Friday, December 2, 2022

Surprise, Surprise! (Say It Like Jim Nabors)

12/1/22 KING:

SEATTLE — King County records show that in the last four years, judges have released dozens of mentally ill defendants charged with felonies because they waited too long in jail for court-ordered mental health treatment.

In Washington, state law requires defendants deemed so mentally ill they can’t understand the charges against them receive help at a state psychiatric hospital within seven days. Currently, records show, some inmates are waiting up to nine months for a bed at Western State Hospital, run by the Department of Social and Health Services (DSHS).

The record backlog has prompted judges across the state to release defendants on their own recognizance or to dismiss charges altogether, citing a violation of the defendants’ constitutional right to receive medical care while in custody.

Since 2018, charges dismissed due to long wait times include felony harassment, indecent exposure, burglary, hate crimes and assault with a deadly weapon, records show.

“This is a public safety crisis,” said Rebecca Vasquez, a senior deputy prosecuting attorney at the King County Prosecutor’s Office who specializes in these cases. “These delays are harming public safety, harming my office’s ability to do our job and prosecute cases, and harming the defendants that (DSHS is) directed to care for.” 

Residents of the small, rural town of New Meadows, Idaho know all too well about the worst-case scenario when mentally ill inmates are released due to unconstitutional wait times for psychiatric help.

John Cody Hart was released from the Clark County Jail in Vancouver, Washington in July due to lack of mental health treatment in a timely manner.

In October, the 28-year-old ended up in New Meadows, Idaho – allegedly shooting and killing Rory and Sara Mehen, two pillars of the community whom he had never met.

“We are all grieving,” said New Meadows Mayor Julie Good. “How could this be happening? How is it that he is free to come into our small, quiet, beautiful community and wreak havoc not just with the family’s lives but our life? How does that happen and there’s no reason that it should have.”

Before making it to Idaho, Hart was serving time in the Clark County Jail, awaiting trial for charges of first- and second-degree assault. According to legal documents, in 2021, Hart allegedly attacked an acquaintance in a Vancouver apartment. “Unprovoked,” prosecutors said he strangled the man and tried to “rip out (his) eyes” with his thumbs. 

 It is almost like Washington does not want to treat the mentally ill.

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