“Have you pulled his military discharge papers yet?” Steven Pitt, DO, asked a room full of Phoenix Police Department investigators who were looking into an alleged shooting of a police officer who had said he was a highly decorated military veteran.
“That’s when the lightbulbs went on,” says Dr. Pitt, who helped the investigators uncover the falsified shooting account and a bogus military record of the officer. “Internal affairs personnel were so deep into their investigation that having someone come in and look at things from a different perspective was really helpful.”
This unique perspective is exactly what police departments and lawyers seek from forensic psychiatrists like Dr. Pitt, who regularly lends his medical expertise in the litigation of criminal and civil court cases.
Deconstructing human behavior
“At Steven Pitt & Associates, no two days are ever the same,” says Dr. Pitt. “Whether I’m involved in criminal or civil cases, this job requires attention to detail. I review a lot of records, spend many hours conducting interviews, and write reports that contain opinions I will defend at deposition or trial.”
Dr. Pitt has been tapped to provide expertise on many high-profile cases, including the JonBenet Ramsey homicide investigation and the Columbine High School massacre. He credits his success to his ability to deconstruct behavior, which allows him to better understand a defendant’s actions and thought processes before, during, and after the actions in question.
“I learned about behavior by visiting crime scenes with detectives and seeing how they analyze the evidence,” says Dr. Pitt. “I’m able to recognize how they put pieces together, which has allowed me to better understand human behavior.”
Alex Hunter, former Boulder County, Colorado, district attorney, told the Phoenix New Times that Dr. Pitt’s assistance was invaluable during the JonBenet Ramsey case.
“[Dr. Pitt] gave us insights … that I thought were beyond all of our expertise,” Hunter said. “He was particularly valuable in giving us suggestions about the order and timing and nature of the questions we’d be asking the Ramseys.”
Dr. Pitt has worked with police departments across the country, where, more often than not, his field of work requires that he seek the light of truth within very dark circumstances. Too much criminal work—which, for Dr. Pitt, includes conducting psychiatric autopsies and interviewing serial killers—is not good for the soul, he says.
“You have to build in real balance,” he says. “For me, that means being in touch with nature and wildlife by spending time in the Great Bear Rainforest in British Columbia or hiking in the Sonoran desert.”
Another way Dr. Pitt achieves balance is through teaching. The Detroit-area native resides in Phoenix, where he is also an associate professor of psychiatry at The University of Arizona College of Medicine-Phoenix. He started out working with residents to get them prepared for their American Board of Medical Specialties oral exams and now gives lectures on forensic psychiatry.
Whether he is in the classroom, part of an investigative task force, or appearing on national television, Dr. Pitt is proud of his DO roots. He ranks being the commencement speaker for the class of 2003 at the Michigan State University College of Osteopathic Medicine in East Lansing, his alma mater, as one of the more memorable experiences of his career.
“It was a really extraordinary experience and something that I always wanted to do,” says Dr. Pitt. “I look at the whole person by virtue of my osteopathic training, so I was deeply honored to have that opportunity.”