PCC to review handling of troubled students

2013-11-21T00:00:00Z 2013-11-21T00:07:45Z PCC to review handling of troubled studentsBy Carol Ann Alaimo Arizona Daily Star Arizona Daily Star

The student called himself “Heinrich Himmler” — Hitler’s right-hand man — and spoke of carving flesh and killing babies, frightening faculty at the Pima Community College campus where killer Jared Loughner once studied.

For months, the troubled student remained in school despite faculty pleas that he be banned, that his parents be notified, and that he not have access to weapons.

Nearly three years after Loughner terrorized PCC’s Northwest Campus and went on to kill or wound 19 people, the college still doesn’t have a solid system for dealing with threatening student behavior, faculty leaders allege.

James Sanchez, PCC’s chief psychologist and the top person responsible for assessing whether students pose a danger, disputes that.

He said the college deals thoroughly with such cases, though officials are bound by student privacy rules, and may not do a good job of communicating their findings to employees.

Even so, Sanchez’s boss is hiring outside help to investigate after faculty leaders filed a formal complaint this week about Sanchez’s performance.

“If there’s a problem, it will be fixed,” said Mark Ziska, PCC’s interim human-resources chief, who supervises Sanchez. “I have made this my highest priority, and we are going to get to the bottom of it.”

Ziska wasn’t on the job in 2010 when Loughner was a student, or this past spring when the Hitler aficionado set off alarm bells with his bizarre behavior.

In the latter case, faculty described the student as Loughner-like in an April complaint to the college’s ethics hot line. The complaint protested PCC’s decision to let the student stay on.

“A student identified himself as Heinrich Himmler on his name tag and when told not to, changed it to ‘empty, hollow, kill’ similar to the language used by Loughner,” said the complaint, a copy of which was provided to the Arizona Daily Star by a college employee.

“He also told a female classmate that he wanted to cut the eyes out of a woman who rejected him in the mental hospital,” the complaint said.

“He spoke of a fascination with cutting into livers. Also mentioned that he had been in jail or prison. Said something in class about wanting to kill babies,” it continued.

“As a psychologist I am deeply concerned,” said the complaint writer. “I want to hear that the parents have been contacted and he has no access to firearms.”

An email from the female classmate, submitted as part of the complaint, said the male student had a “dark and depressing” personality, was “antisocial and secluded” and talked about inflicting pain such as “the act of carving out eyes/cutting into human liver.”

About a week after the faculty complaint to PCC’s hot line, a response came back saying there was nothing to worry about.

It said Sanchez and other college officials had reviewed the case in-depth and found “there was no concern for safety. However, on-going monitoring will occur.”

It wasn’t immediately clear Wednesday whether the student still is enrolled. College officials said they couldn’t comment on that due to student privacy rights.

Ana Jimenez, head of the PCC faculty association that submitted this week’s complaint about Sanchez’s performance, said workers want to know how he and other officials “came to a conclusion so polar opposite” of that reached by instructors who dealt directly with the Hitler fan.

One of those instructors “has professional expertise in mental health,” Jimenez’s email said.

The faculty group also wants to know why Sanchez recently gave a presentation on the Loughner case at a Florida behavioral conference when PCC’s own employees have never received a similar accounting of what occurred.

Sanchez, who makes $99,000 a year, was hired by former PCC Chancellor Roy Flores a few months after Loughner went on a shooting spree that killed six and wounded 13, including former U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords.

Sanchez said he welcomes the outside review of how the college deals with such cases.

He said he’s confident it will show “the system is running well and people are doing a good job.”

Contact reporter Carol Ann Alaimo at caliamo@azstarnet.com or 573-4138.

Copyright 2014 Arizona Daily Star. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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