Accused killer of Deputy Darren Goforth has history of serious mental illness

September 1, 2015

Shannon J. Miles, 30, has been accused of killing Harris County Deputy Sheriff Darren Goforth. Yesterday morning a judge reviewed the district attorney’s charging documents and found probable cause to believe that Mr. Miles committed the murder. The judge also denied bail which means Mr. Miles will continue to be held while the district attorney seeks a capital murder indictment from a grand jury. A capital murder charge means that Mr. Miles could potentially be sentenced to death if he is found guilty.

The Houston Chronicle is reporting today,

In 2012, the Travis County District Attorney’s Office charged Miles with aggravated assault with a deadly weapon after he got into a fight at a homeless shelter over a remote control, prosecutor Joe Frederick said. Miles was found to be mentally incompetent in October 2012 and he was sent to North Texas State Hospital in Vernon, Texas.

“From this case, you could never tell what would happen” in the future, Frederick said, adding that prosecutors treated the case as a “very serious offense” and had offered Miles a plea agreement of seven years in prison. Miles was declared mentally competent in February 2013, but the charge was dropped after the victim could not be located, Frederick said.

A person has to be legally competent in order to stand trial. The legal test for competency is whether a person understands what crime(s) he is charged with and the potential consequences he faces if convicted. He also must be able to communicate with his lawyer and assist him to prepare a defense. To be adjudicated incompetent to stand trial, a person must be so delusional and confused that he cannot distinguish between reality and illusion. In most cases an incompetent defendant can be restored to competency by administering anti-psychotic medication. We saw that happen with Jared Laughner (who shot and killed U.S. Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords and a federal judge at a meet-and-greet in Tucson, AZ) and James Holmes (who killed 12 and wounded 70 people at a movie theater in Aurora, CO). Laughner avoided a potential death penalty by pleading guilty and was sentenced to LWOP. Holmes was sentenced to LWOP by a jury after it rejected his insanity defense and convicted him of the 12 murders. The LWOP sentences in both cases reflect a reluctance to impose the death penalty on mentally ill defendants because, but for the mental illness that they did not choose to have, they would not have killed anyone.

I think it’s significant that Mr. Miles was adjudicated incompetent in 2012 and involuntarily committed to a mental hospital where it took four months to restore his competency. That suggests that Mr. Miles has a persistent, serious and probably incurable mental illness that requires a daily dose of an anti-psychotic drug to prevent psychotic breaks.

From the article in the Houston Chronicle:

Jon Evans, Miles’ attorney in the Austin case, said medical privacy laws prevent him from offering any details about Miles’ mental illness history. But he was told by Miles’ mother that her son had a lifelong history of mental illness.

In yesterday’s piece, I criticized Harris County Sheriff Ron Hickman for blaming the Black Lives Matter movement for the murder of Deputy Sheriff Darren Goforth. I am calling him out again today because his accusation was not based on any evidence. I rely on the statement by the Harris County District Attorney Devon Anderson:

Anderson would not comment on a motive, saying investigators were still trying to figure that out. When asked if it might be connected to heightened tensions around the country between law enforcement and civilians, Anderson said: “I have no idea whether it does or not.”

Other Readings:

Black Lives Matter did not kill Deputy Sheriff Darren Goforth

Time to end death penalty prosecutions of the mentally ill

Jury sentences James Holmes to Life Without Parole

Jamycheal Mitchell, 24, died alone and afraid in jail: Someone needs to pay

August 30, 2015

In case you believe you may have lost your capacity to feel outraged, check out this story in the Chicago Tribune,

As thefts go, this was about as petty as it gets: a Snickers bar, a 2-liter Mountain Dew and a Zebra cake worth about $5 total.

But a 24-year-old Portsmouth [Virginia] man died in jail while awaiting trial on the charges.

Jamycheal Mitchell, who had a history of mental illness, was found dead in his cell at the Hampton Roads Regional Jail early on Aug. 19, four months after being arrested and charged with petty larceny and trespassing at a 7-Eleven.

Still to be determined is how he died, why he was jailed for so long on such charges and who represented him during his months in jail. His next scheduled hearing date was Sept. 4.

Master Jail Officer Natasha Perry said Mitchell’s death appears to be from natural causes. Donna Price, spokeswoman for the state Medical Examiner’s Office, said its investigations typically take between 12 and 18 weeks.

Mr. Mitchell was incompetent to stand trial and the case should have been dismissed. Here’s the Trib article again,

A forensic psychologist evaluated Mitchell to determine whether he was competent to stand trial. The psychologist said Mitchell was “manic and psychotic” during the interview. “Mr. Mitchell’s thought processes were so confused that only snippets of his sentences could be understood, the rest were mumbled statements that made no rational sense,” wrote Evan Nelson.

Mitchell twirled around the visitation cell, rapped, spit on the floor and exposed himself, Nelson wrote.

