Prosecutors Against Gun Violence Holds Mental Health Summit in Miami

March 26, 2015

On Tuesday, members of Prosecutors Against Gun Violence (PAGV) from across the country convened for a summit in Miami focusing on the intersection of mental illness and gun violence. PAGV, an independent, non-partisan coalition founded and co-chaired by Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus R. Vance, Jr., and Los Angeles City Attorney Mike Feuer, worked to identify prosecutorial and policy solutions based on the best practices of prosecutors across the country, highlighting issues including mass shootings, trauma’s role in mental health, enhanced veterans’ services, and reforms to the public mental health system. Miami-Dade County State Attorney Katherine Fernandez Rundle hosted the conference, the group’s second summit since last fall.

Manhattan District Attorney Vance said: “Choosing pragmatism over politics, our diverse group of prosecutors from around the country convened in Miami to discuss an issue of great concern to all: the intersection of gun violence and mental illness. We are all committed to helping those with mental illness – it is the right thing to do, and may prevent devastating tragedies. But, as we have learned, mental illness is often blamed when no other explanation makes sense, stigmatizing and isolating those who should instead be encouraged to seek help. This summit enabled prosecutors from across the country to discuss our successes and failures, sharing and enhancing upon best practices to both prevent those with mental illness from entering the criminal justice system, and appropriately address those who do.” 

Los Angeles City Attorney Feuer said: “Many of the nation’s leading experts proposed provocative ideas to help break the link between mental illness and gun violence. I’m optimistic that PAGV members will play key roles, both locally and nationally, in implementing the ideas we discussed – from promoting innovative prosecutorial practices to advancing significant policy initiatives. This Summit deepened our understanding of this nuanced and complex issue, and enhanced the growing partnerships among many of the nation’s leading prosecutors.”

Miami-Dade County State Attorney Fernandez Rundle said: “It was a pleasure to host 34 elected District Attorneys from all around the country who came to Miami to learn more about the intersection between mental health and gun violence. I was very proud that our Miami collaborative model was highlighted. This approach may well become a national model for the entire country, much like our creation of Drug Courts. All of us left with a better understanding of the dynamics of mental illness, violence and the path to prevention.”

Founded by District Attorney Vance and City Attorney Feuer in September 2014, PAGV now includes 34 prosecutors representing major jurisdictions across the United States. The Mental Health and Gun Violence Summit in Miami follows the group’s first summit on preventing gun violence held in Atlanta in October. 

Discussion topics and panelists at PAGV’s Miami summit included: 

“Overview of National Initiatives Around Criminalization of Mental Illness”

  • The Honorable Steven Leifman, 11th Judicial Circuit Associate Administrative Judge

“Improving Outcomes and Best Practices: Focus on Veterans and Trauma Victims”

  • Dr. Charles Nemeroff, Professor and Chairman, University of Miami Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences
  • Dr. Spencer Eth, Associate Chief of Staff for Mental Health, VA Health Care Systems
  • The Honorable Steven Leifman, 11th Judicial Circuit Associate Administrative Judge 
  • Don L. Horn, Chief Assistant for Administration, Counsel to Grand Jury, Co-Chair Police Involved Shooting Committee, Miami Dade State Attorney’s Office 

“Myths and Realities Regarding the Link between Mental Disorder and Violence” 

  • David D’Amora, Division Director, National Initiatives, Council of State Governments Justice Center

“Lessons from Sandy Hook: School Shooters, Mental Illness, and Guns”

  • Dr. Harold Schwartz, Psychiatrist-in-Chief and Vice President of  Behavioral Health at Hartford Hospital’s Institute of Living

“How the Public Mental Health System Can Help to Prevent Gun Violence”

  • Dr. Joel Dvoskin, University of Arizona College of Medicine, Chair of Nevada Governor’s Advisory Council on Behavioral Health and Wellness

“Mental Illness and Gun Laws”

  • David Keene, Past President, National Rifle Association (NRA)
  • Lindsey Nichols, Attorney, Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence
  • Joshua Horwitz, Executive Director of the Coalition to Stop Gun Violence
  • The Honorable Steven Leifman, 11th Judicial Circuit Associate Administrative Judge