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The Insurrectionist
September 1, 2014 2:59 PM   Subscribe

Patrick McLaw, under the pen name "Dr. K. S. Voltaer', wrote a novel about a school shooting in the year 2902. However, Mr. McLaw is a 23-year-old middle-school teacher in Cambridge, Maryland. Because of the content of his sf novels, he has just been placed on administrative leave, according to Dorchester County Superintendent of Schools Dr. Henry Wagner as quoted in Raw Story. Mr. McLaw was taken for an 'emergency' medical exam, and the police were unwilling to disclose his location to local TV news. They would say he is not on the Delmarva peninsula. An article in Reason is characterizing the exam as a "mandatory psych eval". According to Reason, Mr. McLaw has yet to be charged with any crime. He teaches eighth-grade language arts.
posted by newdaddy (180 comments total) 42 users marked this as a favorite

 
I'm sure the fact that McLaw is black had nothing to do with this apparent overreaction.
posted by localroger at 3:01 PM on September 1 [50 favorites]


With school starting Tuesday, some parents tell WBOC they are concerned about safety, but both Wagner and Phillips said there is nothing to worry about.

"There will be a Cambridge Police Department presence at Mace's Lane middle school for as long as we deem it necessary," Wagner said.


This reads like fiction. Like I expect the whole thing to have been read by fake anchors in a fake news broadcast inside a terrible movie.
posted by bleep at 3:05 PM on September 1 [27 favorites]


Super scary.
posted by entropone at 3:06 PM on September 1 [3 favorites]


I'll reserve judgment until more information is available, but if the scenario is close to the discussion framing it will be interesting to see what happens in the courts as this story develops.

In particular I'll be interested to see whether an adult subject of this kind of panic is treated significantly different than an adolescent would be.
posted by Nerd of the North at 3:08 PM on September 1 [5 favorites]


This reads like fiction. Like I expect the whole thing to have been read by fake anchors in a fake news broadcast inside a terrible movie.

Hollywood Screenwriter Reality. It's what we're living in. Actual reality ended in 12/21/12.
posted by hippybear at 3:08 PM on September 1 [18 favorites]


Zero tolerance has moved from students to teachers.
posted by AlexiaSky at 3:09 PM on September 1 [2 favorites]


He is currently at a location known to law enforcement and does not currently have the ability to travel anywhere.

Seriously, what the actual fuck. I think it's important to note that Mr. McLaw is twenty-three. Not that age should be at all relevant to the fact that this situation is screwed up, based on what has been released and used as an excuse, but this young man was eight the year of the Columbine shootings, sixteen the year of the VT massacre, and 21 during Newtown. His entire life has been marked by these tragedies. It seems like not a totally odd thing to write about.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 3:10 PM on September 1 [81 favorites]


Habeas Corpus! Soon they'll want to do this to people based on diaries or stuff that hasn't even been published.
posted by obsolutely at 3:11 PM on September 1 [2 favorites]


So I guess Suzanne Collins is in a gulag already? And JK Rowling is going to the electric chair?
posted by His thoughts were red thoughts at 3:12 PM on September 1 [4 favorites]


Highly relevant Daily Kos diary
posted by localroger at 3:13 PM on September 1 [6 favorites]


The mandatory psychiatric evaluation stuff is frightening to me.

I also like how he has aliases and not pen names. Way to go, journalistic integrity!
posted by adipocere at 3:15 PM on September 1 [46 favorites]


I only skimmed these articles, so maybe I missed some important details, but, this makes little sense to me. How did people find out who this person was, just based on his pen name? Did he tell his students? If so, why bother with a pen name? And then, why are people freaking out over a scifi novel in the first place? (I get it... it's about a school massacre. But still...) There's so much missing here.
posted by mondo dentro at 3:17 PM on September 1 [2 favorites]


He wrote the books and published while he was in university, three years ago. Even if you accepted the preposterous notion that an obvious work of fiction is a threat, it's not a current threat.

It's not unreasonable to suspect that someone decided to screw this young man over, and went looking for a hook.
posted by His thoughts were red thoughts at 3:19 PM on September 1 [18 favorites]


Here's The Atlantic on the issue.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 3:20 PM on September 1 [2 favorites]


It is somewhat amazing that local news reports on this case don't make clear whether McLaw is under arrest, and if so, on what charge. It is equally astonishing that the reporters on this story don't seem to have used the words "First Amendment" in their questioning of law-enforcement officials, and also astonishing they don't question the Soviet-sounding practice of ordering an apparently sane person who has been deemed unacceptable by state authorities to undergo a psychological evaluation.

Calling it "soviet-style" is maybe overblown, but the whole thing reeks of overreaction and sounds ripe for a nice healthy lawsuit.
posted by Dip Flash at 3:24 PM on September 1 [2 favorites]


Hollywood Screenwriter Reality. It's what we're living in. Actual reality ended in 12/21/12.
posted by hippybear at 3:08 PM on September 1 [1 favorite +] [!]

Nah, you're off by twelve years. Actual reality ended on 12/12/00.
posted by You Can't Tip a Buick at 3:25 PM on September 1 [14 favorites]


The thing is that schools have been arresting students for stuff like this and demanding psych evaluations and or outright expulsion of students for years. For making bang noises or drawings or chewing food items into the shape of a gun or playing cops and robbers. I see this as the next step especially as these children are now entering the workforce and making decisions.
It's absolutely terrifing.
posted by AlexiaSky at 3:25 PM on September 1 [13 favorites]


He was biding his time to strike, several hundred years hence.
posted by benzenedream at 3:27 PM on September 1 [11 favorites]


If there isn't more to this story, then that town is likely to find this very expensive. The books themselves causing issues, I could see. I don't personally think they should, but I can understand why a school district might feel jumpy about a teacher writing about such, and I wouldn't be shocked at suspension. *Detaining* him? Involuntary committment/evaluation? What the hell?
posted by tavella at 3:28 PM on September 1 [1 favorite]


Nah, you're off by twelve years. Actual reality ended on 12/12/00.

I personally have argued for November 7, 2000, myself, ever since the fall in question.
posted by tavella at 3:31 PM on September 1 [3 favorites]


wikipedia has a small list of cases that were brought to media attention against students.
posted by AlexiaSky at 3:31 PM on September 1


Thanks to Catherynne Valente, her tweets initially alerted me to this.
posted by newdaddy at 3:31 PM on September 1 [2 favorites]


Another example of the Onionization of real life. I hope he gets a lawyer and sues the the school and the sheriff's office into the ground.
posted by immlass at 3:33 PM on September 1 [2 favorites]


Somebody had to think long and hard to find a way to make teaching at their public middle school an even less attractive job than it already was, but by jingo! they've done it.
posted by Wolfdog at 3:33 PM on September 1 [58 favorites]


How did people find out who this person was, just based on his pen name?

Unverified, but I read that his real name is listed in the copyright information in the books, while his pen name is used on the cover. So yeah, not a real big deception.

Edit: Here's a listing that references both names.
posted by GhostintheMachine at 3:34 PM on September 1 [1 favorite]


The best thing to do during a mandatory psychiatric evaluation is to keep quiet. They are only going to use your responses against you if they don't like you. Just keep quiet. Don't even move your head for "yes/no" answers.

Call a lawyer as soon as you are able to and wait quietly.
posted by Renoroc at 3:38 PM on September 1 [18 favorites]


what...
posted by triage_lazarus at 3:41 PM on September 1


Expanding on Renoroc's statement: don't say anything to the police, either.
Edit: for failing at hyperlinking
posted by mfu at 3:41 PM on September 1 [4 favorites]


Unverified, but I read that his real name is listed in the copyright information in the books, while his pen name is used on the cover.

I'm looking at the Kindle sample of the first book -- and yep, his real name appears on the copyright page.
posted by metaquarry at 3:43 PM on September 1


They are only going to use your responses against you if they don't like you. Just keep quiet.

I fear that this would also be used against me, though.
posted by thelonius at 3:45 PM on September 1 [8 favorites]


I wonder how the various David Eckert lawsuits are doing, now that I think on it.
posted by adipocere at 3:46 PM on September 1


Also, apparently don't criticize the police? Spotted in my Twitter stream, a MIT prof who got dragged out of bed and involuntarily committed for tweeting. What the hell?
posted by bitter-girl.com at 3:49 PM on September 1 [1 favorite]


Goddamn 9/11. It really opened the floodgates, didn't it?
posted by Thorzdad at 3:53 PM on September 1 [8 favorites]


The best thing to do during a mandatory psychiatric evaluation is to keep quiet. They are only going to use your responses against you if they don't like you. Just keep quiet. Don't even move your head for "yes/no" answers.

Call a lawyer as soon as you are able to and wait quietly.
posted by Renoroc at 3:38 PM on September 1 [1 favorite −] Favorite added! [!]


I really don't like the fact that I've favorited this comment just to increase the likelihood that I see it a few more times, and therefore is absorbed better in case I need it at some point.
posted by a box and a stick and a string and a bear at 3:54 PM on September 1 [7 favorites]


The scary thing here is, someone (who?) can lock you up for a (24h? 48h?) Psych Eval ?