Another court document for a mental health evaluation dated 2010 described Mitchell as “acutely psychotic.” Later that year, an evaluator wrote to the court that Mitchell was “unrestorably incompetent to stand trial” on a charge of petty larceny and recommended the case be dismissed, with continuing outpatient treatment.

Mr. Mitchell may have starved to death, according to relatives. His aunt, Roxanne Adams, who is a registered nurse, told The Guardian, which broke the story,

Adams said medics at the jail told her Mitchell refused to take medication for his conditions. Before his arrest her nephew was on prescriptions for the antipsychotic drugs Prolixin and Zyprexin, and the mood stabiliser Depakote, according to Adams. She said prison officials then prescribed him the antipsychotic drug Haldol and Cogentin, which is intended to reduce the side-effects of the other medication, but he refused to take the drugs.

[Little wonder since Haldol is an older generation drug rarely given anymore because it turns people into zombies with severe muscle spasms and a thousand-mile stare. Jails give it because it’s cheaper.]

Adams said prison officials said her nephew had also been declining to eat. She said she saw Mitchell in court in recent weeks and estimated that he had lost 65 pounds since being detained. “He was extremely emaciated,” said Adams.

The aunt said relatives had not been able to visit Mitchell because he had not given jail officials their names as approved visitors. “His mind was gone because he wasn’t taking his meds, so he didn’t have a list for anyone to see him,” she said.

Mr. Mitchell was being held in solitary confinement because that’s what jails do with the mentally ill. If the jail staff did not kill him by withholding food, he may have starved himself to death by refusing to eat or drink. The jail cannot escape responsibility for his death, if he starved himself to death, because they should have realized what was happening and transported him to a medical hospital long before he died.. Apparently, they did not give damn. Unfortunately, that too is typical of how jails treat the mentally ill.

The prosecution and the court also bear moral responsibility for his death because he was permitted, if not encouraged, to sign a waiver of his right to counsel while he was incompetent and unable to understand what he was doing. Neither can be sued because both have absolute immunity from liability for what they do, according to the United States Supreme Court (SCOTUS).

Although a public defender was eventually appointed to represent him, the lawyer was on vacation when he died. Because I do not know when, or even if, his lawyer knew that she had been appointed to represent him, I cannot determine whether she bears any responsibility for his death.

On May 21st, a judge found him incompetent to stand trial and ordered him transferred to a state mental hospital. Unfortunately, the transfer never happened. The jail claims that they were told that no bed was available at the hospital. The hospital isn’t talking. The lawyer is on vacation.

In short, everyone is pointing the finger at everyone else or refusing to talk.

Res ipsa loquitur. The thing speaks for itself. Due to gross negligence while in state custody, Jamycheal Mitchell is dead. He died alone and afraid.

This is how we treat the mentally ill in this country.

Possible side effects for Haldol

Possible side effects for Cogentin

North Carolina grand jury indicts officer for voluntary manslaughter for killing schizophrenic teen

February 4, 2015

Good news from North Carolina: A grand jury has indicted Officer Bryon Vassey for voluntary manslaughter. He is the officer who allegedly said, “We don’t have time for this,” before shooting and killing a schizophrenic teenager who had been subdued by two officers.

Think Progress has the story,

Officer Bryon Vassey was one of three officers from different North Carolina precincts to respond to a call by the family of 18-year-old Keith Vidal last month. The teen, who suffered from schizophrenia and weighed just 90 pounds, had apparently picked up a small screwdriver and wasn’t putting it down. But his parents say the two other officers already had the scene under control when Vassey walked in. They say the third officer simply tased Vidal, then took out a firearm and shot him dead, saying “we don’t have time for this.”

Records show Vassey was at the Vidal residence for just 70 seconds before calling in that shots had been fired, reports the North Carolina Star News.

The two officers who had subdued Vidal before Vasey arrived were cleared of wrongdoing by the North Carolina Bureau of Investigation.

I wrote about the incident here.

In the Boiling Spring Lakes case, there were three different officers at the scene. The first two didn’t open fire, but Vassey did. His lawyer, W. James Payne told CNN that Keith Vidal attempted to stab one of the officers multiple times with a screwdriver, but the officer was wearing a bulletproof vest, did not request assistance and was not injured.

Vidal’s stepfather, Mark Wilsey, who witnessed the shooting with Vidal’s mother, told CNN that the detective disrupted the situation,

“(He) walks in the room, walks around the corner, (and) says, ‘We don’t have time for this. Tase that kid now. Let’s get him out of here.'”

At a protest following the shooting, Keith’s mother warned,

“My word that I want to get out to every family who has a mentally ill patient: Do not call the police department for help,” Vidal’s mother told reporters. “Because your son will probably get shot and killed, just like mine did. Think twice about who you call for help.

Vassey has to post a $50,000 bond by today or surrender himself at the county jail.

I was really beginning to wonder if a grand jury would ever indict a cop. This indictment gives me some hope.

