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Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Lucious Smith Stabs Stephanie Ross to Death: The Dangerous Business of Helping Dangerous People

     Stephanie Ross, after graduating in 2009 from the University of South Florida with a bachelor's degree in psychology, landed a job as a counselor at a central Florida high school. In September 2012, the 25-year-old began working for a firm that according to its corporate literature, provided a "...comprehensive approach to managing the health needs [for insurance companies'] most costly and complex members." Ross' employer, Integra Health Management Company, arranged health care for clients diagnosed with chronic illnesses. Ross had been hired as a service coordinator which involved visits to the homes of disabled people.

     One of Ross' mentally deranged clients, 53-year-old Lucious Smith, lived in a one-story, cement-block apartment complex in Dade City, a town thirty miles north of Tampa. Smith, an anti-social person who was seriously mentally disturbed, paranoid, and violent, embodied the kind of man nobody wants as a neighbor, co-worker,  relative, customer, or mental health patient. Residents of the neighborhood perceived Smith as more than just a bellicose pain-in-the-neck, they considered him physically dangerous. Because association with this man brought trouble, he was a person to avoid.

     Since 1981, Lucious Smith had served four separate stints in Florida's prison system for committing various crimes of violence. In 2005, after doing seven years for aggravated battery with a deadly weapon, Smith moved into the small apartment in Dade City. (Since he didn't have a job, he must have been on the public dole). Over the next six years, police were called to investigate 60 criminal complaints against Smith that included assault, trespassing, public intoxication, and disorderly conduct. Smith constantly fought and threatened his neighbors, and as a result of his bad behavior, had been banned from the local convenience store.

     As part of her job, Stephanie Ross had to visit Lucious Smith in his apartment. After three house visitations, Ross placed a notation in Smith's file that this man had made her "very uncomfortable."

     On the morning of December 10, 2012, Stephanie Ross was in Dade City delivering insurance paperwork to Mr. Smith. Shortly after entering Smith's apartment, neighbors and other witnesses saw Lucious Smith chasing a young woman down the street. Stephanie was yelling, "Help me! Help me!" As she ran, Smith stabbed her in the back with a butcher's knife. Smith caught his fleeing victim by her pony-tail and threw her to the ground. He climbed on top of his bleeding victim and plunged the knife several more times into her body.

     As people ran to Stephanie Ross' aid, Smith got up and casually strolled back to his apartment. A motorist pulled up to the bloody scene and drove Ross to a nearby hospital where she died a few hours later.

     Not long after the fatal knife attack, police officers found Smith waiting for them outside his apartment. They arrested him without incident and hauled him to the Pasco County Jail where he was held without bond. A local prosecutor has charged Smith with first degree murder. Shortly thereafter a grand jury indicted him on that charge.

     In February 2013, two psychologists hired by Smith's defense attorney testified at a preliminary hearing that Mr. Smith was still mentally ill and therefore not competent to stand trial. A psychiatrist hired by the state disagreed. As a result, the judge ruled the defendant mentally competent. However, in May 2013, after further examinations of Mr. Smith, the state mental health expert changed his mind. This led the judge to change his mind and rule the defendant incompetent for trial. Judge Pat Siracusa ordered that Mr. Smith be treated at a state mental hospital until doctors there determine he is competent to stand trial.

     Who knows how many ticking time-bombs like Lucious Smith are living among us. Social workers like Stephanie Ross whose work puts them in touch with people like Smith are more vulnerable than the police who are armed and wear bullet-proof vests. Violent, out of control mental cases should not be living in open society, and social workers and others who try to help them do so at great risk to themselves.
     

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