Return to Transcripts main page
CNN: SPECIAL INVESTIGATIONS UNIT
Encore Presentation - Criminal Insanity
Aired August 18, 2007 - 15:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEUNG-HUI CHO, VIRGINIA TECH MASS MURDERER: Thanks to you, I die like Jesus Christ.
SOLEDAD O'BRIEN, HOST: What drove him to kill 32 people and himself?
DYLAN KLEBOLD, COLUMBINE MASS MURDERER: I will fricking kill you.
O'BRIEN: They planned their massacre for at least a year. Were there any warning signs of what he would later become?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Terry, are you the Unabomber?
O'BRIEN: Cho, Dahmer, Kaczynski, if their sickness was identified sooner, would lives have been saved?
(END VIDEO CLIP)
ANNOUNCER: Now, Soledad O'Brien, CRIMINALLY INSANE.
O'BRIEN (on camera): How come people here are treated like inmates and not like patients because they all clearly need some serious medical care?
JOSEPH POITIER, CHIEF PSYCHIATRIST, MIAMI-DADE COUNTY JAIL SYSTEM: Because this is a jail.
O'BRIEN (voice-over): Welcome to America's mental institutions. Here in Miami and around the country, jails and prisons are now in large part the asylums of the 21st century. Dr. Joseph Poitier is the chief psychiatrist for the Miami-Dade County Jail System.
POITIER: The care of the mentally ill has been forced upon jailers, jail systems, and prison systems.
O'BRIEN: Forced because state and local governments across the United States have shut down many of their mental health care facilities.
STEVEN LEIFMAN, MIAMI-DADE COUNTY JUDGE: And so now we have to put it back together.
O'BRIEN: Steven Leifman is a judge in Miami-Dade County.
LEIFMAN: In 1955, there were 560,000 people in state hospitals. There's between 40 and 50,000 now.
O'BRIEN (on camera): A tenth?
O'BRIEN (voice-over): To many, on the front lines, the staggeringly high incarceration rate for the mentally ill in this country is a direct result of a mental health system that is overloaded...
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: 911 Emergency.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Do you have a knife in your pocket? Can I have it?
O'BRIEN: ...fractured, confusing.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: So he shot the girl. And he shot her in the head.
O'BRIEN: ...a system that at its worst can leave patients, their family and an unsuspecting public in grave danger.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I'm scared of him.
O'BRIEN (on camera): You're scared of him?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Very much scary.
DR. J. REID MELOY, FORENSIC PSYCHOLOGY: UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I think that the current public mental health care system in the United States is appalling. Just because we're now into brief forms of therapy, somehow severe mental disorder is brief, too. It is not. It's long term. It's savaging. It torments individuals. And some of those tormented individuals can get violent.
O'BRIEN: Tormented individuals like Seung-Hui Cho.
CHO: You have vandalized my heart, reaped my soul and torched my conscience.
O'BRIEN: Long before his murderous rampage at Virginia Tech...
CHO: I didn't have to do this.
O'BRIEN: ...a judge found Cho to be mentally ill, an imminent danger to himself and others. Treatment was ordered but never sought, never received.
MELOY: We do not have the kind of involuntarily commitment system that allows for the long term treatment of those who may pose a danger who are mentally ill but are not willing to go into kind of care.
CHO: Thanks to you, I die like Jesus Christ.
O'BRIEN: In the rambling, often angry videos, pictures, misses that Cho left behind, many experts believe they are witnessing a mind disintegrating into psychosis.
CHO: Do you know what it feels like to dig your own grave?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He was responding to the break-up of his own mind. And this is what happens as you move into the disease paranoid schizophrenia.
O'BRIEN: We asked Dr. Frank Oqburg (ph), one of the nation's leading psychiatrists, to analyze a series of Cho's videos and images.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Well, he is suicidal and he is homicidal. And here he's, I think, he is full of rage and hate, and you see it all. He's depressed. He's resigned. He's dead. And he is also powerful. He's a killer. He's angry. It's all there.
O'BRIEN: Cho's angry videos, his fantasies of revenge, the plotting, the posing, the gathering of weapons, quickly drew eerie composures to Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold, the killers of Columbine.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We have multiple shooters at Columbine High School.
O'BRIEN: Like Cho, Harris and Klebold left behind a multimedia manifesto of writings and videos. But that's where the comparison ends. While it's likely that Cho was suffering from some type of severe mental illness, experts say Harris and Klebold were not.
