Law professor says Mattie's Call law too vague in light of elderly woman's death

by: Aaron Diamant Updated:

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ATLANTA - A member of the Atlanta Police Department's top brass answered questions Tuesday as to why it took nearly two days to issue a Mattie's Call after a senior citizen who disappeared was later found dead.

State Sen. Vincent Fort told Channel 2 investigative reporter Aaron Diamant that Atlanta police waited too long to issue the warning for Lucilla Harris, 72.

Fort told Diamant he wasn't happy when he heard it took Atlanta police nearly two days to issue the Mattie's call last month for Harris.

"I'd be surprised again if APD did not change their protocol after this incident," Fort told Diamant.

Fort is one of the lawmakers who sponsored the Mattie's Call law, a statewide alert system for missing elderly, disabled and medically endangered adults.

"These people are vulnerable. That's what our intent was," Fort said.

Fort said the Mattie's Call should have been immediate after family members told police they thought Harris suffered from dementia but APD says it was never clinically diagnosed.

"She's still allowed to live on her own, takes care of herself, pays her own bills, gets in her car, drives around, puts gas in it. That's a person that at the time appears mentally competent," said Capt. Paul Guerrucci with the Atlanta Police Department said.

It's a judgment call Georgia State University law professor Jessica Gabel said police shouldn't have to make, calling the law itself weak.

"There's no bright line, there's not a cutoff point, there's not even really a starting point for who is covered by Mattie's Law," Gabel said.

Nor does it spell out how soon police should issue one. Police in Henry County found Harris' body just 50 feet from her car two days after the Mattie's Call went out.

"When you have something that is subjective it becomes a problem," Gabel said.

APD leaders said officers were out looking for Harris as soon as her family reported her missing, but only issued the Mattie's Call after all their leads dried up.

Meantime, Fort said he'll start working on ways to make the Mattie's Call act stronger by making it subjective.



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