In other good news, a week before Christmas a jury in Missoula, MT rejected Markus Kaarma’s claim of self-defense, based on Montana’s stand-your-ground statute, and convicted him of deliberate homicide for the shotgun killing of a 17-year-old German foreign exchange student named Diren Dede. After an unsolved burglary, Kaarma installed some motion sensors in his garage and set a trap by leaving the door open with his wife’s purse in plain view. When Dede set off the sensor, Karma entered the garage and fired his pump shotgun four times, killing Dede.

Kaarma, whose case is similar to the Byron David Smith case in Minnesota (he also was convicted), will be sentenced on February 11th.

These three cases provide a basis for guarded optimism. I use the word ‘guarded’ because the victims in the three cases were white and I am not convinced the results would have been the same, if they had been black.

Solitary Confinement Is A Despicable Way To Treat The Mentally Ill

December 8, 2014

Monday, December 8, 2014

Good evening:

Reginald ‘Neli’ Latson is a black 23-year-old autistic boy with Asperger’s and an IQ of 69. He is locked-up in solitary confinement in Virginia. His crime: Wearing a hoodie while black when he was 18-years-old and sitting on the grass outside a public library waiting for it to open.

From the Facebook page, Justice for Reginald Latson,

One day, he took a walk to the local library as he often did, but found it to be closed. He waited outside the library for it to open. Somebody at a school near the library called the police, saying that there was a suspicious person sitting near the library who he or she believed had a gun. The police ordered a lockdown on local schools and went searching for the supposed gunman.

Shortly afterwards, a “school resources officer” and sheriff deputy approached Neli, recognizing him as the person that the police were searching for. According to the police, Neli attacked the officer for no apparent reason. According to Neli and his family, however, he complied with a search, which resulted in no gun being found, was threatened and then tried to leave, but the deputy grabbed him from behind. A struggle ensued, during which the deputy used pepper spray on Neli. Neli himself eventually got his hands on the can of pepper spray and, depending on whose account one believes, either used it on the officer or fled from the scene. At some point during the fight or pursuit, the deputy suffered a broken ankle and a cut to the head.

Sound familiar? I suppose Neli is lucky to be alive. Michael Brown, Eric Garner, Tamir Rice and many others too numerous to mention are dead.

Then again, maybe he isn’t so lucky. He is locked up 23 hours per day isolated in a cell with a hole in the floor for a toilet and no bed, television or radio. He is permitted one hour per day out of his cell to exercise in a somewhat larger cell.

Solitary confinement is torture. Why is the State of Virginia torturing him?

The distressing simple answer is: Solitary confinement is the only option available in jail because he is unsuitable for general population and is hostile to staff. His situation is not unusual because this is how our nation ‘treats’ the mentally ill. For example, the Los Angeles County Jail is our nation’s largest psychiatric facility.

Ruth Marcus of the Washington Post
explains what happened to Neli after he was convicted of assaulting the deputy and placed in a group home upon successfully completing a residential treatment program,

When Latson became agitated after a visit with his mother, staff unfamiliar with his routines called police. Latson asked the officer to shoot him and tried to grab his gun. Instead of treating this like the mental health crisis it was, Frederick County, where the episode took place, filed felony charges. Olsen [the white prosecutor] seized on the episode as a probation violation and moved to revoke Latson’s probation.

Transferred back to the Stafford County jail against the judge’s recommendation, Latson had another run-in with authorities. Taken off his anti-psychotic medications and suicidal, he hit an officer as he was being moved from solitary into a “crisis cell” with no bed and a hole in the floor for a toilet.

Neli’s lawyers want the judge to place him in a secure mental health treatment facility in Florida, a recommendation supported by Virginia mental health authorities who have secured federal funding to pay for his placement.

Unfortunately, the prosecutor has other plans. He is refusing to support the placement because he is determined to prosecute and convict Neli of assaulting the officer in jail. Marcus explains why,

Latson’s intellectual disability, Olsen has argued in court, is “an aspect of convenience. When his advocates want him to be retarded, he is.”

Olsen grudgingly acknowledges that Latson has been diagnosed with autism but contends that the 23-year-old’s problems in the criminal justice system do not arise from his disability. “He is a person with autism that also has this hate, this racial hate and this hate for law enforcement,” Olsen said.

That last quote tells me all I need to know. The prosecutor is a racist because only a racist would even think to accuse Neli of “racial hate.”

Of course the kid hates cops. Why wouldn’t he?

Olsen probably thinks of himself as a good Christian. He isn’t. But for Olsen, Neli would be safely receiving the treatment he needs for his mental illness instead of being housed in solitary confinement, untreated.

44 Then they themselves also will answer, ‘Lord, when did we see You hungry, or thirsty, or a stranger, or naked, or sick, or in prison, and did not take care of You?’ 45″Then He will answer them, ‘Truly I say to you, to the extent that you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to Me.'”

Matthew 25:44-45

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