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

Gun insanity continues with yet another attempted mass shooting

June 7, 2014

Saturday, June 7, 2014

Good morning:

Seattle Pacific University was the next stop on the national shooting-spree parade.

We know the plot: untreated mentally ill person armed with guns and ammo drives to (fill in the blank) campus and starts shooting until (a) someone stops him, (b) he runs out of ammunition, or (c) he kills himself.

Only the location, body count, and the identities of the shooter and his victims change.

Police have arrested Aaron Ybarra for killing one student and injuring two others, one seriously. John Meis, 22, prevented more carnage by pepper spraying the shooter as he was reloading his weapon. Meis and two other students disarmed and physically restrained the shooter until police arrived and took him into custody.

The Seattle Post-Intelligencer is reporting,

A day after his deadly shooting spree at Seattle Pacific University, Aaron Ybarra has apologized as police claim he meant to harm many more people on the Queen Anne campus.

Ybarra, who killed one and shot two others Thursday, suffered from “delusions” at the time of the rampage, his attorney said Friday afternoon. Police say he had been planning a mass shooting and wanted to kill as many people as possible.

But Ybarra did not set off red flags with friends but appeared to have struggled with mental health and alcohol issues.

The 26-year-old Mountlake Terrace resident remains on suicide watch in King County Jail. He is being investigated for premeditated murder and assault, and has not yet been charged. King County prosecutors are expected to do so early next week.

Ybarra has had multiple contacts with police and mental health officials since 2010. The Christian Science Monitor reports,

In 2011, Ybarra took himself to an emergency room, telling staff that he got scared after hearing the voice of Columbine High School shooter Eric Harris in his head, telling him to hurt people. He was not detained.

He “feels he identifies with one of the Columbine killers, whom he identified as Eric Harris,” counselor Deldene J. Garner wrote later in a chemical dependency assessment filed in Edmonds Municipal Court, according to the Seattle Times.

To involuntarily commit someone, a qualified mental health expert must decide that a patient is a danger to himself or to others. The danger must be imminent as opposed to a non-specific future likelihood.

Involuntary commitments are limited to 72 hours and cannot be extended without the patient’s consent unless the danger to self or others is continuing. This rarely happens.

I am troubled by the 2011 incident because he went to the hospital on his own seeking help and was turned away. Hospital mental wards are not nice places to visit. People are unlikely to seek admission unless they are fearful, desperate and out of options. They are locked wards. Patients cannot come and go. I believe it’s irresponsible and possibly malpractice to turn away someone seeking help.

We will never know if the refusal to admit him played a role in his decision 3 years later to take a gun to school and shoot people. But, I will always wonder if he considered going to the hospital to get some help, but rejected the idea because he had been turned away previously.

Meanwhile, the killing continues unabated, the right-wing-hate-machine tells us to buy more guns, and we wait until next week to find out who the next victims will be.

I feel like I am living in an insane asylum.

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Police officers go on trial for killing Kelly Thomas two years ago

December 2, 2013

Monday, December 3, 2013

Good evening:

The trial of two City of Fullerton police officers charged with killing Kelly Thomas, 37, more than two years ago finally got underway today with opening statements. Fullerton is located in conservative Orange County, CA, approximately 25 miles southeast of Los Angeles, and this is the first time in the history of the county that a police officer will stand trial for murder.

Officer Manuel Ramos, 39, is charged with second degree murder and involuntary manslaughter. Officer Jay Cicinelli, 42, is charged with involuntary manslaughter and use of excessive force. A third officer, who is also charged with involuntary manslaughter and use of excessive force, will be tried after this trial concludes because his case was severed from the other two defendants.

Some of you may remember this case, especially if you live in California, because of substantial and continuing community outrage about Thomas’s death and the failure of the police department and the district attorney’s office to arrest and prosecute any of the police officers involved. Months of protests finally led to the resignation of the police chief and a recall election.

Let’s take a look at this tragic case because there is much we can learn from it.

Kelly Thomas was mentally disabled by schizophrenia, homeless and unemployable. CBS News reported today,

Thomas, who some called “Crazy Kelly,” was known around town for his disheveled red beard and erratic behavior and was already familiar to police. Ramos himself had been called on seven previous occasions to remove him from private property and Thomas had been written up for trespassing, urinating in a fountain and vandalism, among other things.