Let's not forget "Being sane in insane places."

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rosenhan_experiment
posted by CrowGoat at 4:01 PM on September 1 [1 favorite]


The best thing to do during a mandatory psychiatric evaluation is to keep quiet. They are only going to use your responses against you if they don't like you. Just keep quiet. Don't even move your head for "yes/no" answers.

Call a lawyer as soon as you are able to and wait quietly.


I'm not sure this is good advice. Anyone that knows this stuff well is welcome to chime in...

But, if you are under a mandatory psych eval, do you have a right to a phone call? You aren't under arrest at this point, right, you are under the care of a doctor who may or may not have any obligation to give you a phone call.

Furthermore, staying quiet and being unresponsive to stimulus may not be the way to 'pass' a psych eval. This could cause your temporary stay to be more permanent.

I'm all for professionals chiming into this thread, but I would be very hesitant to take this particular advice unless I get some other confirmation.
posted by el io at 4:01 PM on September 1 [9 favorites]


There's not enough evidence to determine things.

These cases are not quite the same but out of curiosity, Krystian Bala murdered someone, then wrote a novel leaving clues to solve the case in the plot. Someone did figure it out and he was eventually arrested. Richard Klinkhamer killed his wife and then wrote a manuscript about it. The intersection between literature and murder does exist. I imagine many killers wrote wish-fulfillment type stuff before killing, sort of a gateway drug to actual killing. This is part of profiling.
posted by stbalbach at 4:05 PM on September 1 [1 favorite]


The best thing to do during a mandatory psychiatric evaluation is to keep quiet. They are only going to use your responses against you if they don't like you. Just keep quiet. Don't even move your head for "yes/no" answers.

"Subject was catatonic. Uncertain whether this means schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, PTSD, depression, or drug abuse. Recommend commitment to psychiatric facility pending further determination."
posted by Etrigan at 4:08 PM on September 1 [10 favorites]


stbalbach: sure, a great reason to go look at the writings of murder/bombing suspects.

But if we look at fictional prose first and start locking people up, then we should just start by rounding up everyone that's a member of this dubious organization.
posted by el io at 4:09 PM on September 1 [8 favorites]


"mandatory psych eval".

All this kind of thing does is make the Scientiologists sound right about something they say.

keep quiet .... don't say anything to the police

To frame the "STFU" further: Truthy.

'Anything you say can, and will, be used against you' indeed.
posted by rough ashlar at 4:10 PM on September 1 [1 favorite]


Seriously, what the actual fuck.

Well, if the enforcer class doesn't constantly remind you that you should be terrified and leverage that fear to justify their overreactions (and their budgets) you might actually have a minute to wonder why a group of people who is ostensibly protecting you is spending so much time telling you to be afraid.

And my goodness, we can't have that.
posted by mhoye at 4:13 PM on September 1 [10 favorites]


Goddamn 9/11. It really opened the floodgates, didn't it?

precisely as planned.
posted by quonsar II: smock fishpants and the temple of foon at 4:15 PM on September 1 [14 favorites]


Someone upthread mentioned having a Kindle sample of the book? What's the tone like? I can definitely see someone writing a novel that was inflammatory enough on the topic of school shootings that they should maybe not be in a K-12 school setting every day. Even if it was written years ago. I mean, free speech and all, sure, but speech has ramifications.

Obviously no matter how "obvious cry for help" the content of the books is, though, that doesn't justify the clear civil rights violation that has ensued, though. Guy writes some inflammatory books and is disappeared? It's like the police are hoping nobody ever trusts them ever again.
posted by Sara C. at 4:22 PM on September 1 [1 favorite]


Well, at least it will boost the Amazon ratings of the book. People are giving it 5 star reviews as a show of support.
posted by His thoughts were red thoughts at 4:24 PM on September 1 [2 favorites]


So I guess Suzanne Collins is in a gulag already? And JK Rowling is going to the electric chair?

You know what other (former) high school teacher pseudonymously published a novel about a school shooting?

That's right, Stephen King.

Good thing he let it fall out of print, or the cops would have taken him in by now.
posted by Doktor Zed at 4:26 PM on September 1 [28 favorites]


Even if it was written years ago. I mean, free speech and all, sure, but speech has ramifications.

Then why didn't the hiring process find it?

The dailykos comments do ask 'what is going on here' - pointing out there may be a tad more to the story than we are being told. The sad part is the story as presented and framed is being considered 100% true and the people in power are that much out of control.
posted by rough ashlar at 4:28 PM on September 1 [5 favorites]


The only reviews on Amazon are from people buying the book as a show of support, so my guess is that the school district didn't find the books because they were published under a pseudonym and not particularly successful in terms of sales or acclaim.
posted by Sara C. at 4:30 PM on September 1


Is this something where, say, the SFWA could be helpful?
posted by newdaddy at 4:33 PM on September 1


You know what other (former) high school teacher pseudonymously published a novel about a school shooting?

That's right, Stephen King.

Good thing he let it fall out of print, or the cops would have taken him in by now.


Carrie is also about a high school massacre and it's still very much in print.
posted by His thoughts were red thoughts at 4:39 PM on September 1 [17 favorites]


It is not overblown to call this "Soviet style"... It IS Soviet style... and National Socialist style, and Francisco Franco style, and People's Republic of China style, and Myanmar style, and Chilean Junta style, and... you probably get the point. And when they take over both houses of Congress, which could and probably will happen quite soon... well friends, you ain't seen nothin yet...
posted by anguspodgorny at 4:40 PM on September 1 [18 favorites]


Incidentally, Patrick McLaw was nominated as Dorchester First Class Teacher of the Year, this year.

But hey, he wrote a book once, so best burn him at the stake.
posted by His thoughts were red thoughts at 4:46 PM on September 1 [11 favorites]


Jeez I don't even know anymore. "Slippery slope from here to declaring thoughtcrime" used to be one of those rhetorical gambits that got you dismissed as a crackpot in an argument, and yet this is not even so much "slippery slope" territory as like..."leisurely saunter over to a slightly lower elevation". I'm really starting to buy into the Hollywood Writers Reality Theory.

I can definitely see someone writing a novel that was inflammatory enough on the topic of school shootings that they should maybe not be in a K-12 school setting every day. Even if it was written years ago. I mean, free speech and all, sure, but speech has ramifications.

There's a sequel, too, and from reading the blurb for that one, it sounds like the atrocities in the first one somehow tie into some kind of global conspiracy/Shadow Cartel stuff. Even if it is more sympathetic to its fictional Shadow Cartel organization than its fictional Hegemonic Empire organization (doesn't necessarily sound like it) it hardly comes across as "cry for help" type stuff. So, what - a cry for help that led to a sequel, followed by several years of a day job as a middle school teacher? How does that psych profile fit together?
posted by mstokes650 at 4:48 PM on September 1 [6 favorites]


Yeah, no, the blurbs really don't make it out to be some kind of gross Turner Diaries kind of thing. Which is really what this would have to be in order to merit firing the guy merely on account of his having written an inflammatory book about school shootings.

Worst of all, from the blurbs, it looks like this isn't even a particularly inflammatory book about school shootings, it's just that it happens to be the topic in general.
posted by Sara C. at 4:59 PM on September 1 [1 favorite]


These cases are not quite the same but out of curiosity, Krystian Bala murdered someone, then wrote a novel leaving clues to solve the case in the plot. Someone did figure it out and he was eventually arrested. Richard Klinkhamer killed his wife and then wrote a manuscript about it. The intersection between literature and murder does exist. I imagine many killers wrote wish-fulfillment type stuff before killing, sort of a gateway drug to actual killing. This is part of profiling.

We must lock up Stephen King immediately. Our planet's (dimension's, souls of all mankind's) survival depends on it.
posted by emjaybee at 5:05 PM on September 1


I keep thinking of King's "Sometimes They Come Back," which he wrote when he was a teacher, and teaching year-to-year on contracts, and I think by that time was already publishing now and then in dirty magazines.

Today, I'm not sure he would have lived long enough to make it to his mandatory mental evaluation. I don't think he wrote "Rage" until after he quit needing a day job, or I suspect he wouldn't have even made it out of the building.
posted by Lyn Never at 5:13 PM on September 1


Goddamn 9/11. It really opened the floodgates, didn't it?

You're only noticing that now?
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 5:40 PM on September 1 [9 favorites]


Heh. When I was an office manager, I wrote a novel in which there was a rawther hinky boys' school. It was published and came out a little while after I had been teaching at a very staid boys' school. I don't think anyone bothered to read it, because at one point they asked if I would like to sign my books at the book fair (I turned them down). I've been teaching there 22 years now. I wonder if they will ever read it.
posted by Peach at 5:53 PM on September 1 [3 favorites]


I also wrote & published a story once in which the protagonist created a fatal plague in order to save the world from immortality.

Perhaps I should shut up now.
posted by Peach at 5:54 PM on September 1 [2 favorites]


I don't think he wrote "Rage" until after he quit needing a day job

Stephen King began writing Rage in 1966 while in high school. He finished it in 1971. Like The Long Walk it was one of the five novels he wrote before Carrie, "two of them pretty good."

