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Returned Schenck guns were legal

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Paul E. Schenck had a lot of guns. He also had a history of mental health issues and alcohol abuse. The mix of these factors contributed to the July 31 shootout at his home on High Street that involved 63 police officers and several SWAT teams. The incident ended with Schenck’s death.

But this wasn’t the first time that guns, alcohol and depression combined to bring Schenck to the attention of local police. In 2009, following a neighborhood disturbance, Schenck pulled a gun on a police officer while inebriated, ending up in the Greene County Jail with a charge of carrying a concealed weapon while intoxicated. At that point, local police removed many guns from Schenck’s house and stored them at the department. (The guns included five handguns, two shotguns, 10 rifles and 25 boxes of ammuniton and magazines, according to police records.)

However, a year later the guns were returned to the Schenck family. After this summer’s shootout, many villagers asked, why were the guns returned? Why was a man with several known risk factors allowed to have an arsenal in his home?

The answers to these questions became more clear last Friday when sealed records of the 2009 case were made public. Sealed in 2010, the records were opened at the request of the Ohio Attorney General’s Bureau of Criminal Investigation, or BCI, which is conducting an investigation of the July 31 shootout.

Judge Timothy Campbell of the Greene County Court of Common Pleas ordered the guns returned to the Schenck family in October 2010, about a year and a half after the initial incident because there was no legal reason to hold them, according to a local attorney who asked to remain anonymous. The charges against Schenck had been dismissed, the guns were not evidence of a crime and there is no law in Ohio that prevents someone, even someone with a history of mental health issues and alcohol abuse, from having a stockpile of guns.

“The Court finds the defendant has successfully completed Intervention in Lieu of Conviction and has received the maximum benefit from the program as administered by TCN and the treatment has served the purpose intended,” according to the court order to dismiss the case, dated Oct. 1, 2010, and signed by Campbell, along with Melissa Litteral, director of the Greene County Adult Probation office and Matt Johnson, Schenck’s probation officer. There was no specific information included regarding the intervention program itself, or why it had been deemed successful.

This week Probation Officer Johnson declined to comment, citing privacy concerns.

On Oct. 13, 2010, a second court order signed by Campbell ordered the Yellow Springs Police Department to return Schenck’s property ­— the guns — to his father, Paul D. Schenck. During the court case, Schenck’s attorney, Mark Babb, had repeatedly said that the guns “mostly belonged” to the father, according to Greene County Assistant Prosecutor Suzanne Schmidt this week.

Several people who cared about Paul E. Schenck, as well as those whose job it was to protect the community, were very distressed that the guns were being returned. One of the most distressed was Yellow Springs Police Chief John Grote, now retired, whose job it was to return the guns.

“I basically ignored it (the court order) and dragged my feet as much as I could,” Grote said in an interview this week. “I tried to kick the can down the road.”

Grote had been concerned about Schenck and his guns for years, he said, partly due to his awareness of Schenck’s mental health issues and drinking.

“The fact that someone in the village has such a quantity of guns and ammunition, including high-capacity magazines — for what purpose?” Grote said. “There was no reason to have high capacity magazines. These are not for shooting animals.”

Grote liked Schenck personally, he said, and made time when Schenck showed up unannounced at the police department to talk to him. Schenck was a proud father who loved talking about his kids, and Grote was pleased when the conversation stayed positive, although sometimes Schenck wanted to talk about guns, and his fears of apocalyptic scenarios. Mainly, Grote said, he wanted to just stay in touch with Schenck.

“When I was dealing with folks with mental health issues, for me, I was trying to keep the lines of communication open,” he said,

However, after the guns had not been returned to the Schenck family several months after the Oct. 13 court order, Grote began receiving calls from Attorney Babb, and from a court official asking him why the guns had not been returned. Grote knew he was in danger of being cited for contempt of court.

“At that point, I didn’t think there was any point in fighting it,” he said, and the guns were returned to Schenck’s father.

Perhaps the person most distressed about the return of the guns was Uta, Schenck’s mother. The guns had originally been taken from the house at her request following the initial 2009 incident, after she went to the police department and asked Chief Grote to remove them.

“She was a concerned mom,” Grote said this week. “I think she had a handle on Paul and his mental health issues, better than anyone.”

In an interview last week, Uta said she had been relieved when the guns were removed from Schenk’s home. She never stopped worrying about her son after he made a suicide attempt at age 16, and knew he struggled with bipolar disorder along with depression brought on by a combination of factors, including his difficulty making a living and thus paying child support, and his constant pain due to gout and back problems. While she didn’t believe he would ever hurt others, especially his children, she believed he was a danger to himself.

When Schenck did not have the money to live in his own place, he lived in what was once Uta’s studio at the rear of the High Street property where she and her husband lived. When Judge Campbell ordered the guns returned in 2010, she told her husband and son that she would not allow the guns to return to Schenck’s home, she said recently. So Paul D. and Paul E. found a mutual friend, who lived out of Greene County, who would sell them for Schenck to repay his father for legal fees and child support.