KLEBOLD: Do not mess with that fricking kid.
O'BRIEN: A stark and chilling contrast.
ERIC HARRIS, COLUMBINE MASS MURDERER: I'm going to pull out a god damn shotgun and blow your damn head off. Do you understand?
DWAYEN FUSELIER, FBI: In the simplest terms, they clearly were angry and wanted to hurt other people.
O'BRIEN: Dwayne Fuseleir led the FBI's investigation into Columbine.
FUSELIER: Dylan was hurting inside. He wanted to die and he didn't care if he hurt others. Eric wanted to hurt others. Much of what Eric said on the videos...
HARRIS: This is a (EXPLICITIVE DELETED) slug.
KLEBOLD: Imagine that in someone's (EXPLICITIVE DELETED) brain.
FUSELEIR: ...and what he wrote are consistent with the characteristics of what we call anti-social personality or psychopath.
O'BRIEN: Dave Cullen is a leading authority on the Columbine tragedy.
DAVE CULLEN, LEADING AUTHORITY ON COLUMBINE TRAGEDY: Dylan wouldn't think about the consequences. When he got extremely mad, he would just erupt and he was just pure emotion. If Eric got very, very angry, he would go home and figure out how to kill you. UNIDENTIFIED MALE: There are two (UNINTELLIGIBLE) in there. They are possibly our suspects.
O'BRIEN: From Columbine to Virginia Tech, so many questions, but two in particular: why and could these tragedies have been prevented? The answers may lie in what sets these killings and killers apart, the difference between being mentally ill and a stone-cold psychopath.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: If you're schizophrenic, you just don't know right from wrong. If you're a psychopath, you know right from wrong. You just don't care.
O'BRIEN: Coming up, warning signs: Kaczynski, Dahmer.
LIONEL DAHMER, FATHER OF JEFFREY L. DAHMER: I just sat stunned and motionless listening to all these things and then talking afterwards with Jeff, finding out about all these red flags.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Real quiet, real shy.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: How everyone remembered him, the kid that never spoke through high school.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Dahmer was the victim of abject loneliness.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Are you the Unabomber?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Jeff, did you do it?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Whenever Jeff would come, he would run up to his room in the attic.
O'BRIEN (voice-over): The red flags were there: the isolation, the remoteness. Could killers like Cho, Jeffrey Dahmer and Ted Kaczynski have been helped if their silences had been identified much earlier?
MELOY: The law states implicitly that you have a right to be psychotic and you have a right to be free with your psychosis as long as you're not an imminent danger to yourself, others or gravely disabled.
DAVID KACZYNSKI, TED KACZYNSKI'S BROTHER: I remember being so struck by, you know, how shut down Ted seemed. It is a man buried in his own thoughts.
O'BRIEN: David Kaczynski says he tried hard to get his brother Ted help. Holed up in his Montana cabin for 25 years, Ted hinted at his madness in the letters he sent to David. Years after Ted left for Montana, David had the letters analyzed by a psychiatrist who noted symptoms of paranoia and schizophrenia. But the law made it clear; Ted could not be forced to get help.
KACZYNSKI: That's where we got our sort of cold awakening because the answer was basically your hands are tied. Given that Ted was an adult essentially there was nothing we could do.
O'BRIEN: David remembers Ted as a brilliant kid who could, for example, build a toy rocket from scratch. But even in those childhood years, there were signs of trouble.
KACZYNSKI: I remember once asking mom, "You know, mom, when's wrong with Teddy?" And she says, "Nothing is wrong with your brother." I had this message from my parents, you know, it's OK to be different.
O'BRIEN: Ted Kaczynski grew up in Evergreen, Illinois, a high school honor student who earned a scholarship to Harvard at age 16. But in college things took a turn.
KACZYNSKI: Ted was withdrawing. There wasn't the desire to come home and enjoy the family.
O'BRIEN: As an adult, Ted gave up a promising career as a college professor. He built a small cabin in Lincoln, Montana, no plumbing, no electricity. This is when he began sending his brother those disturbing letters.
KACZYNSKI: "It used to be that I suffered from hardly any tension at all around here. But the area's now so messed up that my old way of life is all shot to hell."
O'BRIEN: About that same time, professors around the country were receiving bombs in the mail. Ted, the lonely kid, the hermit, had become the Unabomber, killing three and wounding 23 in a rein of terror that spanned 18 years.
