Brother of police shooting victim says mental health system is broken, Syracuse expert agrees

Benjamin Campione was killed during a confrontation with police

The brother of a mentally ill man who was killed in a confrontation with police in Syracuse last year says the mental health system is broken and a local expert fully agrees.

Victor Campione's brother, Benjamin, died in a hail of gunfire along with two deputies and a Syracuse Police officer on May 5, 2011, in a parking lot at the Regional Transportation Center near Destiny USA. Police say Benjamin Campione was aiming what turned out to be a pellet pistol at them when they opened fire.

Campione says his brother suffered from paranoid schizophrenia and was "off his meds" at the time of the incident. Campione feels the incident relates to the Newtown, Connecticut massacre in that they both expose what he calls a "failing" mental health system.

The Connecticut shooting spree has sparked a nationwide call to examine and reform how society handles potentially dangerous mentally ill individuals. Many feel the alleged shooter, Adam Lanza, suffered from mental illness.

Campione told CNY Central's Jim Kenyon, "My heart goes out to the victim's families. All I could think about was my brotherâ?¦ was diagnosed as a paranoid schizophrenic and we couldn't get him help."

Campione says there were a number of incidents in which his brother exhibited bizarre behavior but he says authorities did not respond properly to the family's plea for help. Campione says families of the mentally ill are, "the invisible people in our society. They go out to get help for their child or siblings, and they hit roadblock after roadblock after roadblock."

Campione admits he does not know all the answers, but he says laws need to be changed so that the mentally ill can be placed into treatment even if it's against their will.

"What more evidence do they want that maybe we have to change the laws? You can still protect a person's rights, but those children who lost their lives and their families, they have rights too. What's more important? Maybe that's the question," says Campione.

The President and CEO of Syracuse Behavioral Healthcare, Jeremy Klemanski agrees with Campion's assessment that the mental health system is broken. SBH treats more than 5,700 patients per year in residential, out-patient, and in-patient settings.

"Our system doesn't make sense. People are dying. There's criminal activity and suicide. They end up in a jail cell or a casket," Klemanski told Kenyon.

Klemanski says there's a "lack of political will" to address mental illness. "It's not easy to get a civil commit, and jails are often not equipped to handle the mentally ill." He says there are laws requiring care for physical illness but "laws don't see the brain as part of the rest of the body."

Klemanski says the discussion over how to fix the mental health system in this nation is long overdue. Watch Klemanski's complete interview above.