But the guns apparently began drifting back to Schenck, his mother believes now, although she didn’t know it at the time. He also accumulated a new one, perhaps while working at gun shows in the area. Uta Schenck says she had no idea how many guns her son had in his home because he didn’t let her inside, and kept the door locked when he was away.

“He was an adult,” she said recently. “We couldn’t stop him, even if we knew.”

But she still tried to keep monitoring her son’s health and behavior in whatever way she could, she said.

“I did keep trying,” she said. “I never gave up.”

But knowing she kept trying doesn’t keep Uta from continually thinking about what she could have done differently, and from blaming herself.

“I wonder what I could have done differently,” she said recently. “ He was an adult.”

Previous incident

The February 2009 incident that ended with Schenck in jail began when he appeared highly inebriated and acting aggressively on the porch of neighbors he didn’t know, according to the report recently made public. The neighbors were frightened and called the police.

Officer Tim Knoth went to the High Street house, where Schenck was standing outside. According to the police report, Schenck was so intoxicated he could barely walk, and reached behind him to pull out something Officer Knoth realized was a gun. Knoth wrestled the gun away from Schenck and took him to the local department, where Schenck was very upset and combative. He was then driven to the Greene County Jail.

The next day, after Uta went to Chief Grote, Officer Tom Jones was in charge of removing the weapons from Schenck’s home. The police had received a search warrant and a key to the house from Schenck, still in jail. However, Uta was distressed at how the weapons were removed: a SWAT team showed up, the Schencks were not allowed on their property, and the event was covered by area media, who showed up with their cameras and trucks.

“I felt blindsided,” she said. “I’m furious at how it was done.”

In an interview with Yellow Springs Officer Jones a week later at the jail, Schenck reported that he had a problem with alcohol and had recently suffered three blackouts, according to the police report. He also said he was thinking of killing himself, so was put in isolation, on a suicide watch.

In February 2009 Schenck was indicted by the court for carrying a concealed weapon, a fourth-degree felony, and having weapons while under a disability (inebriated) a third-degree felony under the Ohio Revised Code.

The family allowed Schenck to stay in jail for a month to get a sense of the consequences of his actions, Uta said. However, they were later distressed when they believed he was treated badly while there. He was in great pain for his leg problems, and initially wasn’t allowed medication. He was terrified of police and jails partly due to the potential of sexual abuse, possibly linked to a childhood incident of sexual abuse from a neighbor, according to Uta.

After posting a bond for $7,500, Schenck was released in March.

In April, Attorney Babb requested Intervention in Lieu of Conviction. The request stated that Schenck had not previously been convicted of a felony and “believes his use of alcohol was a factor leading to the criminal offense.” The request was granted in July 2009, and Schenck was ordered to report to the probation department as well as undergo an evaluation at TCN. He also was ordered to pay $50 per month for his probation services.

It is not entirely clear what sort of treatment Schenck received at TCN. Babb, Schenck’s attorney, said he could not speak to the case.

According to Janice Sherman, director of TCN’s director of alcohol and drug services this week, the center cannot speak to Schenck’s individual case. However, in general, he would have first had a two-hour evaluation, then been put in one of four levels of treatment. The first three levels, which are outpatient, range from attending a two-hour session once weekly for eight weeks to attending three three-hour sessions weekly for 12 weeks, with the sessions a mix of therapy and education. Schenck was not assisgned to the center’s most intense rehab program, which is 12-week residential at Christopher House in Dayton.

While Uta said she did not remember the specifics of her son’s treatment, she did remember his appointments with the center as very sporadic. He felt a connection with one therapist, she said, but often had to wait weeks or months for an appointment.

“Success” in the treatment program essentially means that the individual attended every group meeting, according to Sherman. However, TCN also strongly recommends that its program attendees follow up treatment with some support system, such as AA. According to Uta, Schenck was ordered by the court to attend AA and did attend meetings regularly.

She said he did not drink for several years following the TCN program.

In October 2010, Judge Campbell dismissed Schenck’s case as he had “successfully completed Intervention in Lieu of Conviction” and several weeks later the court ordered the weapons to be returned to Schenck’s father.

However, he gradually began drinking again, and became more distressed over pain caused by gout, which appeared to be heightened by alcohol use. But he still sometimes had binge drinking episodes to relieve the pain, according to his mother. In the last year he had more and more difficulty with walking.

During the past year Schenck’s pain and infections sent him to several hospitals, and he had increasing anxiety and difficulty sleeping. One of the hospitals referred Schenck back to TCN for an evaluatiion only a few months before the shoot-out. According to Uta, it was not clear what medications he received at the time.

More on the Paul E. Schenck incident, including the forthcoming BCI report, will appear in future issues of the News.

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