It was David's wife Linda who noticed haunting similarities between Ted's dark letters and a manifesto the Unabomber sent to "The Washington Post." It took her two months but she finally convinced David to turn his brother into the FBI.
KACZYNSKI: Among the things they found under the bed where he slept was another bomb wrapped in a package apparently ready to be mailed to someone.
O'BRIEN: Kaczynski escaped the death penalty with David's help. The sentence reduced the life in prison without parole. But to this day, David believed Ted is truly insane and should be in a mental institution.
Insanity also seemed to define the monster who became Jeffrey Dahmer. His father Lionel says there were no early signs his son would become a cold blooded killer.
L. DAHMER: The only red flag if you want to call that is shyness, just a very shy kid.
O'BRIEN: Dr. Fred Berlin is a psychiatrist who examined Jeffrey Dahmer after he was arrested for murder.
DR. FRED BERLIN, EXAMINED JEFFREY L. DAHMER: I think that many people that commit horrible crimes are loaners. He had at one point killed some tadpoles as a kid. He'd put a road kill on a stick. Those are signs that very early on trouble was brewing. But would that have predicted that he was going to have necrophilia, that he was going to kill 17 people? I think not.
O'BRIEN: By the end of the high school, Jeffrey Dahmer, depressed and drinking heavily, had already murdered his first victim. It went undetected. After he was kicked out of the Army for excessive drinking, his father forced him into treatment. Lionel pressed Jeffrey's psychologist about his son's mental state.
L. DAHMER: He said, "I don't discuss" -- "I will not discuss his details because he is an adult and that's between him and I."
O'BRIEN: Frustrated, he sent Jeffrey to live with his grandmother in Milwaukee. There, a male mannequin was found hidden in his closet and later strange odors seeped from the basement.
L. DAHMER: He said I was just trying to see what meiotic acid, that you can buy in the store, would do to this raccoon.
O'BRIEN (on camera): Did you buy it, that explanation?
L. DAHMER: No. No, but I didn't know what would be the alternative. The alternative which I found out later was human bodies.
O'BRIEN (voice-over): Before Dahmer became known as a depraved serial killer, he served short prison sentences for indecent exposure and molesting a minor. Both times convincing a judge he'd get help. He did not. After his release, he began a string of gruesome murders, dismembering and cannibalizing some of his victims.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Do you understand that?
JEFFREY DAHMER, MASS MURDERER: I understand, Your Honor.
(on camera): At his trial, Dahmer pleaded not guilty by reason of insanity, claiming he had necrophilia. The jury didn't buy it. He was sentenced to 15 life terms. But Dr. Berlin is certain Dahmer was insane.
BERLIN: If he'd come to my office and talked about recurrent fantasies about having sex with dead bodies, I think, malpractice would have concluded he was seriously disordered.
O'BRIEN: Could Dahmer have been stopped before he was murdering? His father says he begged Jeffrey's lawyer and judge to keep his son locked up after his earlier molestation arrest.
GERALD BOYLE, DAHMER'S DEFENSE ATTORNEY: I don't think that helping in a prison would have been any different than help in the community. I think all the help that he needed was available to him. He wasn't going to take any help. L. DAHMER: I think I would have really quizzed Jeff on his inner thoughts. You know, I could have pushed more. I could have.
O'BRIEN: Coming up, CNN's Randi Kaye spends time with a family struggling today to get their son help.
JOE BRUCE, WILLIAM BRUCE'S FATHER: I told the doctor, he is going to hurt or kill someone. And, it will probably be her. And I pointed to my wife.
RANDI KAYE, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Caratunk, Maine, population 108, a quiet Hamlet on the Kennebec River where vacation cottages outnumber year around residences and neighbors look out for one another.
But for years, one resident had neighbors like Becky Young looking over their shoulders.
BECKY YOUNG, CARATUNK RESIDENT: I knew that Will was harassing people in town, especially young girls. They were frightened of him. Sometimes he would go right into peoples' houses and the girl would wake up and there he'd be.
KAYE: Will's father, Joe Bruce.
BRUCE: Anybody in the town of Caratuck can tell you that Willie is very, very sick. Everybody knew that he needed help.
KAYE: At an early age, William began to act out. His parents dismissed it as typical rambunctious behavior even whether he played so rough, he broke his brother's leg on the swing.
BRUCE: We just were hoping maybe he'll grow out of it, maybe this is a stage.
KAYE: When William was 14, one doctor suggested he was bipolar, a condition characterized by wild mood swings. No clear diagnosis, but finally medicine was prescribed.