This is according to the introduction to The Bachman Books, which is no longer available in the US due to King's [--------].
posted by localroger at 6:12 PM on September 1


According to the earliest press release, he's been "disappeared" for a week now. How long before the ACLU gets involved?
posted by RobotVoodooPower at 6:13 PM on September 1 [3 favorites]


Is this a bad time to mention that I have a new book, Blue Vengeance, in which a socially misunderstood but handsome and brilliant member of a community website gets revenge on those who have wronged him in a nationwide killing spree?
posted by Justinian at 6:15 PM on September 1 [40 favorites]


You ought've asked first before you inserted me into a fictional plot, Justinian.
posted by mr. digits at 6:18 PM on September 1 [12 favorites]


In high school I once wrote a physics assignment with answers like "If my physics teacher accelerated at 420 KPH and came to a stop by hitting a brick wall, he would release X joules of energy..." (he gave it a B+) and about a year later the captain of the basketball team wrote a story for our class magazine where he killed all his friends in various gruesome ways. It got published, too. Every one of us would probably be jailed for life if we grew up now.
posted by Kevin Street at 6:23 PM on September 1 [3 favorites]


Fictional now, sure, mr digits.
posted by SPrintF at 6:24 PM on September 1


Since he only published his book electronically, maybe the EFF should consider helping him out?
posted by newdaddy at 6:31 PM on September 1


In high school I once wrote a physics assignment with answers like "If my physics teacher accelerated at 420 KPH and came to a stop by hitting a brick wall, he would release X joules of energy..." (he gave it a B+) and about a year later the captain of the basketball team wrote a story for our class magazine where he killed all his friends in various gruesome ways. It got published, too. Every one of us would probably be jailed for life if we grew up now.

In high school in the mid-90s, my English teacher set us a curious assignment. He read us The Lesson by Roger McGough, which is a humorous (if somewhat dark) poem about a teacher slaughtering his students in a cartoonish manner. He had us write a counterpoint - poems in which a student slaughtered teachers. We had a delightful time.

As his star pupil, I put in an extra effort. I made his death particularly gruesome. There were grenades, car crashes, flamethrowers, stabbings-with-fountain-pens, each death tailored to the attributes of specific faculty members.

He liked it so much he had me read it in assembly, in front of the entire faculty. Or maybe that was his vengeance, I was never sure.

Today, I would probably be hanged, drawn and quartered for that.
posted by His thoughts were red thoughts at 6:34 PM on September 1 [22 favorites]


23 would not be an unusual age for a schizophrenic break in a young man, so I can construct a scenario where his family or SO or friends became alarmed at his mental state and called in help, and possibly in the course of that he said things that caused police to search the school, but in that case, why aren't they saying that, and why are the books coming into it, except maybe in the most minor of ways? The way they are presenting the books are prima facie justification for detaining him is just bizarre and alarming.

I keep going between 'surely even the most hackish of local judges would have quailed at search warrants over a three year old book' and 'but it *is* the Eastern Shore', which for those aren't local is the part of Maryland where it is still kind of antebellum.
posted by tavella at 6:36 PM on September 1 [3 favorites]


Since he only published his book electronically, maybe the EFF should consider helping him out?

I sort of doubt this would be appropriate. The ACLU seems a better fit, his teacher's union, or perhaps the SFWA seems like an ideal fit for this. But just because there is a relationship to the internet doesn't automatically mean it's the EFF's wheelhouse.

Honestly, I think waiting a couple of days for more information to pour in about this is the best thing to do at the moment. This has captured the attention of the international press. I'd be willing to bet pro-bono lawyers are already in the wings to take this case (be it civil or to secure his own freedom).
posted by el io at 7:29 PM on September 1


> it *is* the Eastern Shore', which for those aren't local is the part of Maryland where it is still kind of antebellum.
> The inconvenient region where the HCBU was located was from the frame of reference of Black History month quite a prestigious address. It was where Frederick Douglass had escaped from.... My hosts at the B&B were a lovely, genteel white couple thrilled to have a visiting writer. They pulled out a copy of the history of the town’s spectacle lynching: the author had roomed there while doing her research. I said it’s a pity there was only the one spectacle lynching or I would hang around and do up the other one.
Good thing my dad retired from teaching before he published that. Committing is the new SWATting.
posted by morganw at 7:35 PM on September 1 [1 favorite]


anguspodgorny, this isn't a partisan, republican v. democrat issue; there are authoritarian statists in our party too.

justinian, you are free to use me in your book as long as you describe me as a "dashing older heartthrob of vast erudition and impeccable taste."
posted by bruce at 7:37 PM on September 1


There was a time some might have said this is unbelievable, there MUST be more to this, but ...

Spotted in my Twitter stream, a MIT prof who got dragged out of bed and involuntarily committed for tweeting.

Then there was the guy who parodied a mayor on twitter and for that had home raided and was himself later arrested at work. [Link]

Oh, what am I saying. Guys, these days you should be grateful if you're only peacefully wrongfully arrested and don't have pets or kids killed by SWAT teams. [Link]
posted by NorthernLite at 7:43 PM on September 1 [3 favorites]


According to the earliest press release, he's been "disappeared" for a week now.

Bet when he finally shows up, he'll have "confessed" not only to writing the story as a plan of attack, but being part of a terrorist cell and to any unsolved murders the police have been working on recently. Coin toss as to whether he "implicates" anyone else the authorities want to send a message to.

Calling it "soviet-style" is maybe overblown

The Soviets gleefully made use of faux psychiatry to intimidate and neutralize opponents. We should take bets on how long until these authorities start referring to extrajudicial, incommunicado psych detention of US citizens for arbitrary lengths of time as an "important tool of law enforcement" and anyone who points to the Constitution in objection as being "soft on crime". Think of the children and all that.
posted by kjs3 at 7:49 PM on September 1 [7 favorites]


The story is set nearly 900 years in the future. How can anyone take this "threat" seriously?
posted by etaoin at 7:53 PM on September 1 [2 favorites]


Committing is the new SWATting.

Not at all - as noted:

The Soviets gleefully made use of faux psychiatry to intimidate and neutralize opponents.

Nothing new about this.

And when it comes to:

We should take bets on how long until these authorities start referring to extrajudicial, incommunicado psych detention of US citizens

Between looking to Scientologists or Alex Jones to be the canaries in the coal mines on such an issue just goes to show the state of the State.
posted by rough ashlar at 8:05 PM on September 1


My sophomore year in high school I wrote stories about guys murdering their girlfriends and poems about school shootings.

Fortunately it was 1989 so it was just published in the literary magazine, and not used against me in my committal hearing.
posted by Lucinda at 8:05 PM on September 1 [1 favorite]


Involuntary committment/evaluation? What the hell?

According to the Northern Imperial Publishing Facebook page, McLaw was supposed to have a new book coming out next year, titled Asylum.

They will probably use that as evidence, somehow: "Look, he wrote a book about an asylum, then he was put in an asylum! His books come true! He wrote about a school shooting! BURN THE WITCH!".
posted by His thoughts were red thoughts at 8:07 PM on September 1 [2 favorites]


yes kjs3, that's what "soviet-style psychiatry" means, and roy and his twin brother zhores medvedyev were the poster men for this abuse, for those interested in reading further. it's coming here.
posted by bruce at 8:12 PM on September 1 [1 favorite]


I once dated a dude who wrote a bunch of short stories about men murdering their girlfriends in gratuitous ways. He turned out to be a creep, and I'm really glad I trusted my gut when it told me that dudes who write stories like that probably have more messed up shit going on.

Not saying this guy does (from what I can tell his books are nothing particularly ominous), but the existence of people who wrote messed up stuff and didn't mean anything by it doesn't disprove the existence of people who wrote messed up stuff and did have bad intentions.
posted by Sara C. at 8:17 PM on September 1


Funny. I recall once upon a time the US prided itself on being a free country - and the supreme contrast was always that we -- unlike them -- weren't the sort of place where people were carried off without charges because of things they wrote. We didn't torture. Money couldn't buy justice here.

And no, it was never strictly true. And less so for black people -- as McLaw is. But dammit, once it was at least an ideal we strove for. People cared when we spectacularly failed to live up to it.

But now, not so much. This will be popular with the townspeople. The sheriff will get re-elected, the DA will be well-regarded. They're hard on crime. They're proactive about taking care of our kids. If he sues and gets money from the town, well, he was a troublemaker anyway, no wonder we hate him, taking tax money from the town.
posted by tyllwin at 8:18 PM on September 1 [6 favorites]


They couldn't make the book vanish, so they vanished the author.

Welcome to the War on Ideas.
posted by Pudhoho at 8:24 PM on September 1 [2 favorites]


Not saying this guy does (from what I can tell his books are nothing particularly ominous), but the existence of people who wrote messed up stuff and didn't mean anything by it doesn't disprove the existence of people who wrote messed up stuff and did have bad intentions.

