By Tim Gaynor
PHOENIX (Reuters) - Attorneys for Tucson shooting rampage suspect Jared Loughner have petitioned a federal court to order prison officials to stop forcibly medicating him with anti-psychotic drugs.
Loughner was declared mentally incompetent last month to stand trial on charges he killed six people and wounded 13 others, including Arizona Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords, and was sent back to a hospital for federal prisoners in Missouri.
U.S. District Judge Larry Burns has set a hearing for September 21 to determine whether Loughner's condition has improved enough for the proceedings against him to resume.
Court papers filed by his defense team last Friday argued that the U.S. Bureau of Prisons, "without the approval of the court, has decided to involuntarily and forcibly medicate Jared Loughner on the grounds that he is a danger to others."
Dr. Carlos Tomelleri, a psychiatrist evaluating Loughner, cited three recent outbursts by the 22-year-old college dropout as justification for administering medication to him against his will, the documents said.
Two of those incidents involved Loughner throwing a plastic chair inside his closed and locked cell, "the third involved spitting at counsel," the document stated.
But Loughner's defense team, led by attorney Judy Clarke, said there was "no evidence that any efforts were made to educate Mr. Loughner about the consequences of his behavior before seeking to forcibly medicate him with psychotropic drugs."
Loughner is accused of opening fire with a semiautomatic pistol on Giffords and a crowd of bystanders attending a political gathering outside a Tucson supermarket in January. Giffords, a third-term Democrat, is still recovering from a single gunshot wound to her head.
Loughner pleaded not guilty in March to 49 charges stemming from the shooting rampage at the "Congress on Your Corner" event, including multiple counts of first-degree murder.
He has been described by his lawyers as "gravely mentally ill." At the competency hearing in May, Burns cited the conclusions of two medical experts that Loughner suffers from schizophrenia, disordered thinking and delusions.
In a sign of his mental agitation during the hearing last month, Loughner rocked back and fourth, and was dragged from the courtroom shouting, "She died in front of me," shortly before Burns ruled him incompetent to stand trial.
(Editing by Steve Gorman)