BRUCE: When he went on this medication, the change in him was just phenomenal. It was like he could feel things.
KAYE: But William complained the medicine made him feel dopey and lethargic. He stopped taking them after just one month. His grades slipped in school. He dropped out. By age 16, he tried to kill himself more than once. William was getting worse, harder to reach.
BRUCE: We knew that he was paranoid. I mean that was very clear. But we didn't know what we were dealing with. KAYE: William suffered delusions. For years, his parents tried to get him help but he always refused. Suddenly in the spring of 2005, he turned an AK-47 rifle on two of his father's friends while at the shooting range.
BRUCE: He turned the one of them and said, "Do you touch little boys?" And then he turned to the other one and said the same thing. And when I looked up at him, I knew he was completely not there. It's the first time that I had witnessed him in a psychotic state.
KAYE: What Joe saw more than scared him. He called police. William was taken to an Acadia Hospital in Bangor, Maine, for observation.
(on camera): Joe and Amy Bruce hoped William would get the long-term help they believed he needed. But William didn't want to stay very long. By agreeing to take his meds as prescribed, William was able to avoid being committed by his parents. As the family lawyer explained in Maine, with William's improved behavior, they had no case for involuntarily commitment.
BRUCE: I said, a few weeks ago he almost killed two people, three if you count me. I said, "What do you call that?" And she said, "That was then."
KAYE: In Maine, like in every other state, the law says unless someone poses a danger to himself or others, he's free to go. Acadia Hospital released William even though doctors diagnosed him as a paranoid schizophrenic.
BRUCE: I told the doctor and the caseworker, in all likelihood, he is going to hurt or kill someone and it will probably be her. And I pointed to my wife.
KAYE: But in January 2006, it was Joe who William attacked.
BRUCE: We scuffled out in the front yard but then he started screaming, "You are disobeying a direct order from a superior officer," something about the CIA and screaming and hollering.
KAYE: Again, Joe and Amy called authorities. This time, William was involuntarily committed for three months to Riverview Psychiatric Center.
BRUCE: His condition has worsened. He was having psychotic states regularly. He was talking to himself. He would stay awake for five, six days at a time.
KAYE: Because William Bruce was an adult, he was allowed to make his own decisions regarding treatment. He ordered doctors not to talk to his parents.
BRUCE: My son believed that we were part of a conspiracy to have him committed to a hospital for treatment. And the fact of the matter is we were a part of a conspiracy to have him committed to a hospital for treatment. But unlike Joe and Amy Bruce, there were people with access to William inside the hospital. State funded patient advocates met regularly with him and his doctors to inform him of his rights.
KIM MOODY, EXEC. DIR., DISABILITY RIGHTS CENTER: One of the rights is a right to take medication and to change it if they don't think it's working. You have a right to take it. You have a right to refuse it.
KAYE: The Bruces didn't see it that way. They believed psychotropic drugs were necessary for their son's treatment and so did William's doctors. But medical records obtained by CNN through his father show that William refused to take them and that his advocates backed him.
BRUCE: Willie always felt that medication was poison to begin with. Now he's got these new friends that are in total agreement with him by telling him that there was nothing wrong with him, that he didn't need to take medication, and that he should be released from the hospital at the soonest possible time. They cut the legs right out from underneath his doctor.
MOODY: If our client wants to be discharged, it's our job to advocate for that. It is the medical professional's job to assess danger.
KAYE: And some of William's doctors did just that.
BRUCE: "I find myself extremely concerned about this young man's potential for violence. I believe he remains dangerous if released to the community without pharmacological treatment of these paranoid symptoms." That was March 27.
KAYE (on camera): Shortly before he got out.
KAYE (voice-over): On April 20, 2006, William Bruce walked out of the hospital. Doctors could not legally hold him. He left without any medicine or real plan or follow-up care. His parents took him back into their home. That would be a fatal mistake.
When we come back...
BRUCE: As I came around the washing machine, I could see two bloody feet sticking out of the bathtub.
JOE BRUCE, FATHER OF WILLIAM BRUCE: I was at the table right there.
RANDI KAYE, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): June 2006, Joe Bruce came home from work but there was no sign of his wife Amy or their 24-year- old son William. William had been released from Riverview Psychiatric Center two months earlier.
BRUCE: I start seeing these big splotches on the floor that looked brown.
KAYE: At first, he thought it was chocolate, then he realized it was blood.
