached for comment. An official in the Inspector General's office confirmed that Bevelacqua had resigned and said he did not leave information about how he could be reached.

Virginia Inspector General Michael Morehart said in a telephone interview that state law prevented him from responding to Bevelacqua's charges "because it's a personnel matter."

Officials have said the state would release the report into the attack on Deeds and the mental health system's response, along with possible recommendations for improvements, within the next few weeks.

Gus Deeds stabbed his father multiple times just hours after being released by state mental health authorities following the expiration of an emergency custody order.

Following the attack, Deeds, a 2009 Democratic gubernatorial candidate, staggered away from his home and was picked up on a nearby road by a cousin, state police have said.

At the time of the incident, mental health authorities at the Rockbridge County Community Services Board said a psychiatric bed could not be found for Gus Deeds before his six-hour emergency custody order had expired.

The incident drew national attention and the senator, with knife scars visible on his face, appeared on "CBS This Morning" to discuss the trouble he had getting treatment for his son before the attack. Deeds has been working on legislation during the current session of the Virginia General Assembly to extend the time limit on emergency custody orders, to give clinicians more opportunity to treat individuals in a mental health crisis.

He has said his son suffered from mental health problems, and had unexpectedly dropped out of the College of William & Mary, where he was a music major.

In response to Bevelacqua's resignation, McAuliffe spokesman Brian Coy said: "The Governor is committed to reforming our mental health system so that it works to keep all Virginians healthy and safe." (Editing by Scott Malone and David Gregorio)

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