MOUNT VERNON — A Skagit County judge has found Western State Hospital in contempt of court after delays in transporting a mentally ill defendant from jail to receive psychiatric treatment.
Jesus Miguel Banales Torres, 22, was ruled mentally incompetent May 21 to face charges of first-degree attempted arson, second-degree malicious mischief and violation of a protection order. He had been ordered to receive psychiatric treatment before his case can proceed.
At the time Banales Torres was ordered to receive treatment, hospital officials estimated it could take about two months before he could be admitted, according to court documents. Since then, Banales Torres has remained at Skagit County Jail.
But his lawyer said his client has been held in custody without treatment for far too long.
Judge Susan Cook made the contempt ruling Wednesday in Skagit County Superior Court. The ruling levies a $200 fine against the state Department of Social and Health Services, which operates Western State Hospital, for each day Banales Torres remains in Skagit County Jail awaiting transport.
Banales Torres was arrested May 14 by Mount Vernon police. He is accused of trying to burn down his mother’s home on East Division Street.
In court Thursday, defense lawyer Wesley Richards asked Judge Michael Rickert to release Banales Torres into the care of a family member and allow him to pursue mental health treatment on his own while he waits to be admitted to the hospital, with a condition that he continues taking antipsychotic medication.
Richards argued that keeping Banales Torres in jail violates his client’s constitutional rights.
“I think all of the pieces are in place in terms of release or what would be appropriate for release in this case,” Richards told the judge.
Deputy Prosecutor Erik Pedersen said in court that Banales Torres is due to be sent to the hospital on Tuesday.
Judge Rickert ruled Banales Torres will be held in custody until that date and set a hearing on the status of the case for the following day.
Richards said he intends to file a motion to dismiss charges against Banales Torres if he is not transported to the hospital by Tuesday.
State courts and health officials have battled the past year in dealing with the lack of bed space at state-run psychiatric hospitals for criminal defendants in need of mental competency evaluations or treatment. Judges have issued dozens of contempt orders and thousands of dollars in fines against the state in cases where treatment directives were not followed.
Cook’s decision on Wednesday to sanction the state comes as the U.S. District Court in Seattle continues to sort out the impact of a ruling by federal Judge Marsha Pechman in April that declared DSHS, plagued by long waiting lists for mentally ill defendants held in jail waiting for hospitalization, violated defendants’ constitutional rights by not getting them psychiatric evaluations in a timely manner.
Pechman issued an injunction requiring the state to conduct competency evaluations within one week of a judge’s order.
The evaluations are a necessary first step in getting defendants admitted to a psychiatric hospital for treatment so they can properly assist their lawyers in court.
The state has appealed the judge’s ruling on timely evaluations, saying that seven days may not be enough time for some defendants who may be under the influence of alcohol or drugs to stabilize before an evaluator sees them.
“If an evaluator has to rush to make an evaluation, the person could still be under the effects of drugs or alcohol,” Jane Beyer, assistant secretary for the Behavioral Health and Service Integration Administration, told the Associated Press. “And then they’re stigmatized, labeled mentally ill. We don’t want to stigmatize people who may not be mentally ill.”
— The Associated Press contributed to this report