VIDEO: Lady's Island attempted murder suspect could face federal firearm charges

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LADY'S ISLAND

VIDEO: Lady's Island attempted murder suspect could face federal firearm charges

By ANNE CHRISTNOVICH
achristnovich@islandpacket.com
Published Thursday, February 7, 2013   |  1548 Words  |  

The Beaufort woman accused of attempting to shoot two employees of a private school in downtown Charleston on Monday also faced serious legal trouble in 2005, when she threatened to kill President George W. Bush while waiting in a slow-moving Customs line at the Montreal airport.

Alice Boland, now 28, was indicted in federal court after that episode. A judge ordered her to undergo psychiatric evaluation. Doctors deemed her mentally unfit to stand trial and were given permission to forcefully inject her with anti-psychotic drugs.

Four years later, Boland pleaded not guilty by reason of insanity, and the charges were dropped.

Even though state and federal law prohibits gun ownership by those who have been "adjudged mentally defective," none of that prevented Boland from purchasing the palm-sized, .22-caliber handgun she tried to fire outside Ashley Hall, authorities say.

Charleston Police have said Boland bought the gun legally, just a few days before the incident. However, a federal official said Thursday that Boland could face additional federal charges if she provided false information to make the purchase.

The apparent contradiction hints at the difficulty gun dealers face in verifying information on a required federal questionnaire, an official with the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives said Thursday.

It also demonstrates tension between gun regulations and medical-privacy laws.

VERIFICATION DIFFICULT

Those seeking to buy a firearm must complete a federal form that asks about the purchaser's criminal history, citizenship status, drug and alcohol use, and mental state.

However, it's "nearly impossible" for a firearms dealer to verify all of that information, according to Earl Woodham of the ATF's Charlotte office.

What's more, because the federal charge against Boland was eventually dropped, it's not likely it would have appeared on a background check. Even if it did, Woodham said, "medical or health related matters are not linked to the (criminal history) databases" because of health care privacy laws.

Woodham would not comment specifically about Boland's case because the ATF is assisting the Charleston Police Department with its investigation, which continues.

Providing false information on the background form carries a penalty of as much as 10 years in prison, a fine of $250,000 or both.

Boland has not been charged with such an offense.

However, she faces a count of attempted murder and four gun-related charges, according to Charleston County court records. Her bail was set Tuesday at $900,000, and she remains in custody in the Sheriff Al Cannon Detention Center in Charleston.

'EXTREMELY FORTUNATE'

Boland showed up outside Ashley Hall on Monday, pacing back and forth and mumbling to herself in the area where students gather for car pool pick-up, witnesses told authorities. When approached by a school employee, she drew the gun from a handbag and pointed it at an administrator and a teacher as 50 students milled outside, according to incident reports.

Then, she squeezed the trigger -- again and again, police said.

The semiautomatic gun was loaded with eight rounds in the magazine, but it did not have a round in the chamber, the police said.

It didn't fire.

Boland said during her bond hearing Tuesday that she thought the gun was defective, but it was fully functional, police said.

"We are extremely fortunate," said Dickie Schweers, a Charleston County councilman whose wife, a school director, was an intended target.

A search of Boland's sport-utility vehicle, found parked nearby, turned up a receipt, instruction manual and gun case for the firearm they took from her during the arrest. It was parked at the Charleston Health Center -- her "old pysch doctor's office," officers recounted in an incident report.

Charleston Police have not indicated where Boland purchased the gun, only that the seller was outside the department's jurisdiction.

Neither have they indicated how she answered the question on the federal form about her mental health.

Boland's father, Don, said in a brief telephone interview Wednesday that his daughter has struggled with mental problems. Her mother, Dellann, said during the bond hearing that she has power of attorney over her daughter. Court records linked to the federal indictment show her parents got power of attorney in 2003.

Attempts Thursday to reach them for further comment were unsuccessful.

'GIVE ME A GUN'

Authorities say they remember Boland from an incident at Ashley Hall in 2010, in which she harassed several students outside the school, and she was arrested earlier the same year on a misdemeanor assault-and-battery charge. She has no criminal convictions.

However, Boland was indicted in 2005 for allegedly threatening to kill then-President Bush during a visit to Quebec, Canada. According to a report Thursday in The (Charleston) Post and Courier, Boland grew agitated as she waited in line to clear Customs at the Montreal airport May 14, 2005.

"Give me a gun," she told Montreal police officers, "I am going to kill you." She said her long wait in the Customs line was the president's fault, according to an affidavit cited by the newspaper.

"I am going to kill President Bush with a gun," she continued. "Just give me a gun. I am going to come back and shoot you all."

Montreal police officers arrested her on a charge of uttering threats, and she was taken to a Canadian hospital for psychiatric evaluation, the document stated.

Boland was released and flew back to the United States five days later with her father.

Deputies and John Kenney, a resident agent in charge of the Secret Service in Charleston, visited Boland at her home in Beaufort, where she lived with her parents.

Kenney reported that Boland loudly repeated her threats during an interview and also said she would kill Sen. Robert Byrd and Sen. Hillary Clinton "and think nothing of it."

Even as the authorities handcuffed her, she yelled more threats, kicked her father and scratched a deputy, according to the affidavit.

Nearly three weeks after her arrest, a federal grand jury indicted Boland on a charge that carries up to five years in prison. The following months consisted of court orders and filings by her parents.

A judge sent Boland to Federal Medical Center Carswell in Texas, a prison facility that tends to female mental patients. There, Dr. William Pederson ruled that she was mentally incompetent and that she needed drugs if she were ever to stand trial.

Pederson was permitted, under a court order, to forcefully inject her with drugs. He talked of the anti-psychotic medications Trileptal and Risperdal.

But Boland's parents balked, arguing Risperdal caused side effects.

Besides, her parents said, they had already tried Risperdal, which cost $2,400 a month. The Bolands also said their daughter had spent three weeks at Charleston's Medical University Hospital in the early 2000s, and had been diagnosed with schizophrenia and mild autism.

She was given 25 medications, but only nutritional methods seemed to help, Boland's parents said. During past periods of being "cured," they wrote, she was able to go back to "colleges," including the College of Charleston.

After Boland's stint at the Texas facility, she was transferred to Palmetto Behavioral Health in North Charleston. Later, her parents took her home.

DIFFICULT TO ENFORCE

Gun restrictions based on mental illness are difficult to enforce for at least two reasons, according to William Vizzard, chairman of the University of California-Sacramento law school's division of criminal justice.

First, many who are mentally ill have not been deemed so by a court, as restrictions against gun ownership stipulate.

Because a judge committed Boland to a mental-health facility, where she was found mentally incompetent, she might be prohibited from owning a gun in the eyes of the law.

But that raises the second problem: "How do you find out about it?" asks Vizzard, who also worked 27 years for the ATF.

William Vizzard said the forms and laws are useful only if databases like those maintained for felons are created. Further, determining which illnesses would require someone to be entered into such a database would be difficult.

"The problem is the law is adequately written when it comes to felons, ... (but) when it comes to drug addicts, illegal immigrants and the mentally ill... we lack databases for that," Vizzard said.

The (Charleston) Post and Courier contributed to this report.

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