BRUCE: And I followed it into the bathroom. And as I came around the washing machine, I could see two bloody feet sticking out of the bathtub. It was Amy and she was clearly dead. And he had murdered her with a hatchet.
She staggered into the bathroom and tried to stop the bleeding with towels. And at some point, Willie came back in and finished her off.
KAYE: Amy Bruce murdered by her son who she'd so desperately tried to help. After William's arrest, he called his dad.
BRUCE: And he said, "Dad, I didn't do it." And I said, "Willie, your mother and I have forgiven you."
KAYE (on camera): Have you truly forgiven him?
BRUCE: None of us have blamed Willie for what took place.
KAYE: Who do you blame?
BRUCE: I blame the people that let him out of the hospital.
KAYE (voice-over): William was tried for murder but found -- quote -- "not criminally responsible."
BRUCE: I was waiting for someone to say, you know, we never dreamed that that would happen and take some responsibility. Instead, it was just dead silence.
DAVID PROFITT, SUPT., RIVERVIEW PSYCHIATRIC CENTER: I wish we would have petitioned the court to recommit him. I don't believe we had a legal authority to recommit. But knowing what I know now, I wish we would have exhausted every possible opportunity.
KAYE: Today, William is back at Riverview Psychiatric Center. His father visits him often and says he's improved with medication.
(on camera): William now admits to killing his mother. His excuse, the pope told him to do it.
Like the Bruces, the Scoble family, which owns this coffee shop in Clifton, New Jersey, says they fear their oldest, George. He's never agreed to psychiatric treatment so they're not even sure he's mentally ill. For them, his reaction to the Virginia Tech shootings was just another warning sign of a potentially dangerous man.
(voice-over): The rage George displayed that day in the coffee shop was terrifying.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: He said that they should kill lots of more people. He was like yelling at everybody.
KAYE: In the end, he unleashed his anger on a wall.
GEORGE SCOBLE, FAMILY WORRIED ABOUT VIOLENT TENDANCIES: She got me angry. She passed me off. That's what it was. You get angry -- when you get pissed off, you're going to, you know -- you get -- you know, you just can't -- I don't know.
KAYE (on camera): What happened with your hand?
G. SCOBLE: Yes. No, this is -- I punched a wall and stuff, you know. That's all, you know.
KAYE: No big deal?
G. SCOBLE: Yes, basically.
KAYE: George's rage got him arrested for an outstanding warrant. Like many arrests before, after a few days in jail, he was back out without a psychological evaluation or any answers about his violent behavior.
G. SCOBLE: When something happens, you get angry and you're going to yell. And you want that person -- you want your point to get through to that person. So either you deal with it or you just don't deal with it at all, you know what I mean.
KAYE (on camera): Most people don't go punch a wall. You realize that?
G. SCOBLE: Yes, I know. It shouldn't be like that. But some people can't really -- some people don't really realize what they're doing. You know what I mean?
KAYE (voice-over): George Scoble is 32. His family says that he is lost, no job, nowhere to live and always on the brink of exploding.
(on camera): Do you think there's a chance that George isn't mentally ill and maybe he's just a dysfunctional...
JOY SCOBLE, GEORGE SCOBLE'S SISTER: There's no doubt in my mind that he is far beyond reasoning.
MICHELE MEYER, GEORGE SCOBLE'S SISTER: Once he's in that elevated state, you have to wait for him to come down from it before you can even think about being rational with him. You just kind of have to let it ride.
KAYE (voice-over): For years, they've tried to get him into long-term treatment. No success. He has never believed anything is wrong with him.
(on camera): Do you feel like you need treatment for anything?
G. SCOBLE: No, I don't feel I need treatment.
KAYE: Have you ever tried any medication?
G. SCOBLE: I don't feel it helps me. I feel just like -- I don't feel it does anything, you know.
KAYE (voice-over): The family believes George received some drug treatment during one of his longer prison stays. They are convinced he suffers from mental illness but because privacy law blocks them from accessing any of George's medical files, they cannot confirm his illness nor build a case for getting him help. Instead, they live in fear.
J. SCOBLE: I know the person I'm afraid of is not my brother. My brother was the loving boy I grew up with. And this man that I'm afraid of is not my brother. It's his illness.
ROBERT DAVISON, CHAIR, N.J. MENTAL HEALTH TASK FORCE: Unfortunately, here in New Jersey, the family's options for an individual like George are very limited.
KAYE: Forty-two states have laws that allow forcing someone into outpatient treatment. New Jersey is not one of them.