The altercation that led to his death started in much the same way, with Ramos rolling up to a police call about a man who was trying to open car doors at Fullerton’s busy transit center. This time, however, things escalated – and much of it was captured on the surveillance tape that promises to be the trial’s centerpiece.

The body microphones that the officers attach to their uniforms were also working.

The district attorney has provided a preview of the State’s case.

District Attorney Tony Rackauckas hassaid investigators overlaid recordings from the officers’ body microphones with the tape, allowing prosecutors to provide a blow-by-blow narrative of an “impending beating by an angry police officer” and verbatim quotes from the officers and Thomas as the scene unfolded.

Initially, Ramos chides Thomas for his evasive answers: “It seems like every day, we have to talk to you about somethin’ … Do you enjoy it?” Ramos asks Thomas, according to a prosecution transcript.

Within minutes, Ramos grows angry as Thomas refuses to cooperate. He snaps on latex gloves, holds his fists in front of Thomas’ face and says, “Now see my fists? They are getting ready to (expletive) you up.”

Thomas stood up and pulled away, prosecutors said, and Ramos chased him down, tackled him and punched him in the ribs as he pinned him down.

Cicinelli, who arrived moments later, is accused of kneeing Thomas twice in the head and using a Taser on him four times before hitting him in the face with the blunt end of the stun gun eight times. The coroner listed the cause of death as mechanical compression of the thorax, which made it impossible for Thomas to breathe normally and deprived his brain of oxygen.

Kelly Thomas called out to his father for help 30 times during the 10-minute beating.

The defense will be asserting the crazy-meth defense, despite an absence of physical resistance to police authority and no meth metabolites, or any other drugs in Kelly’s blood. They will argue that he was not schizophrenic. Instead, they will claim that his psychotic delusions were caused by a long-term addiction to meth. They are going to engage in as much character assassination as the trial court will permit in an effort to portray Kelly Thomas as an unpredictable, dangerous and violent person.

CBS reports,

Defense attorneys, however, portray a very different encounter and are seeking to introduce evidence that Thomas had a history of violence and suffered from psychotic episodes due to prolonged methamphetamine abuse.

The surveillance video doesn’t begin until 25 seconds into the confrontation and doesn’t show, for example, how Thomas reached repeatedly for Cicinelli’s weapon as they struggled, according to defense motions.

In the audio recordings, Cicinelli can be heard telling others that Thomas must be “on something” because it took three officers to get him in handcuffs. Ramos adds that Thomas tried to bite him through his pants.

The judge will allow defense attorneys to tell the jury about Thomas’ prior conviction for assaulting his grandfather with a fireplace poker and about a restraining order that his mother sought against him after he held her by the throat during an argument.

The defense team also plans to present its own expert who will testify that Thomas had an enlarged heart due to chronic methamphetamine abuse, providing an alternate cause of death.

We have discussed schizophrenia and the plight of the mentally ill in this country beginning with Jarrod Loughner and continuing with James Holmes, Aaron Alexis and the woman who was chased and shot to death by police in Washington, D.C. after she collided with a barrier blocking access to a driveway leading to the White House and sped away in the direction of the Capitol ignoring orders to pull over and stop. Little treatment or services are available for the mentally ill in our country. Federal and state governments basically expect them to stay out of sight and fend for themselves. When police encounter them sleeping on park benches or in alleys behind dumpsters or clusters of garbage cans, they roust and order them to move on. If police arrest them for committing crimes, they take them to jail where they will remain until their cases are processed and they finish serving their sentences. The Los Angeles County Jail houses and treats more of the mentally ill than any mental hospital in the nation. Disgraceful is the best word that I can think of to describe how our nation treats the mentally ill.

Not surprisingly, Kelly Thomas had prior contacts with the police.

Finally, the most likely reason that the trial court severed the third defendant from this trial is that the prosecution will be introducing statements by one or both of the two officers that inculpate the third officer. Assuming they decide not to testify, the third defendant would not be able to cross examine them about those statements. That would violate Sixth Amendment right to confront his accusers.

By severing him out of this case and trying him after it’s over, he would be able to call them during the defense case and cross examine them as hostile witnesses, if necessary, since a guilty or not guilty verdict would have ended their legal jeopardy terminating their Fifth Amendment right to remain silent.

I sincerely hope that this case, together with the others I have mentioned, will focus national attention and discussion about the plight of the mentally ill.

We need to create and fund a comprehensive national mental health treatment plan.

The trial is expected to last six weeks.

This is our 780th post.

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