He could very well be crazypants, but he has committed no crime nor done anything to warrant being detained indefinitely under the pretense of a psych eval.

I haven't read his book but I'm gonna go out on a limb and say it's probably not a glowing endorsement of murdering children. Even if it is, he still has rights.
posted by Librarypt at 8:24 PM on September 1 [11 favorites]


Is it safe to even just favorite this post?
posted by Kronos_to_Earth at 8:33 PM on September 1 [2 favorites]


no
posted by hippybear at 8:36 PM on September 1 [8 favorites]


I'd bet the reason he's still disappeared is that once he was nabbed, the powers that be realized how illegal what they'd done was and how much he was going to sue them for once he was released. So now they're just holding him so they can badger/threaten/torture him into admitting to something so they are legally justified and can't be sued.
posted by Mitrovarr at 8:39 PM on September 1 [5 favorites]


Three things make me think there is more to this story that the absurdity presented so far. 1- Reason Magazine tends to sensationalise things for their own cause. 2- The bomb squad and searches of the school were reported to have happened after the psych evaluation. The police and school can't comment on the evaluation's contents because of HIPPA. 3- McLaw has not made any media statements and no friends or family have made any statements.

At the same time I've seen small town principals and cops get some crazy ideas. My high school pals and I were suspected of conducting satanic rituals in the school because we played DnD in the school library during the lunch break. This was in the 1980s though when all they could do was threaten to put something on your permanent record.
posted by humanfont at 8:40 PM on September 1


Humanfront:
1. Plenty of other media outlets have been reporting this as well. Yeah, Reason has an agenda, and this fits on it, but I see no reason to question any assertions they made.

2. Well, schools will suspend kids for making their fingers in the shape of a gun and saying 'bang', so I think it's unreasonable to assume any nuanced thought went into the schools actions. Yeah, so HIPPA is something they probably can/will invoke, but that didn't stop them from making statements (pretty inflamatory ones) indicating he had been involuntarily committed.

3. There aren't any indications he has freedom of movement at this point, are there? Regardless, I assume his lawyer (if he has one, or when he gets one) will want to carefully craft any external statement made (to help the hopefully inevitable lawsuit).
posted by el io at 8:47 PM on September 1 [1 favorite]


Is it safe to even just favorite this post?

no


Live a little, and favorite it anyway. If you really want to live dangerously:

1) Sign the Change.org petition.

2) Give his book a 5-star rating and a review mentioning this case on Amazon.

3) If you can afford it, buy his book.
posted by marsha56 at 8:49 PM on September 1 [2 favorites]


This is the first time I've heard of the whole spirited away by police/emergency mental health nonsense, but NOT the first time I've heard of a teacher being fired/harassed/maligned due to their extracurricular writing (under a pseudonym--which is quite prudent, really--or not). This part is not a brand-new, horrible development. It's just that nobody gives a crap about teachers or writers. And the remarks I've seen various places around the internet, that he'll wind up with a nice fat settlement? Let's just say past history doesn't make me hopeful. I'm no expert on this kind of case (though I definitely have a vested interest!), but most of the ones I've heard of ended in an unemployed teacher. Maybe unemployable, too, for all I know.

All I can say is that the US has really weird, screwed-up ideas about nearly every aspect of teaching and being a teacher.
posted by wintersweet at 8:50 PM on September 1 [1 favorite]


Not saying this guy does (from what I can tell his books are nothing particularly ominous), but the existence of people who wrote messed up stuff and didn't mean anything by it doesn't disprove the existence of people who wrote messed up stuff and did have bad intentions.

I mean, sure, there are people who do bad things who are literate and who are authors. Your anecdote sounds super creepy, if not quite the same as "fictional dystopia." But you didn't have your date fired, his name and photo sent out to every dating site as a warning, and shipped to a psych ward for evaluation.

It's entirely possible that the authorities have reason to believe that there were deeper issues and that their actions were warranted. It's been a week (possibly more?) though and it's possible they were dead wrong. I created some pretty badass ships and killer weapons for a jedi when I was in middle school, should I be suspect years later? Are we going to start being suspicious of teachers who start assigning "The Lottery" now, or who write Hunger Games fanfiction?
posted by jetlagaddict at 8:51 PM on September 1


reason magazine is fairly accurate (not perfectly, just fairly) in my estimation. arranging a bomb squad search of a school is trivial as window dressing/cover your ass/hype the threat. i'm not an expert on healthcare law, but my guess is HIPPA only applies to therapeutic, not forensic medicine, and mr. mclaw hasn't released any statements because he's being held incommunicado.
posted by bruce at 8:51 PM on September 1 [1 favorite]


how long until these authorities start referring to extrajudicial, incommunicado psych detention of US citizens for arbitrary lengths of time as an "important tool of law enforcement" and anyone who points to the Constitution in objection as being "soft on crime"

*cough*

see HR 3162.
posted by quonsar II: smock fishpants and the temple of foon at 8:52 PM on September 1


Obviously this guy should stick to writing dystopic non-fiction.
posted by el io at 8:53 PM on September 1 [3 favorites]


something is up. you can, in Michigan anyway, be held involuntarily for mental evaluation for up to 3 days if someone petitions for it. we should have heard from him by now. of course, under the patriot act he could very well have been declared a domestic terrorist and we'll never hear from him again.
posted by quonsar II: smock fishpants and the temple of foon at 8:59 PM on September 1


Renoroc: "The best thing to do during a mandatory psychiatric evaluation is to keep quiet."

This is terrible advice. I do mandatory psych evals all the time. I see cops bring in people on inappropriate "psych holds" all the time, and in my experience it's used more inappropriately on people with darker skin or poorer-looking clothes. Why? Often it's easier to drop someone off at the hospital rather than bring them to central booking equivalent and do more paperwork.

But anyway, a psych eval is pretty straightforward: in California, the grounds are imminent danger to self, imminent danger to others, or grave disability (that is, an inability to state a credible plan for food, clothing or shelter that endangers your life). I have a legal requirement to satisfy the State that you do not meet those criteria by reason of psychiatric illness. If you don't speak, I can't clear you medically. By your silence (and in the absence of obvious disabilities), I don't know if you're experiencing profound paranoia, an aphasic thought disorder, a catatonic episode, stroke, encephalitis or otherwise altered mentation, etc. There are some illnesses that express initially with profound aphasia and are life threatening.

Your advice to secure a lawyer is State-dependent, and for many of them it's rare that a lawyer can be present during a medical exam where the patient is not under arrest or subpoena. Often, the "probable cause" hearings for involuntary psychiatric treatment involve specific mental health judges and advocates, and lawyers untrained in mental health proceedings would be unhelpful.
posted by meehawl at 9:22 PM on September 1 [35 favorites]


meehawl: are there any penalties for bringing people to mandatory psych evals inappropriately? or is this a tool that cops can use whenever they want without worry of repercussions?

how would you react if cops said "this guy wrote this book 3 years ago, and were afraid he's an immanent threat to the community?" (assuming there aren't other factors at play that haven't been disclosed).

is it an option to let the person go immediately (instead of holding them for 3 days or whatever) if the person is obviously of fine mental health and the reasons for bringing them to you are transparently bogus?
posted by el io at 9:28 PM on September 1 [1 favorite]


This is absolutely terrifying.

A somewhat related thought:

I think that anyone in any position of power - all bureaucrats, politicians, managers, and law enforcement workers, etc. need to play Papers, Please. I'm 100% serious.

I'm convinced that the casual oppression and violation of civil rights usually happens when people "mean well". I'm sure the sheriff is acting out of a duty to want to protect his community. That doesn't excuse anything or make it right or correct whatsoever. It may even make it worse, because the person on behalf is unable to see the full oppressiveness of their actions.

Papers, Please has taught me that when you have policies that are not transparent, that are unyielding and mechanistic and ruthless, that don't offer proper or easy channels for restitution or response, that assume the worst of you first and try to trip you up -- this appears to people as horrible bureaucracies and as oppressive organizational structures. It doesn't matter what the policies are, or what good they're trying to make.

This could happen because it's nearly impossible to cancel service from Comcast, or if the process at the DMV is confusing and long, or if companies are trying their best not to pay their workers, or if fluctuating scheduling systems leave employees in harsh situations, etc.

Some might say that "nobody is being forced", that you just have to be smart enough to navigate these challenges, etc, "you just have to talk to Comcast with a script", and "read the right guide about how to talk to the police", etc. This is kind of like arguing that "if you know how to talk to the judge

How does this relate to a young black teacher, recently nominated for a teaching award, being arbitrarily detained for 'mental health reasons' for a novel he wrote three years ago as a sophomore in college?