DAVISON: What happens with folks like George is they usually get arrested, they get locked up, they get put in a psychiatric hospital. And as soon as he's discharged, he doesn't participate in treatment. It has the result of not participating in treatment become dangerous.
KAYE: George now cycles between jail and the street. His mother allows him into her home reluctantly.
C. SCOBLE: I'm scared of him.
KAYE (on camera): You're scared of him?
C. SCOBLE: Very much scared, very much.
KAYE: But you love him so much that you want to help him?
C. SCOBLE: Yes, he's my son. Yes.
G. SCOBLE: My mother worries about, like, you know, maybe she'll think when I get angry or something, I'm going to go into a rage or I'm going to cause all these problems. You know, when I get angry, I don't put it on other people. I try to deal with it myself.
KAYE (voice-over): George's family admits they've nearly given up. Instead, they wait for him to return to prison. Only then, they say, will they truly feel safe.
M. MEYER: I worry every single day for the two of them because he knows where my sister lives and he's with my mother. So everyday -- there's not a day that goes by that when he's out that I don't fear when a phone rings it's that call.
KAYE: Up next, confrontations that can turn deadly.
JENNIFER ROBINSON, MEMPHIS POLICE OFFICER: Do you have a knife in your pocket?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes.
ROBINSON: Can I have it just right now?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: No, no. What, you're going to kill me?
ROBINSON: No, I'm not going to kill you.
SOLEDAD O'BRIEN, CNN SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): When police patrol the streets of Memphis, Tennessee, they're armed with a new bread of cop.
LEE ALLISON, MEMPHIS POLICE OFFICER: We're getting some complaints about you, man.
O'BRIEN: Officers like Lee Allison...
ALLISON: You're just out here getting money.
O'BRIEN: And Jennifer Robinson.
ROBINSON: What's happening?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'm trying to take care of my business.
ROBINSON: Let her take care of her business. You can't make her do something she don't want to do.
O'BRIEN: They're part of a select group...
ALLISON: You want a banana? Grab a banana.
O'BRIEN: ...trained to deal with the mentally ill on the front lines.
ROBINSON: He hasn't been taking his medication as needed. And he is a paranoid schizophrenic, but he believes that he's not.
O'BRIEN: When families of the mentally ill can no longer handle a loved one, they call the police for help. It's a situation many police officers aren't trained to handle, a lesson learned the hard way in Memphis through a tragedy.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Memphis Police Department.
O'BRIEN: It was September 1987, when police dispatchers received a frantic call for help; a man was trying to kill himself. Officers arrived to find 27-year-old Joseph Robinson holding a butcher's knife to his throat. But when surrounded by police, Robinson plunged forward. He was shot several times. (on camera): Joseph Robinson's death caused protests. The community wanted the police department to change how it dealt with the mentally ill. And so the Crisis Intervention Team was formed.
MAJOR SAM COCHRAN, MEMPHIS POLICE: Prior to CIT, consumers had a tremendous amount fear of law enforcement.
O'BRIEN (on camera): And consumers are people who are mentally ill?
COCHRAN: Yes, consumers of mental health services. And sometimes consumers were victims of crime within their communities, and yet, they had a fear of law enforcement.
O'BRIEN (voice-over): The Crisis Intervention team is a collaborative effort between the Memphis Police Department and mental health agencies.
ALLISON: What's his name?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Joe.
O'BRIEN: The goal: to teach officers how to better identify mental illness.
(on camera): What kind of training do your officers receive?
COCHRAN: We give them 40 hours of very intense training. And we give them in-service training from year to year. So they're committed to the role that they're doing.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: 911 emergency, police, fire, ambulance.
O'BRIEN (voice-over): Here's how it works: when a 911 call comes in, it's up to the operator to determine if a mentally ill person is involved.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Male, white, black or Hispanic?
O'BRIEN: Then CIT joins a group of officers responding to the scene.
ROBINSON: Four, five, five, (UNINTELLIGIBLE), be advised, one male black.
O'BRIEN: Officer Robinson has just received word of a disturbance at a nearby shelter.
ROBINSON: Hey, what's going on?
O'BRIEN: A man she's dealt with before is trying to enter the facility armed with a knife.
ROBINSON: Have you got a knife in your pocket? I hear you. Do you have a knife in your pocket?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes.
ROBINSON: Can I have it just right now?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: No, no.
