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Holding The Helping Pros Accountable

“We’ve had 100 years of psychotherapy and the world is getting worse.” —James Hillman

Last Wednesday the helping professionals from County Mental Health, led by newly appointed interim County Counsel Katherine ‘Kit’ Elliott, the helping pros came to court to answer to a summons from Judge Ann Moorman regarding the pile up of mentally ill inmates at the jail, all accused of crimes, most of the crimes petty.

We thought these (1368) competency clearings were being conducted by Ortner Management Group, but a series of letters from Dr. J. Holden over the weekend have made it clear that he, Dr. J., operates the program under direct contract to the county.

Until this crisis emerged the courts kept the doors locked when mental health issues were brought up — “patient confidentiality” you see — so it is perhaps understandable that we were somewhat in the dark as to who’s who in the higher echelons at County Mental Health.

To hear Dr. J talk about his program you’d be tempted to conclude the judges were imagining things, but their Honors deal with minimizing culprits all the time, and in this department, our good Dr. J was mostly mute, relying on Ms. Elliott to defend the indefensible, while he blended into the woodwork.

Elliott tried to focus on a single case, that of Pablo Mora, saying the materials to evaluate Mora's functioning had to be translated into Spanish. If they had been Mora's case would not have taken so long. But Judge Moorman impatiently brushed this excuse aside and insisted that Mora was only one out of many mentally ill men languishing in the jail and the others had needed no translations and they were all still languishing.

“What enrages me,” Moorman said, “is the abysmal bureaucratic quagmire we have to go through in all of these cases.”

At the same time as she was trying to get the sloths at Mental Health to do their jobs, the judge was conducting a jury trial — or trying to. She had come in late on Tuesday and had had to apologize to the jurors who had been kept waiting all morning because she’d been summoned by the Board of Supervisors meeting to explain a routine program on their agenda to Supervisor Hamburg, who languidly admitted that it wasn’t particularly important, just curiosity on his part.

By Wednesday afternoon, the trial was in its closing arguments stage, and the mental health pros — unused to being kept waiting although long accustomed to keeping everyone else waiting — caused such a commotion outside the courtroom door, with their peanut gallery fleer-and-gibe antics over being made to wait, that the judge sent her bailiffs out to run them off.

Barden
Barden

The trial of Shannon L. Barden was running a second time — the first one having hung up in a mistrial — and the charges against the defendant were serious. Barden was accused of luring a Willits PD officer (now Deputy Jeffrey Andrade) into a deserted area late at night and beating the crap out of him.

Defense, in the form of Mr. Higgins of the Public Defender's Office, said “citizen Barden” maintained that it was Barden who had been attacked by Officer Andrade, and had simply defended himself. Higgins compared his client’s case to the Ferguson, Missouri shooting and other recent cases of police misconduct around the country. Barden was Mendocino County's very own martyr to police misconduct! Unfortunately for Barden, the facts did not fit.  Officer Andrade had seen Barden duck down in his car, turn out his headlights and pull into the Shakespeare Center. Andrade made a U-turn and went to investigate a clearly suspicious circumstance. The officer saw Barden turn into a fenced area reserved for the Willits Shakespeare Festival and arrived in time to see Barden leave his car and duck through an opening in the fence. Officer Andrade pulled his duty weapon and followed. As he cleared the opening in the fence — what cops call “the fatal funnel”—he turned and saw Citizen Barden behind him. Barden's attorney also argued that if the officer had used unreasonable or excessive force, Citizen Barden had had a right to defend himself.

On the stand, Deputy Andrade said he was about to fall unconscious from the blows to his head when he finally reached a button on his duty belt and released his K-9, Doc, from the patrol car. Like Rin Tin Tin to the rescue, Doc latched on to Barden by the upper arm and tried to pull him off Andrade But Citizen Barden possessed what Andrade called “super human strength” and had flung Doc across the parking lot, injuring the dog. Doc, however, re-entered the fray, and this time Citizen Barden surrendered. “I saw he wasn’t armed, so I holstered my weapon, and that’s when he attacked me. I kept trying to get to things on my belt, but was too busy warding off blows to the head. I was afraid I’d be knocked unconscious. The guy had super human strength.”

The duty sergeant had heard a scream come over the air. Sgt. Mark McNeely did a quick roll call of all the patrol officers, and Andrade didn’t answer. Then another transmission came through: “1195.” An odd coincidence. 1195 is police code for a traffic stop and it is also the address of the Shakespeare Center.

It was a confusing and desperate situation, but then, thanks to the plucky police dog Doc, a third transmission came through saying the situation was under control.

Andrade showed the jurors the device on his belt that pops open the door to his patrol car and releases his K-9 partner. During a break, the deputy mentioned that he’d been up all night in Brooktrails looking for a five-year-old boy who had gone missing the day before with his dog. When the kid was found that morning, his loyal dog was still with him, having kept the boy company and warm through a rather chilly night. Andrade clearly holds the canine species in high regard. He might have been beaten to death if it hadn't been for Doc.

The trial was going pretty well until Sgt. Neely decided to change his story. In the first trial the sergeant had said he delegated some picture taking of the Andrati-Barton mayhem to another officer, Officer McQuade, and Neely had seen it done. Now, he was saying he assumed it had been done — but it obviously hadn’t — there were no pictures. This caused a good deal of indignation from Mr. Higgins for the defense who demanded that charges against Barden be dismissed.