Well - my point is that casual oppressiveness is everywhere. It may appear as a workplace policy about that you institute because, well, it's a policy. It may appear because as a school principal, you report one of your teachers to the police without talking to the teacher and giving real thought to what exactly you're doing. It may appear because you're tired and busy dealing with a lot of shit and don't really have the energy to call everyone so the policy is for your workers to drive all the way to work to figure out if they have a shift or not. Etc. etc..
posted by suedehead at 9:53 PM on September 1 [7 favorites]


meehawl, a polite request from one of your subjects (over and over) for a lawyer doesn't meet the criteria for any of the psychological conditions you listed, it's in the fifth amendment. of course you would advocate for your subjects cooperating with you, as a state psychologist, that's what you get paid for. your suggestion that somebody's liberty, in absence of any criminal acts, should be dependent on your "legal requirement to satisfy the State that you do not meet these criteria" is offensive to my constitutional values, because it turns on its head the old "innocent until proven guilty" thing that some of us haven't yet abandoned.

why should i trust you in the context of a mandatory psych eval? why should mr. mclaw trust his captors? can you establish to my satisfaction, here on the blue, that you are not a weakling who can be pressured/bribed into putting on ice an "enemy of the state"? pending that, my advice to a subject of such an evaluation would be "i want my lawyer, i want my lawyer, i want my lawyer."
posted by bruce at 10:07 PM on September 1 [7 favorites]


bruce: (correct me if I'm wrong here, meehawl) I don't think you have any such right under a mandatory psych eval - you are not under arrest. The person evaluating you is not trying to get information for a criminal prosecution (although they may be able to testify against you if you start admitting to crimes).

While you may deserve such rights, I'm not sure you actually have them. And trying to assert legal rights that you don't have is... kind of crazy.
posted by el io at 10:20 PM on September 1 [1 favorite]


Meehawl: what spry of information would you typically pass back to police after this kind of psych eval? Would it just be the headline diagnosis or would or be more detailed in terms of what was said? It seems germane in terms of right to counsel. Are your communications with the subject of the evaluation privilegeda regards being passed to this parties such as police or courts?
posted by biffa at 10:21 PM on September 1 [2 favorites]


What is happening to my country?
posted by droplet at 10:30 PM on September 1 [4 favorites]


my advice to a subject of such an evaluation would be "i want my lawyer, i want my lawyer, i want my lawyer."

How about "I want many recording devices" - the Doctors are not the FBI. (as I understand the FBI interrogation process recording devices are forbidden - the only record is what is on paper) A recording device is FAR more fun in states where all parties have to agree......how many Doctors are going to agree to a recording device?

HIPPA is to protect YOUR privacy - now what happens if anyone touches your recording devices eh?

And like bar grieving a lawyer, the medical profession is subject to a grievance process also.

meehawl: are there any penalties for bringing people to mandatory psych evals inappropriately?

The setup is the important part for the penalties. You need to know your local laws - like what a policeman is supposed to do when you are under an arrest. You'd need to determine if you fear for your life:
Officer, what is your probable cause for detaining me
Officer is that gun loaded
Officer would you fire that loaded gun at me
Officer am I free to go
Officer, why am I not being taken to a magistrate
Officer, I want my lawyer and refuse to answer further questions

If you don't set 'em up - you can't knock 'em down later.

(it helps if you are not wearing, say rainbow jello in your hair at this time to give 'em probable cause that you are anything more than, say, DSM-V "oppositional defiance disorder, but its only a matter of time before someone hits on 'I didn't like his asking for rights so off to the nutter bin' )
posted by rough ashlar at 10:42 PM on September 1 [1 favorite]


el io, thank you, i'm kind of crazy, in the same sense as our founding fathers who also asserted legal rights that they didn't have. some of my crazy ancestors participated in the revolutionary war and killed people over this, one of them was a signer of the declaration of independence.

the fifth amendment attaches at "custodial interrogation", not arrest. if i'm not free to walk out, that means i'm in custody.
posted by bruce at 10:43 PM on September 1 [2 favorites]


What is happening to my country?

Not enough citizens are taking the time to fight back and are willing to go along to get along.
posted by rough ashlar at 10:43 PM on September 1 [2 favorites]


the fifth amendment attaches at "custodial interrogation", not arrest. if i'm not free to walk out, that means i'm in custody.

Hence asking "am I free to go" and when told no then "am I under arrest".

Knowing that you can call for a supervisor and if you are to be taken to the nearest magistrate matter also.
posted by rough ashlar at 10:46 PM on September 1


bruce: (correct me if I'm wrong here, meehawl) I don't think you have any such right under a mandatory psych eval - you are not under arrest.

IANAL but it seems to me that involuntary commitment couldn't be, Constitutionally, a different category than arrest -- you are being confined against your will. This article seems to agree: "The United States Supreme Court has unequivocally declared involuntary commitment a “massive curtailment of liberty” requiring due process protection." If you are subject to any sort of proceeding regarding your involuntary confinement you are entitled to counsel. (On preview: what bruce said).
posted by junco at 10:49 PM on September 1 [1 favorite]


No therapists would ever be double agents for the FBI and help drive someone to suicide.
posted by benzenedream at 10:53 PM on September 1 [1 favorite]


the FBI has been driving people to suicide ever since jean seberg and maybe before that.
posted by bruce at 11:02 PM on September 1


bruce: I was pretty much kidding there... But you are talking about the rights you should have (and I agree, you should have them, they are rights and all). Trying to assert legal rights that the people evaluating will not acknowledge or listen to probably isn't the wisest course if you want to get out of their custody.

If you want to know what your actual rights are in regards to mental health care (involuntary or voluntary), you probably should do some research about what the rights are in the state you reside in.

Wikipedia has some useful things to say about this.

"Am I free to go/am I under arrest" are probably good phrases for encounters with the police, but I'm not sure that mental health professionals will be impacted by uttering those words.

This looks like a good reference for more information.
posted by el io at 11:11 PM on September 1 [2 favorites]


thank you again, el io, for providing me with the opportunity to illustrate a statist apologist/dupe line of thinking. the ultimate goal isn't to get out of custody as fast as you can, it's to avoid being banged up for life on a false charge. i'm an honorably retired california lawyer (you can take the name on my profile page and plug it into the state bar website for verification) and i'll thank you kindly (just this one time) for not presuming to give me legal advice, i already have people i trust for that, and unless you are also a lawyer, i'll thank you kindly (just this one time) not to spout BS at impressionable, nonlawyer mefites.
posted by bruce at 11:31 PM on September 1 [3 favorites]


bruce: I'd trust you to give me legal advice (well, not more than my lawyer, but still), and other mefites. I sure wasn't trying to give anyone legal advice.

But I'd trust meehawl to give me advice of how to get out of a involuntary detention by mental health professionals. I'm not inclined to think he's on the side of abusive cops when he says something like
"I see cops bring in people on inappropriate "psych holds" all the time, and in my experience it's used more inappropriately on people with darker skin or poorer-looking clothes. Why? Often it's easier to drop someone off at the hospital rather than bring them to central booking equivalent and do more paperwork.
Maybe your extensive legal experience includes dealing with clients that have been involuntarily hospitalized in a mental institution. If so, your perspective on rights of patients would be well received. If not, I'd probably defer to meehawls experience.

(calling me a statist apologist /dupe really made me giggle. you must be unfamiliar with my posting history)
posted by el io at 12:36 AM on September 2 [2 favorites]


Meehawl is obviously aware that many cops are lazy and racist. But I'm not convinced that everyone else who might be involved in an involuntary detention will be as conscientious, or able to help, so unless I know it's meehawl giving me an evaluation I think I'd best stay on my guard.
posted by harriet vane at 1:14 AM on September 2 [1 favorite]


I'm a little surprised by those of you who were able to write about killing your teachers or fellow students with it all being considered a jolly good time. In sixth grade, in the 1980's, I was sent to a counselor and had my parents called just for writing a story with an unhappy ending. Was I depressed? Thinking of suicide? What was wrong with me? Bear in mind this was a science fiction story about a kid who accidentally gets left behind when the last humans leave earth.

Things have certainly gotten a lot, lot worse. Bizarre overreaction to fictional writing has become far more widespread, and those who are prone to it given far more power. But I definitely remember the seeds of it being there decades ago.
posted by kyrademon at 2:21 AM on September 2 [3 favorites]


[One comment deleted; please don't publish (viewable by members-only) private info from other members' profile pages – especially to make ad hominem remarks about what you surmise their character is like based on nationality. Please focus comments on the issues, topics, and facts at hand, not at other members of the site. ]
posted by taz at 2:26 AM on September 2 [2 favorites]


Repeating here the bit I thought was most salient from the Atlantic article -

I've tried to reach the sheriff, so far unsuccessfully, to learn whether McLaw's "inability to travel anywhere" means that he is under arrest. It is somewhat amazing that local news reports on this case don't make clear whether McLaw is under arrest, and if so, on what charge. It is equally astonishing that the reporters on this story don't seem to have used the words "First Amendment" in their questioning of law-enforcement officials, and also astonishing they don't question the Soviet-sounding practice of ordering an apparently sane person who has been deemed unacceptable by state authorities to undergo a psychological evaluation.

posted by newdaddy at 3:04 AM on September 2 [2 favorites]


The passive "was alerted" is bugging me. Did I miss somewhere an explanation as to who "alerted" the school board?
posted by The corpse in the library at 6:39 AM on September 2


This is the best thing that could ever have happened to this guy. He's got a couple of best sellers on his hands now!
posted by j03 at 6:41 AM on September 2


As to who alerted them, the Dorchester County Public Schools has updated the notice (PDF) on their website.

