PHOENIX (AP) — Prison officials have resumed forcibly medicating the man accused of wounding U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords in a deadly shooting rampage in Tucson, lawyers for the suspect said Thursday.
Jared Lee Loughner's attorneys questioned in court filings whether the involuntary psychotropic drug treatments are in violation of an order by the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. The court, in a ruling earlier this month, forbid prison officials from forcibly treating Loughner, 22, while an appeal on his behalf is being considered.
Robbie Sherwood, spokesman for the U.S. attorney's office in Arizona, which is prosecuting Loughner, declined to comment Thursday.
Mental health experts have determined Loughner, who is being held at a federal facility in Missouri, suffers from schizophrenia and will try to make him psychologically fit to stand trial.
Loughner had been forcibly medicated for more than a week in late June after prison officials said his outbursts posed a danger and he refused treatment, but the appeals court halted the action.
The decision to resume involuntarily treating Loughner on an emergency basis came Monday, according to court documents, after it was determined that he had become an immediate threat to himself.
Loughner's attorneys say their client has been on 24-hour suicide watch. For his part, Loughner denies having suicidal thoughts. Weekly prison records show he remains depressed as he has been for much of his time behind bars, his lawyers say.
Loughner has pleaded not guilty to 49 charges in the January mass shooting that killed six people and wounded 13 others, including Giffords.
His lawyers are asking for daily reports about his condition to see whether prison officials are willfully violating the court order.
Stephen J. Morse, a professor of law and psychiatry at the University of Pennsylvania, said prison officials are most likely on firm legal ground based on the argument that Loughner's threat to himself posed an emergency and that less intrusive treatments wouldn't be effective.
If prison officials are correct in their assessment, Morse said, it would be difficult to address Loughner's immediate psychological problems before the appeals court hears arguments over the issue of involuntary treatments late next month.
"You want to give him something that will get his mind into a better state to where he will not harm himself," Morse said.
In a July 12 ruling, the appeals court upheld an earlier order that the treatments cease, saying Loughner's interest in not suffering the risk of side effects from powerful drugs is stronger than the government's interest in protecting him, and those around him, in prison. But the ruling noted that authorities can take steps to maintain the safety of prison officials, other inmates and Loughner — including forcibly giving him tranquilizers.
The court's order also said Loughner didn't pose a danger to himself.
After the appeals court put the forced medication on hold, the prison officials put Loughner under round-the-clock observation, saying his psychological condition was deteriorating and needed to be monitored. Loughner became more agitated and sleepless under the constant observation, defense lawyers said.
Loughner had previously been forcibly medicated between June 21 and July 1 at the federal prison facility in Springfield, Mo.
In the latest round of involuntary medication, Loughner was given twice daily dose of an oral solution of Risperidone, a drug used for people with schizophrenia, bipolar disorder and severe behavior problems.
His lawyers say their client faced a threat of being injected with Haloperidol — an antipsychotic drug used to treat schizophrenia and Tourette syndrome — if he refused to take the other drug orally.
Prison officials rejected tranquilizers, saying they wouldn't affect the underlying cause of the danger he poses to himself. Authorities said tranquilizers may decrease his agitation but that such a benefit would be short-lived and won't affect his underlying psychotic illness, defense lawyers said.
The appeals court is considering the larger question of whether the decision to forcibly medicate Loughner with psychotropic drugs can be made by prison officials or a judge.
Loughner's attorneys have argued that the decision to forcibly medicate their client solely on the basis of an administrative hearing by prison officials had violated his due-process rights.
Prosecutors have said the appeal is without merit because Loughner's attorneys are asking the lower court judge to substitute his ruling on whether Loughner poses a danger while in prison with the conclusions of mental health professionals.
If Loughner is later determined to be competent enough for trial, the court proceedings will resume. If he isn't deemed competent at the end of his expected four-month treatment, Loughner's stay at the facility can be extended.