Murder of Nashville College Student Exposes Infuriating Issue With State's Mental Health Laws

My Real Facepalm by joelogon is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0 .

A 29-year-old man arrested and charged with the murder of an 18-year-old college student in Nashville has had plenty of run-ins with the law over the years but few consequences to show for it, even when he’s admitted his involvement to police.

Shaquille Taylor is now facing murder charges in the death of Jillian Ludwig, a student at Belmont University who was struck by a bullet allegedly fired by Taylor as he was aiming at a car driving down the street. It’s the second time in two years that Taylor has faced charges connected to a shooting. In 2021 he was arrested and charged with three counts of aggravated assault with a deadly weapon after confessing to police that he’d fired at another car with two children in the back seat, but those charges were dismissed after Taylor was found mentally incompetent to stand trial.

The court order from May explained that Mr Taylor has developmental disabilities caused by pneumonia he suffered at birth, which left him with a brain infection and the inability to function beyond a kindergarten level. His condition was not severe enough for him to qualify for involuntary commitment to a mental health facility.

Say what now? How is it that someone can have the brain function of a 5-year-old and still be considered healthy enough to stay out of a long-term mental health facility? We wouldn’t let a kindergartener live on their own or even walk down the street without being accompanied by an adult, but Taylor was let loose and set free after the judge dismissed the aggravated assault charges in May of this year.

The national media, Tennessee Democrats, and gun control groups blasted Tennessee Republicans for pushing for changes to the state’s mental health system instead of passing gun control laws during the special session called by Gov. Bill Lee in response to the Covenant School shooting earlier this year, but Taylor’s case is proof positive that the system is in desperate need of a major overhaul.

Taylor’s criminal history points directly to our Broken Mental Health system. NewsChannel 5 Investigates has done extensive reporting on how that is impacting the Nashville and Middle Tennessee communities.

The order from Judge Dalton in May released Taylor after hearing from three different doctors.

One said “he would not understand courtroom discussions.” Another said he was incompetent because of his “intellectual disability and language impairment.” A doctor also said Taylor could not be involuntarily committed because he did not seem suicidal and “repeatedly denied any homicidal ideations or any plans to harm jail staff or other inmates.”

Davidson County’s presiding judge Melissa Blackburn told NewsChannel 5 Investigates earlier this year that a $600,000 grant from the county meant people deemed incompetent are no longer immediately released back on the street. During an 18-month period beginning in 2020, her office found 182 Nashvillians declared incompetent to stand trial had been released.

“We have set up an incompetency docket that deals specifically with those individuals,” Judge Melissa Blackburn said earlier this year to NewsChannel 5 Investigates.

Taylor spent time in jail being interviewed by doctors but they all agreed “further training (or medical care) would not change” his competency. So despite admitting to detectives that he shot into a car with children inside, he was released back to the street.

According to WSMV-TV in Nashville, Taylor has been arrested at least five other times before he was taken into custody this week. In 2011, when he was still a juvenile, he was caught carrying a gun. Four years later he was charged with robbery but walked away with probation. The following year Taylor was arrested and charged with burglary as well as violating his probation, which resulted in a year-long jail sentence, though it’s unclear how much time he actually served. In 2021 he faced the aggravated assault charges, and after those charges were dismissed in May of this year Taylor was once again arrested in September and charged with theft of a motor vehicle. Taylor was allowed bail in that case, but a warrant for his arrest was issued last week when he failed to show up for his court date.

Taylor had not yet been taken into custody when he allegedly fired the shot that killed the young college student, and now her parents are understandably furious at the system that kept releasing Taylor despite his obvious and documented mental incompetence.

“A repeat criminal who’s deemed to have mental health issues should be dealt with in a facility or in some way that deals with those issues. The answer should not be to release him back into the streets,” Matt Ludwig told “GMA” on Friday.

Absolutely right. If someone is deemed incompetent to stand trial after being accused of serious and violent crimes, then they need to be confined to a secure facility until that competency has been restored. Letting them loose with the expectation that they’ll be okay on the streets is an act of insanity all its own, and it’s up to Tennessee’s Republican legislative majority to fix this issue when they return to Nashville in January, with or without the help of their Democratic colleagues who are more interested in cracking down on law-abiding gun owners.