In response to community inquiries, we are providing the following additional information.
+ The concerns regarding Mr. McLaw were originally brought forward by the Wicomico County State’s Attorney last week. They have advised us as recently as this morning that an investigation is ongoing but the details may not be released, as it may compromise that investigation.
posted by qldaddy at 6:50 AM on September 2


Officer am I free to go

or, in the case of psych eval detention, "Doctor am I free to bathe in the tub with the multi-colored giraffe?"
posted by quonsar II: smock fishpants and the temple of foon at 7:01 AM on September 2


The best case scenario is that Patrick McLaw did have a breakdown of some sort and consented to being committed, and the law enforcement didn't want to give his location in order to protect him.

I doubt that is the case somehow, and even if it is, that breathless article in the local news is really horrible, the way it talks about his aliases and is misleading about the plot of the novel.

This whole thing is really deeply disturbing me.
posted by maggiemaggie at 7:02 AM on September 2


I'm a little surprised by those of you who were able to write about killing your teachers or fellow students with it all being considered a jolly good time. In sixth grade, in the 1980's, I was sent to a counselor and had my parents called just for writing a story with an unhappy ending. Was I depressed? Thinking of suicide?

I had something like this happen to me in middle school. If you stayed for the "late/activities" bus, you had to write down your purpose. One time, I stayed to talk to my friend or something, so I wrote "I have no purpose." Well, let me tell you that the school and the cops had both called my parents by the time I got home.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 7:07 AM on September 2 [7 favorites]


After learning this man is black, I'm afraid McLaw's "inability to travel anywhere" just might mean some officer-inspired broken legs. It would fit how things are going in the US lately.
posted by _paegan_ at 7:10 AM on September 2


If the action against McLaw was instigated by the state attorney, it's highly unlikely it was because of the way he was acting at the school - you can think up some unlikely scenarios where the attorney's kid was a pupil there and told his parent about stuff, but really...

There may still be some legitimate reason for what's happened, but if there is the doughty laides and gentlemen of the press haven't bothered to find out what it is. And the longer this goes on without the authorities coming up with some reasonable explanation, the harder it is to see this as anything other than the institutionalisation of thought crime.

(Apparently, one member of the prosecutor's office is Assistant State's Attorney, Andrew Illuminati. Presented without comment.)
posted by Devonian at 7:29 AM on September 2 [4 favorites]


that breathless article in the local news is really horrible, the way it is ... misleading about the plot of the novel.

Can you be more specific about that?
posted by newdaddy at 7:30 AM on September 2


Involuntary commitment is a massive curtailment of liberty that triggers a right to counsel, but that doesn't mean it's the same as arrest or that the same legal process and rights are involved. Due process depends on the circumstances (criminal or civil, property or liberty or family). Involuntary commitment is not the same as arrest (commitment is a civil, not criminal, process) and I wouldn't take legal advice from anyone who doesn't understand that. Liberty, in the absence of criminal acts, can be curtailed if, for example, there is clear and convincing evidence (not evidence beyond a reasonable doubt) that a person is a danger to herself or others. Meehawl's advice is not wrong or statist, and shutting up and demanding a lawyer is not necessarily good advice (but it may be good advice if you get it from a lawyer with a demonstrated expertise in the area, not from some guy on the internet). A lot of people who are admitted for involuntary psych holds are seriously ill and possibly a risk to themselves or others. The psychiatrist who is confronted with a brand new person to evaluate only knows what she's been told by the family members, EMT'S, ER doc, treating doc, or cops who were involved in asking that the person be evaluated. If the person refuses to talk she could be a victim of overreaching by the state or she could be a profoundly ill person who will kill herself if she's discharged.

I am speaking generally here because people are making confused statements about the legal concepts involved. I have no idea what's happened in this case. It sounds like an appalling overreach by authorities.
posted by Mavri at 7:33 AM on September 2 [5 favorites]


Here's a precis of the two novels from The Daily Caller.

The two books attributed to McLaw on Amazon are titled “The Insurrectionist” and “Lilith’s Heir.” The publisher is Northern Imperial Publishing, which appears from its Facebook page to feature McLaw’s work exclusively.

McLaw has written both books under the impressive alias “Dr. K.S. Voltaer.”

“The Insurrectionist,” set in the year 2902, opens with a huge massacre on the campus of Ocean Park High School. Then, there are threats of a second massacre at a 19,000-student school some 500 miles away.

In a nutshell, either federal investigator Jessica Leigh Hearn or a trio of 12th-grade sleuths must crack the case before “a dangerous and intelligent” “teenage executioner” strikes again and comes “face-to-face with the one person to whom he owes much retribution.”

“Lilith’s Heir,” a sequel, takes place eight months after the events in “The Insurrectionist” conclude. Without giving too much away, the second novel involves “a shakedown of The Phantom’s Regiment,” which is a large criminal enterprise, and a reaction by The Phantom’s Regiment “that just may bring the entire nation to its knees.”


Which sounds like pretty standard skiffy thriller fare to me.
posted by Devonian at 7:39 AM on September 2


Here are details on involuntary committment in Maryland. Anyone can initiate the process. You can be held up to ten days without a judge getting involved, but a team of doctors have to agree.

IANAL, but I can't find an satisfactory answer to the Fifth Amendment concerns. Ten days is a long time to be held being interviewed by various professionals with no counsel and no guarantee of immunity for statements made under exam.
posted by RobotVoodooPower at 7:42 AM on September 2


And not to thread-sit, but in the good old days of 60s radical SF, some spiky malcontent would now write a short story where counties and states across the US gleefully participate in school massacre league tables. You know, for valuable cash prizes and increased law enforcement powers. It would end not with the winningest state being discovered releasing madmen from secure units after prepping them for a good 'un, but being actually proud of doing this - "to create a safe and controlled environment for the good of all citizens and their children".

Seditious literature, where are you now?
posted by Devonian at 7:47 AM on September 2


Now I'm interested in reading the guy's stuff. Even if it sucks, what is happening here is not right. Or perhaps it is too far right...
posted by Guy_Inamonkeysuit at 7:57 AM on September 2


Patrick McLaw and the Terror of Words
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 7:59 AM on September 2


Hopefully now that this is a national story some reporters will provide more details. I think that the outrage has gotten ahead of the facts. The op-eds shouting that this is some outrageous thing seem to be operating on the very sparse details available.
posted by humanfont at 8:20 AM on September 2 [1 favorite]


I read a story once about some guys who launched a bunch of rocks at the Earth, from the Moon. They were part of some radical political movement.

Whoever wrote that, the police ought to go check that guy out too. He sounds like a big risk to me.
posted by newdaddy at 8:22 AM on September 2


newdaddy: Can you be more specific about that?

From the local news article:

Early last week the school board was alerted that one of its eighth grade language arts teachers at Mace's Lane Middle School had several aliases. Police said that under those names, he wrote two fictional books about the largest school shooting in the country's history set in the future.

From the Amazon page, we learn that the plot is set nearly 900 years in the future and is about the attempts of some teen-age detectives to find the killer before he strikes again... which sounds much less threatening (ymmv).

The comments in the local news article are overwhelming supportive of the teacher - which is great, even if they are mostly coming from around the internet, not locals.
posted by maggiemaggie at 8:49 AM on September 2


Seditious literature, where are you now?

Terrified of being arrested for exercising First Amendment rights.
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 9:15 AM on September 2 [1 favorite]


Hopefully now that this is a national story some reporters will provide more details.

This, pretty much. Does he have family? Where are the ubiquitous interviews with his parents, his neighbors ("he was a quiet and polite young man. We never would have thought...."), his college roommate? Students and families from the school?

What's most alarming for me, I guess, is that he can just "be disappeared" like this and that there isn't more hue and cry from people who know him.
posted by anastasiav at 9:51 AM on September 2 [2 favorites]


ACLU of MD: To those concerned about Patrick McLaw, we are aware of and concerned about the reported events, and would like to speak with him.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 9:56 AM on September 2 [7 favorites]


The op-eds shouting that this is some outrageous thing seem to be operating on the very sparse details available.

The stated reason for putting McLaw on leave and submitting him to a medical evaluation is risible. Sure, it's possible that the police actually do have a valid reason to be concerned that McLaw is a danger to himself or others — but in that case, they could either have said what it is or not brought up an irrelevant matter in the first place.

Until more details are available, I am not inclined to give the police and school officials much benefit of the doubt.
posted by metaquarry at 10:00 AM on September 2


I just sounded out the guy’s pseudonym, Voltaer. Oh, what Voltaire would’ve made of this.
posted by NorthernLite at 11:33 AM on September 2


Teacher was not placed on leave over books, authorities say
posted by metaquarry at 11:35 AM on September 2 [3 favorites]


You'll have to forgive me for being a wee bit skeptical of the self-professed motivations of the "authorities" in this case.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 11:43 AM on September 2


metaguarry: Thanks for the link!

