Concede Failure, Families Demand

By Tom Jackman
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, August 21, 2009

Outraged by Virginia Tech's claim that its mental health center "acted appropriately" in its treatment of Seung Hui Cho, an attorney for families of two of the victims responded Thursday in court papers demanding that the center's former director admit that he was aware of Cho's problems and failed to treat him.

On Tuesday, Robert C. Miller released court documents stating that he inadvertently took Cho's mental health records home with him when he was fired in 2006 as head of the university's Cook Counseling Center. Investigators searched for the records after Cho killed 32 people and himself in April 2007. Miller said he didn't locate the records until last month while preparing to respond to the lawsuit filed by the families of Erin Peterson and Julia Pryde.

On Wednesday, Cho's records were released by Virginia Tech. The records indicate that three Cook therapists working for Miller did not view Cho as a serious danger to himself or others in November and December 2005 and that they were unaware of his history or a court order that he receive outpatient treatment.

Virginia Tech spokesman Mark Owczarski released a statement Wednesday saying: "These records indicate that the professional staff of Cook Counseling Center acted appropriately in their evaluation of Cho."

Robert Hall, the plaintiffs' attorney, responded with a 20-page request for admissions from Miller, pointing out that Miller had been personally notified by English department head Lucinda Roy in October 2005 of Cho's threatening behavior in class, to the point where a police officer was requested if Cho returned to one class. Hall alleges that Miller relayed these concerns to two Cook therapists soon after speaking with Roy, but there are no notes of that in Cho's files.

"Admit that at no time," Hall demands, "was Seung Hui Cho ever treated for mental illness at the Cook Counseling Center."

Edward McNelis, Miller's attorney, said that he had not seen Hall's filing but that "five people independently came to the same conclusion" that Cho was not a serious danger, including two from a mental health hospital where Cho was detained overnight. "If he was an imminent risk to himself or others, and that was the standard, why was 16 months later the first time he did anything?"

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