DES MOINES, Iowa (AP) — A Republican lawmaker is calling for an investigation into the circumstances surrounding a hospital’s release of a man who was later charged with gunning down a prominent Iowa high school football coach in front of students.

Mark Becker, 24, is charged with first-degree murder in the June 24 slaying of Aplington-Parkersburg coach Ed Thomas. Becker was released a day earlier from a Waterloo hospital after a psychiatric evaluation.

The killing has raised questions about why Becker was free to walk into the high school weight room in Parkersburg and allegedly shoot Thomas several times.

“Obviously somewhere, something fell through the cracks,” said state Rep. Patrick Grassley.

Grassley, whose district includes Butler County, wants lawmakers to look into what happened and be ready to act on possible legislation during the next session, which starts in January.

“I will do whatever needs to be done to make sure something like this doesn’t happen again,” Grassley said.

Iowa State Ombudsman Bill Angrick said Wednesday that he also is considering opening an investigation. His staff met earlier in the day to discuss the case after identifying “a couple of issues we think warrant some further examination,” he said.

Angrick said he will look at the facts and circumstances surrounding the arrest, hospitalization and release of Becker before the shooting incident.

“Did officials follow the proper procedures and what policy or procedural improvements need to be made?” he said. “This is a tragedy, but we’ve had some of these concerns in other instances that have not had as much publicity, so this provides a good opportunity to try to not only understand what happened in this instance but look at the whether there are ways we can improve.”

An investigation from his office could result in new policies in such cases.

Becker was admitted to Covenant Medical Center for evaluation after he was arrested on June 20 following a chase with sheriff’s deputies in Butler County. Before the chase, Becker allegedly threatened a Cedar Falls man and damaged his garage.

Becker was released June 23 and spent the night at his parents’ house before driving to the high school the next morning.

Investigators have said little about Becker’s release from the hospital, but Grassley said he and his staff would soon talk with Butler County Sheriff Jason Johnson about the situation.

“We really haven’t sat down and looked at everything,” said Grassley, a Republican from New Hartford.

He said Thomas’ family supported his plans. Telephone messages left for the family have not been returned.

Grassley said part of the problem might be in the federal Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996, or HIPAA.

The law defines when and to whom medical information about a patient can be released. It also requires law enforcement agencies to file a written request or seek a court order to be notified when a person admitted for a psychological evaluation is to be released.

In the Becker case, the hospital said it couldn’t find that such a request had been filed.

Johnson has declined to discuss the matter, but in a brief statement said he asked the county’s mental health central point coordinator, Bob Lincoln, to notify him when Becker was being released.

Lincoln told the AP that Johnson’s request was beyond the scope of his duties and he declined to comment further.

Iowa Division of Criminal Investigation officials have said the issue is not part of the criminal investigation.

Grassley said to resolve the matter, it may take a change in the federal law.

“Anything that we can do to make it easier for law enforcement and mental health officials to have an open dialogue to make sure something like this doesn’t happen again,” he said.

State Sen. William Heckroth, D-Waverly, said he’d support creating a special legislative panel to investigate what happened.

“We need to look in to the process as a whole and I think that has merit … if they find that something fell through the cracks,” Heckroth said.


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