From the link:
"Concerns about McLaw were raised after he sent a four-page letter to officials in Dorchester County. Those concerns brought together authorities from multiple jurisdictions, including health authorities."

Presumably this letter should be available via a FOIA or the equivalent request. Presumably the letter is public information.

If this is true (which makes a ton of more sense than a book that was written years ago sparking concern) then the original reporting on this subject was breathtakingly awful.

I've added McLaw to my google news alerts; I have a feeling more information will be coming out as time goes on.
posted by el io at 11:49 AM on September 2 [4 favorites]


Another case of the Internet outrage machine being spun up by poor reporting and incomplete facts. I blame Reason Magazine and the Atlantic for doing spin instead of journalism here.
posted by humanfont at 11:55 AM on September 2 [3 favorites]


Also from the later article: "It, combined with complaints of alleged harassment and an alleged possible crime from various jurisdictions led to his suspension."

That is a very different situation, though it's confusing as to why the earlier statements don't appear to acknowledge this aspect at all. Just terrible reporting, or was it not released earlier for a legal reason? I hope McLaw has access to any care and legal assistance he needs.
posted by jetlagaddict at 12:04 PM on September 2 [1 favorite]


humanfront: Hey, lets place some blame with the local reporting - they started it. But yeah, national outlets should not assume that local reporting is vaguely competent.
posted by el io at 12:07 PM on September 2 [1 favorite]


This is tricky. If this was because of mental health reasons, I want him to have all the privacy in the world. If it's because the school board didn't like his writing, I want every aspect of it to be public.
posted by The corpse in the library at 12:07 PM on September 2 [1 favorite]


Gotta say, though, the quality of reporting here is still a little subpar. For starters, the LA Times should at least know that the law is called HIPAA, not "HIPPA."
posted by fifthrider at 12:09 PM on September 2 [3 favorites]


In addition, the LA TImes article is hardly clear on whether the "complaints of alleged harassment" are by or against McLaw.
posted by metaquarry at 12:13 PM on September 2


A lot depends on whether David Moore is genuinely McLaw's attorney -- i.e., one he had selected -- or a court-appointed one. Some court-appointed attorneys are great and do the best they can for their client, others are basically there to keep the wheels of the court system turning. If it's the former, I'm pretty confident he really did have a incident of mental illness which the authorities are being kind of stupid and overblown about, if it's the latter, I'd definitely like to see an independent party speaking to him.
posted by tavella at 12:16 PM on September 2 [1 favorite]


This clearly contradicts the early reporting:

"Members of the Dorchester Sheriff’s Office, the Cambridge Police Department and the Dorchester County Public School board have removed Mace’s Lane Middle School teacher Patrick McLaw for allegedly penning two books under the alias, “Dr. K.S. Voltaer.” One of the books, “The Insurrectionist,” depicts “the largest school massacre” in history, WBOC-TV reports. A second book from 2013, “Lilith’s Heir,” is also available on Amazon and is described as a sequel penned by “K Voltaer.”"

Also:

"A 23-year-old middle school teacher in Cambridge, Maryland was placed on administrative leave and “taken in for an emergency medical evaluation” after the Dorchester County Board of Education and Sheriff’s Office discovered he had written a novel about a school shooting — that is set 900 years in the future."

The first of these is here. The second is here.
posted by newdaddy at 12:43 PM on September 2 [1 favorite]


The news release by Dorchester Public Schools does not mention the book as the cause. Nor does their followup statement. It states he was suspended for matters of significant concern. It does mention his pen names.

Until more facts are known this seems like a case of sensationalist reporting from local TV news making its way to blogs and generating massive overreaction.

In patient psychiatric services are critically underfunded. I'm skeptical that this Mr McLaw would be subject to involuntary commital based on the books alone. To secure the commital you'd need doctors, cops, prosecutors and probably judges to participate in the conspiracy.
posted by humanfont at 1:43 PM on September 2 [2 favorites]


Outrage now fully directed towards local news source.
posted by maggiemaggie at 1:46 PM on September 2


Popehat has a nice write-up of this incident.

From Popehat:
That's why when a local news channel reports matter-of-factly that a man was detained and "examined" over science fiction, it doesn't occur to us to question the story. Just as it's entirely plausible that the government might do it, it's entirely plausible that journalists might report it without criticism, analysis, or apparent consciousness of how outrageous it would be.
posted by el io at 1:49 PM on September 2 [7 favorites]


"No one is buying the SF angle. What else you got?"
posted by kjs3 at 2:54 PM on September 2 [2 favorites]


Further reporting (plus 16-minute audio) here.

Matt Maciarello, the Wicomico County State's Attorney, told WBAL Newsradio 1090:

"Books were definitely facts that were considered, but the main impetus behind the health officer's concern, was the totality of the circumstances, and the I guess, the main part of which was a letter that he authored, and he gave to a deputy administration official in Dorchester County.

Maciarello described the letter as a "farewell letter."

Maciarello adds that his office is investigating a harassment allegation against McLaw.

"An allegation was made, and the center of the complaint was that he was harassing a teacher, and that it had been sort of an ongoing harassment in the course of conduct, but that is still under investigation. At this point, there is not any evidence to charge him with a crime of harassment," Maciarello added.

Maciarello also told WBAL Newsradio 1090 that his office is investigating another allegation against McLaw related to his work in Delmar

"There was a second complaint that was made through the Chief of Police in Delmar, and an administrator in the Delmar School District, that Mr. McLaw was engaged in a relationship with a 16-year-old male that was then passed onto law enforcement," Maciarello said.

"Sixteen-years-of-age is the age of consent, so that would not be a crime. However, further investigation revealed that the relationship between the two, began in a time, in a month where the individual would have been 15-years-of age, so that investigation is ongoing.

The prosecutor points out that no charges have been filed against McLaw, whose books remain on sale on Amazon...

posted by Prince Lazy I at 3:55 PM on September 2


Unfortunately the story is so muddled at this point we can't tell if these are serious accusations or just throwing the kitchen sink at the suspect in hopes of turning the angry internet mob away from attacking authorities.
posted by humanfont at 4:32 PM on September 2 [3 favorites]


The prosecutor points out that no charges have been filed against McLaw, whose books remain on sale on Amazon...

They don't seem to be on sale anymore.
posted by His thoughts were red thoughts at 7:53 PM on September 2


They don't seem to be on sale anymore.

Not sure what it looks like on your end, but I'm still seeing a "Buy Now with 1-Click" button when I click through on those.
posted by fifthrider at 7:56 PM on September 2


Really? For me, the first link comes back with 'K. Voltaer did not match any products', the second with 'This title is not currently available for purchase'.

I'm in Australia, so maybe it's geoblocked...
posted by His thoughts were red thoughts at 7:59 PM on September 2


I'm getting links to buy too in New Orleans. Interestingly McLaw seems to be listed now as his own co-author with "Voltaer."
posted by localroger at 8:31 PM on September 2


More "combination of factors" stuff here. Note especially this part: "The former teacher told investigators she felt as if she was a character in one of his books that was killed off."

I've been writing fiction for the last twenty years. If my work ever gets that sort of textual analysis, I'm fucked.
posted by Prince Lazy I at 12:45 AM on September 3 [1 favorite]


It sounds like a combination of bullshit. Seriously?
posted by suburbanbeatnik at 1:10 AM on September 3 [1 favorite]


Every time someone opens their mouth in this story, its like another layer of ambiguity gets added. This, for example, from Wicomico County state's attorney Michael Maciarello, interviewed by WBAL in a link that's now gone dead on their website:

Maciarello also defends the way officials have handled the matter.

"I think that everybody here, law enforcement and the health department, they have all exercised with tremendous restraint, with tremendous care for Mr. McLaw, his rights, his treatment, and balancing the public's right to know," Maciarello told WBAL Newsradio 1090.

"I think the law enforcement community took quite a beating, because they were trying to do their best to further lower his (McLaw's) esteem, or reputation in the community."


That last paragraph. Does Maciarello actually MEAN to say that "I think the law enforcement community took quite a beating, because PEOPLE PERCEIVED THAT they were trying to do their best to further lower his (McLaw's) esteem, or reputation in the community"? Or is he flat-out contradicting himself from the para before?
posted by Prince Lazy I at 3:11 AM on September 3


There's gotta be a missing "not" in there ("...do their best not to further lower..."), whether omitted by the reporter or the speaker.
posted by Etrigan at 3:20 AM on September 3


Some more details here.

So basically it's:

1. The letter, which had suicidal overtones, and made references to himself under his pseudonym. ("This could be the last time you hear from me", "Consider it my resignation" etc)
2. A police report of harassment by his former middle school teacher, who he insisted on calling Mother, a character in one of his books who is killed.
3. A scale model of the school that he built in his mother's backyard.

I think I'm pretty ok with what happened here.
posted by Ham Snadwich at 6:32 AM on September 3 [3 favorites]


Yeah, after reading that article I'd like to retract my 'they arrested an author for what' outrage. Seems like there was a lot going on, and it certainly seems like a mental health evaluation was the prudent avenue to take here. Most of the factors mentioned in the article sound pretty innocuous on their own, but taken together they paint a potentially dangerous situation.