ROBINSON: He was saying that he had that knife because somebody came up behind him the other night and tried to rob him.
Can I have it?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's behind me.
ROBINSON: I just want to hold it just for right now. Thank you. I just want to hold it just for right now.
The drop-in mission couldn't have him with a knife inside the place because there's a lot of other mental consumers in there.
Can I keep it?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What?
ROBINSON: The knife?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You keep it.
ROBINSON: Thank you. Because they'll let you go back. All right.
And you've got to think, years ago, maybe 20 years ago, you know, that could have easily escalated to something bad.
When the police ask for something and you say no, usually...
O'BRIEN: It doesn't end well.
ROBINSON: ... yes, usually bad things happen.
O'BRIEN: One of the first priorities of the Crisis Intervention Team is to try to diffuse a tense situation using little or no force. Now that's not always possible and sometimes officers must use this. This is called the IDS or the Impact Delivery System. It's a weapon that shoots not bullets but rubber projectiles.
Wow! That will kill somebody?
OFFICER MARION HANNAH, MEMPHIS POLICE: There is a potential cause of death if you use utilize it wrong. That is correct, yes.
O'BRIEN: But the goal is to really knock them down.
HANNAH: Yes, the idea is to subdue them or render them non- threatening.
ROBSINSON: Come on.
O'BRIEN (voice-over): CIT officers are trained to get a mentally ill person treatment as soon as possible.
ROBINSON: Thank you, sir.
O'BRIEN: So instead of jail, a medical triage center might be a better option.
DR. RANDOLPH DUPONT, UNIVERSITY OF MEMPHIS: If you look at those individuals three months later, you're going to find the ones who were brought into the health care system are more likely to be in treatment than the ones that are brought to the jail. So you're going to get basically an impact of better continuity of care, which I thought was pretty powerful.
O'BRIEN: Brad Cobb, the executive director of the National Association of Mental Illness in Memphis has seen CIT in action.
BRAD COBB, EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR, NATIONAL ASSOCIATION OF MENTAL ILLNESS: We now that when they come in, we can step back and let the police handle it. Before we would have to stay there right on top to make sure that -- you know, make sure they didn't do anything to harm our loved one.
O'BRIEN: Cobb's daughter, Brandy, is bipolar. Since age 5, she's been hospitalized more than 37 times and had a number of encounters with CIT for uncontrollable rages.
BRANDY COBB, HAS BIPOLAR DISORDER: I had just completely broken down. I didn't think I could go on anymore. I couldn't deal with it. I couldn't deal with the stress. They've been a lot of help to me. They seem like actually, really and truly understand me and understand what I go through.
O'BRIEN: Today, 18 years after the first CIT officer hit the streets; the Memphis program has been replicated hundreds of times across the country.
COCHRAN: It saves lives. And if it just saved one life, what would that be worth? One life.
ROBINSON: So you are going to be nice in here or are you going to start cutting up?
(on camera): Officer Robinson says she always wanted a job where everyone is happy to see her.
ROBINSON: Keith, be nice.
O'BRIEN: That didn't happen today.
ROBINSON: Another satisfied customer.
O'BRIEN: Up next, adrift in the system on the forgotten floor.
(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) O'BRIEN (on camera): We think of the criminal justice system as a way to protect our communities, to keep offenders from victimizing again. But at the Miami-Dade County Jail as in communities across this country, the mentally ill are shut out from the treatments they desperately need because they're held as inmates. They're not prioritized as patients.
(voice-over): It's called the Forgotten Floor. At the Miami-Dade County Pretrial Detention Facility, the entire ninth floor houses prisoners with the most serious mental illnesses. They're warehoused here before being taken to court or in rare cases, before being sent to a state hospital or other mental health facility.
STEVEN LEIFMAN, MIAMI-DADE COUNTY JUDGE: This is the largest psychiatric facility in Florida. There's five times more people here with mental illness than any state hospital.
O'BRIEN (on camera): But this is jail. This is not a psychiatric...
LEIFMAN: It is not. Unfortunately, it's become one.
O'BRIEN (voice-over): Miami-Dade County Court Judge Steven Leifman has made the Forgotten Floor and its mentally ill residents his personal crusade, providing me with a tour of its deplorable conditions.
LEIFMAN: Sometimes when it gets overcrowded in here, you may see two people kind of spooning in this mental self and one or two on the ground, and one waiting the turn to sleep. It's very difficult.
