October 3, 2002 at 5:55 PM EST - Updated July 2 at 9:35 PM
By THOMAS J. SHEERAN, Associated Press Writer
CLEVELAND (AP) - A hospital that released a stalker who killed a teenage girl had at first considered strict security for the man, an expert testified Thursday in the trial of a $20 million wrongful death lawsuit.
In 24 hours, the treatment plan for Scott Strothers, 24, went from a suggestion of high-security institutional treatment to releasing him unsupervised with little hope that he would get support from family or friends, said Dr. Thomas R. Garrick, a Los Angeles psychiatrist who reviewed the medical records.
Strothers is serving 23 years to life in prison for killing Penny Chang, 15, who was shot in 1999 as she walked to school in nearby Shaker Heights. He had become obsessed with her and apparently misunderstood her courtesies and a single hug as meaning she was attracted to him, police said.
Chang's family has sued the Cleveland Clinic, where Strothers was treated, alleging that the clinic and its staff failed to adequately warn them about threats made by Strothers while he was treated at the clinic for five weeks in 1998.
While the psychiatric tests given to Strothers at the clinic four months before the slaying were "proper and appropriate," Garrick took issue with plans to discharge him.
"This is unfeasible," he testified.
Garrick said the clinic's plan amounted to saying, "OK, a student psychologist is enough" to treat a patient who had harassed, stalked and threatened a girl.
Lawyers for the clinic argue that psychologists who treated Strothers had no way of predicting he would kill her. Garrick said Strothers showed ample evidence of planning to harm Chang (pictured, above).
"This is clearly a severely, potentially, violent person," he told the jury in the Cuyahoga County Common Pleas Court civil trial.
The clinic said Strothers himself made his potential for violence clear in threatening notes sent to the family days before Chang was gunned down on the street.
Strothers, who once roomed with Chang's brother at Ohio State University, was on probation in late 1998 for harassing the Chang family with phone calls and vandalism to their home and car.
He went to the clinic voluntarily before his sentencing for harassing the Chang family by setting their garage on fire, shooting out windows with a slingshot and putting glue in the car gas tank.
The Chang family lawyer, Paul Kaufman, said the research hospital should have sought a court order to have Strothers committed rather than release him. Strothers told clinic therapists that he fantasized about killing Chang.
Strothers' violent history and stated plan to kill Chang were important indicators on a commonly used psychiatric scorecard used to assess a patient's risk of becoming violent, Garrick said.
(Copyright 2002 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)