I hope, if he's ill, he's getting the care he needs.
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 7:35 AM on September 3


Now I want to know how the story came about in the first place. What was up with that first reporter who lit this fire?
posted by Etrigan at 7:41 AM on September 3


I am also wondering if the Dorchester County sheriff that the WBOC reporter spoke to didn't have the full story at the time. It sounds like multiple police agencies were involved, and I can see that leading to miscommunication.
posted by metaquarry at 7:57 AM on September 3


Or perhaps the report was aiming for OMG 1A SUPPRESSION outrage? Or someone said "Well, there were these books and--" the reporter stopped listening?

Lazy, lazy journalism in any case.
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 8:02 AM on September 3


Yeah, if the guy wrote a suicidal-sounding letter, that's a little different even before you get to the model of the school and harassment report. But conflating the books as a source of the problem with anything other than the teacher who complained about him is weird.

I'm still boggled by the "alias" formulation for his pen name.
posted by immlass at 8:39 AM on September 3 [1 favorite]


Local news here isn't great here in Baltimore, and it is much much shittier over on the eastern shore. Out of a state population of around 6,000,000, the 8 eastern shore counties represent maybe 300,000 people, mostly chicken farmers, retirees and year-round beach dwellers.
posted by Ham Snadwich at 8:41 AM on September 3


I knew this had the ring of the too-strange-to-be-true - so glad it turned out to be stupidity and incompetence instead of malice. At least I hope that's what it was, and not a giant cover-up.
posted by bleep at 8:55 AM on September 3


Mr McLaw was transformed by various media organizations (Reason Magazine and The Atlantic) and many commenting above into a victim of government overreach. A mob of the self righteous jumped in without facts and without considering the consequences.

Now the facts are laid bare and the consequence for Mr. McLaw is a massive public humiliation. Actions taken during an apparent mental health crisis are now brought to full public view. The last remnants of his privacy are stripped away.

Mr McLaw never asked for a Change.org petition, blog posts and retweets. Neither he, nor his family or legal team sought anyone out to tell this story as some outrage against his first amendment rights. This was something created and promoted by individuals without any understanding of the facts and a total disregard for the consequences to him if they were wrong.

Of course Reason, The Atlantic and many others will just go on to the next thing to outrage them learning nothing; escaping any consequences for this disgusting act.
posted by humanfont at 9:22 AM on September 3 [1 favorite]


Um, given he was being held incommunicado, he couldn't ask, whether he wanted to or not. And if he was being held incommunicado for foul reasons, he certainly would want the help. As I recall, the Atlantic piece said pretty straightforwardly to the authorities "if you have reasons you are holding him in a mental institution other than the books, you should say why", which is an entirely valid request. Given that requests from both Reason and the Atlantic for explanations were being blown off.

While some people (even in this thread) got overly worked up, most people were saying 'I hope there is more to this story, because otherwise this is unjust'. It looks like there is more to the story, and that's good. It doesn't mean that it was wrong to highlight this story, or future ones.
posted by tavella at 9:30 AM on September 3 [3 favorites]


Reason and The Atlantic tried to contact local officials on the Friday afternoon before a long holiday weekend. Not surprisingly people were not available to immediately comment on the story. It should also be noted that Reason and the Atlantic published their stories and then said they were seeking comments from these officials as part of an "update." The suggestion that they were blown off while seeking answers seems a bit weak.
posted by humanfont at 1:49 PM on September 3 [1 favorite]


The Atlantic article got two updates yesterday. From the second update:
I asked [state's attorney Matthew A. Maciarello] for specifics. He said the "Columbine material" consisted of a report on the infamous Colorado school shooting. It could have been meant for research for his novels, I suggested.

"Absolutely, that could be true. We played all the angles on that. You can't just dismiss every little thing in a situation like this, in 2014." He went on to say, "If someone wrote a novel about school shootings it wouldn't concern me. I person is allowed to follow their pursuits. I love fiction. I love expression. But some citizens did react to this, there were citizen complaints based on the book, but this wasn't an overreaction. If you add this to the model of a school that he was building -- is this a tortured artist, or is this someone obsessed about schools? But I don't know how this story got out there that he was placed on leave because of these books. The main concern here is therapeutic, that he gets the help he needs."
Maciarello also states that McLaw made no threats against the school in his letter, but also makes a veiled criticism of Dorchester County's initial statements to the press.

I think it's possible both that officials in Dorchester County overreacted and that the ones in Wicomico County (where McLaw apparently lives) did have a valid reason to commit him for evaluation.
posted by metaquarry at 2:11 PM on September 3


A story today in the Baltimore Sun portrays the teacher's lawyer as upset that portions of a letter McLaw wrote were made public.
posted by newdaddy at 8:09 AM on September 4


From WBOC: Suspended Teacher Speaks Out; New Info From Sheriff
WBOC spoke with McLaw, who is currently in a mental health facility on the other side of the bay. He told WBOC that he does not belong in a mental health facility.

"Law enforcement have not tried to contact me, they have been misinterpreting information, they have been disseminating information incorrectly to the psychiatrists and to the medical professionals up here who have been making diagnoses that are invalid and irrelevant," McLaw said.

As for the model of the school, McLaw explained that building models is just a hobby.

"I used to be in architecture and engineering and as a result of that, as a hobby I built miniatures," McLaw said. "And I built a miniature of a cruise ship, a miniature of a house, and a miniature school. Now given the situation, they have only focused on the miniature school."
posted by metaquarry at 8:27 AM on September 4


This is my shocked face.
posted by localroger at 8:31 AM on September 4


el io: "are there any penalties for bringing people to mandatory psych evals inappropriately? or is this a tool that cops can use whenever they want without worry of repercussions?

I don't know how police monitor themselves. There's also some differences between mandatory civil and criminal evaluation, which vary by State.

how would you react if cops said "this guy wrote this book 3 years ago, and were afraid he's an immanent threat to the community?"

I've never been faced with that situation, so I can't really say. It's very situation-dependent. I have seen people who have sent reportedly quite threatening/bizarre/suicidal texts or calls to other people, and who later deny it, or can't/won't say anything. Obviously, it helps to be able to see or hear what was communicated. But in Cali at least, there has to be an imminent, credible risk. There's a thing called the Tarasoff standard, promulgated first in Cali but later adopted across most of the US, codifying and extending a "duty to warn" into a "duty to protect" people who are not your patient from harm done by your patient, and exempting a doctor from liability over disclosing what otherwise would be privileged patient health information.

is it an option to let the person go immediately (instead of holding them for 3 days or whatever) if the person is obviously of fine mental health and the reasons for bringing them to you are transparently bogus?

In Cali, there's a requirement to evaluate every person on an involuntary hold at least once every 24 hours to see if the conditions for an involuntary stay in the hospital persist. So yes, you can cancel the hold if indicated. Beyond 72 hours (Cali again, State-dependent), mandatory hospital stays must be approved by a Judge. The length of mandatory time allowed depends on whether there is danger to self or to others, or inability to survive outside the hospital. And the patient can file a writ of habeas corpus for release. A mandatory stay still does not allow involuntary psychiatric treatment. For that, you also need a Judge to certify a Riese order.
posted by meehawl at 8:17 PM on September 4


biffa: "what spry of information would you typically pass back to police after this kind of psych eval?"

It's State-dependent, and again it very much depends on if the person is brought in by police on a civil order for psychiatric evaluation or are under arrest or are detained prisoners of the State. For civil assessment, they are your patient, you are treating them, a duty of confidentiality is created with exceptions for imminent risk. It's a standard doctor-patient relationship. That is, testimony of the doctor can be later compelled, but only through court order. Disclosure by the doctor of information not permitted by the patient is actionable, except for information relating to imminent dangerousness or mandated reporting exceptions.

If they are brought for forensic evaluation, usually this is being ordered by either agents for the prosecution or the defence and the medical examiner is in effect doing work for hire by one or the other. In such a case, a treatment relationship is not created. There is no expectation of privacy or doctor-patient relationship. This has to be very firmly communicated to the examinee initially so they do not form the incorrect impression that there is a treatment relationship. Failure to communicate this can result in the exam being inadmissible in court. In this case, the Fifth applies, and counsel can be present.

You can also have civil examinations (during, say, lawsuits for injury). In this case, because the plaintiff or defendant are submitting their medical exam as evidence, again there is no treatment relationship and everything is potentially discoverable.
posted by meehawl at 8:30 PM on September 4 [1 favorite]


My understanding of the Maryland process is as follows. The police take the individual for an examination based either on a judges order or a call from a qualified mental health professional. The doctor or psycholigist can then hold the person for 30 hours. At the end of that time period 2 doctors or a doctor and psychologist have to agree the patient needs to be held longer. An administrative hearing before a judge is held within 10 days to determine if the patient needs to be held.
It appears that all of this was followed Mr McLaw's case including the administrative hearing.
posted by humanfont at 9:09 PM on September 5


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