Higgins' demand was refused. Then it was revealed that McQuade had been fired for incompetence, and again Higgins demanded his client be released — these facts were central to the case but none of it had been discovered (provided) to the defense.

Judge Moorman: “Do you remember seeing anyone taking pictures, Sergeant?”

Sgt. Neely: “I can’t remember. But I believed it had been done.”

Higgins: “Was McQuade fired over this?”

Neely: “No. It was for an officer safety issue in this case — stopping to put gloves on when he was ordered to cuff the suspect.”

Moorman: “So it had nothing to do with not taking the photos?”

Neely: “No. It was a totality of things in other cases.”

Moorman: “So he was essentially rejected from probation?”

Neely: “Yes.”

Moorman: “The motion for dismissal is denied.”

After closing arguments the jury filed out and the courtroom filled up with the mental health pros in their colorful scrubs and ID cards around their necks. But also a file of prisoners in jail coveralls had been brought in and Judge Moorman went through these cases before calling the 1368 (competency) matters, making the people in scrubs wait again.

Then, just as the prisoners were leaving, the jury came back in. They had been gone only about a half-hour and, predictably perhaps, the verdict was guilty. The judge thanked the jurors for their time, again apologizing for delays, and after they’d all left, the judge finally got to the Mental Health pros.

Ms. Elliott stood up for County Mental Health and started in with the business about how there had been a delay in Pablo (Frequent Flier) Mora’s case because the test for competency restoration devised by Dr. J Holden hadn’t been translated into Spanish.

Anthony Adams of the Public Defender’s Office (in a rare role reversal) prosecuted. He pointed out that it took three months to get the translation made.

“We admit that the agency fell down on that one, but we’ve things in place to fix it now, and we’ve been thinking about getting a language line set up as well. Maggie Jones went various places looking for alternatives and we recognize that mistakes were made, but she has been in contact with the Public Defender’s Office and”—

“Let me clarify,” Adams said. “The only time I received any communication from Maggie Jones was back in July. I told her at the time what she was doing didn’t make any sense, and I was never contacted again.”

“I’m not disagreeing with any of that,” Elliott said.

Moorman: “You are not the issue, Ms. Elliott. It’s the abysmal bureaucratic quagmire that has enraged me and I’m gonna set up an order that if they [defendants] are deemed to be misdemeanors, Mental Health is to contact them within seven days. That means I want them in a competency training program within seven days. I’m not gonna have the jail used as a warehouse.”

“I think it’s a step forward that we’ve got some Spanish language materials, finally,” Adams said. “But alternative languages could have been foreseen.”

“We still hope to get a language line set up, judge,” Elliott said.

Moorman: “Ms. Elliott, this delay doesn’t occur in Spanish speaking cases only. We run into massive delays in all of these cases with Mental Health people getting over there to the jail to deal with these people. For another thing, I don’t understand why you are not engaging with the people at the jail. Don’t we have a doctor and other medical staff at the jail?”

“Yes, judge, and Dr. Taylor Fithian [the jail’s “doc-in-a-box” teleconferenced psychiatrist] is helping.”

(This guy's a "doc in a box," meaning he sits in his hot tub at some remote location while he chats long distance with an inmate in the Mendocino County Jail to determine the inmate's mental functioning. He soon rings off then bills the County some preposterous sum for "services" rendered. The quack never leaves home, has thousands of captive "clients," nobody questions his evaluations, and everyone pretends this character is as good as present.)

Moorman: “Then why is this happening all the time?”

Ms. Elliott in her own inimitably wheedling fashion whined for several mind-numbing minutes without saying anything. Judge Moorman frowned glumly through the performance then, cutting Elliott off, said, “Enough. Next time I have to come and ask for a 90-day report, I’m gonna either level fines or put somebody in jail. In future Mental Health must comply with the 90 days and I want the competency restoration started within seven days.”

“Seven court days or seven calendar days?”

“Seven calendar days, Ms. Elliott.”

The helping professionals — to judge by their mocking air of disdain — were disgusted by the whole proceeding. They looked like they were the victims of major injustice. Why the nerve of the court in demanding that we do our jobs in a timely manner. Harrumph!

Maybe Judge Moorman had intentionally made the helping pros cool their heels while she took care of other matters, but if she did, good. A more unattractive, less capable group of cry babies would be hard to find, even in Mendocino County.

4 Comments

  1. james marmon October 30, 2015

    I think the newly appointed mental health director, Stacey Cryer, would look cute in a jail jumpsuit. Just saying.

    • Kimberly Ortwein December 4, 2015

      Bryan Lowery would fill one out pretty good too!

  2. Jim Updegraff October 30, 2015

    Nothing new – Mental health services in all 58 counties is screwed up.

  3. Bruce McEwen Post author | October 30, 2015

    Ms. Cryer would look like a million bucks in a charity shop frock splattered with mud-puddle charm or a gold lame gown from Channel on the runway in Milan. But in fact she hasn’t been seen around the courthouse since, well… like, ever, dude — what gives? Hullo…Stacy… are you out there… ?

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