O'BRIEN (on camera): This is how inmates on the ninth floor of the jail live. A small space, sometimes there's two, three, four inmates sharing the cell, lights on 24 hours a day. This wrap is the only clothing they wear. And you'll notice there's no mattress on the bed. Both of those things to keep mentally ill inmates from harming themselves.
(voice-over): Most of the inmates are brought in for drug possession, assaulting an officer or resisting arrest. But they can remain here for an average of six to nine months, sometimes up to a year or even longer.
LEIFMAN: And just having...
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Ma'am? Ma'am?
LEIFMAN: ...just having less people...
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: ...my father took the presidency last night for the United States of America.
O'BRIEN (on camera): So a guy like that who's clearly talking about his father being the president...
(on camera): ...and he's the president's son, what kind of treatment does he get while he's here?
LEIFMAN: Either they'll send him back to the hospital, which depending on the charge, will be the likelihood or they may try to look for some alternative.
O'BRIEN: So he's literally cycling.
LEIFMAN: He's cycling through the system.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: My father is the president of the United States of America. (UNINTELLIGIBLE) and I'm in here for a crime I didn't commit. And I've been here for over two and a half years.
LEIFMAN: Now, it stopped. And he's probably recycled through here most of his life.
And you all are doing an amazing job and it's really working.
O'BRIEN (voice-over): Judge Leifman's dedication has begun to pay off. The county is finally putting the brakes on the recycling. Starting in 2008, many inmates who would otherwise have been brought here will instead be sent here, to a new mental health facility, the first step on a journey toward long-term treatment, not just punishment.
And that's the journey 46-year-old "Mimi's" already embarked on. Diagnosed with schizo-effective disorder, "Mimi," her name has been changed, was off her medications when her serious mental illness led her to commit a dangerous felony.
"MIMI", DIAGNOSED WITH SCHIZO-EFFECTIVE DISORDER: There was a neighborhood boy and he was walking his sisters to school, but he happened to have his Halloween mask on. And it was enough for me to start having, like, religious delusions. I had the idea that he was taking these girls to be sacrificed or something like that.
O'BRIEN (on camera): So what did you do?
"MIMI": So I ran outside. My brother had left a gas container outside on the porch. I shook it at them. I didn't like them.
O'BRIEN: So you poured gas on the kids?
"MIMI": Yes. And I ended up getting charged with some pretty heavy charges.
O'BRIEN (voice-over): Specifically, attempted murder and aggravated child abuse. She was one of the lucky ones. Because doctors determined that "Mimi" wasn't capable of knowing right from wrong, a judge ordered her admitted to a unique program called Passageway, a halfway house for people with serious mental illnesses who have committed major felonies like murder or arson. The goal, to eventually return them to their communities.
"MIMI": I could be a threat if I weren't taking my medication. I don't want to have a relapse but if I do, as long as I'm being monitored, they're going to catch it.
O'BRIEN (on camera): A person who's now at Passageway getting that intensive case management and, boy, they look like they're great, but remember, they committed this serious offense. Are they safe to be...
LEIFMAN: ...as long as they're case managed and stay on their medication. You go to any community, say you have a murder rate of 100, what percent and of those do you think were committed by people with mental illness, 10 percent, less? It's usually, you know, two to five percent.
O'BRIEN (voice-over): Passageway maintains that fewer than 10 of its 350 patients have gone on to commit more crimes once released back into society.
But the recent events at Virginia Tech remind us we have a long way to go in our ability to identify and manage the criminally insane.
(on camera): Did you think, OK, this is a young man who with these red flags should have been shunted into some kind of a system?
LEIFMAN: I thought thank God that didn't happen here. He went to court. He was ordered into treatment. He stopped going. There was no system to tell anybody that he didn't go to treatment.
Criminal justice was not designed to intersect with mental health systems. And we're just starting to do that.
BRUCE: I don't think that Willie is any different than that boy that killed all those kids down there at Virginia Tech. They are victims of mental illness.
M. MEYER: It's just so sad that it has to come to violence before we can get him the help involuntary.
DAVID KACYZNSKI, DAVID KACYZNSKI'S BROTHER: My biggest regret was not to have had clearer insight about Ted's illness, that he was ill. There was nothing we could do that he really seriously needed treatment. And if that had happened, a lot of peoples' lives might have been changed.
TO ORDER A VIDEO OF THIS TRANSCRIPT, PLEASE CALL 800-CNN-NEWS OR USE OUR SECURE ONLINE ORDER FORM LOCATED AT www.voxant.com