SEATTLE — A KIRO 7 investigation discovered judges have ordered dozens of people to receive thousands of dollars in payments from the state for waiting in jail for mental health treatment, so they can participate in their own trials.
They include Alexander Jay, accused of throwing a Seattle nurse down the steps of a light rail station on March 2, kicking her in the face and breaking ribs and her clavicle.
Police say 30 minutes later, he stabbed a woman at a bus stop and later killed a man.
“I can remember it very vividly,” said nurse Kim Hayes. “And I remember getting to that first landing and thinking, ‘Oh, God, what is happening?,’ and he came at me again.”
Documents obtained by KIRO 7 show the Washington Department of Social and Health Services has already paid out $158,150 in 2022 in what are called “compensatory sanctions” in 10 people’s cases; in five of them, records show the money was paid directly to them, while in the others it went through courts, a nonprofit, family or another appointed responsible adult on behalf of that person.
Those documents show judges have ordered more than 50 other people, including Jay, to also receive compensatory sanctions payments, which are added up and can be paid out after a person has been admitted to a state psychiatric facility. Jay’s payments began May 9 and at first, they were ordered to be paid directly to him at the end; two months later, that was adjusted to go to a responsible adult for his care. The current total is $49,000.
“It’s a tremendous amount of money,” said Hayes. “You’ve got people in a jail cell that could benefit from actual, appropriate psychiatric care. It’s an atrocity. It’s sad. It’s problematic. It’s a broken system, and it shouldn’t happen.”
The list also includes Jerrico Irizarry, charged with setting a fire at an apartment building in Seattle’s Belltown neighborhood in March that sent one person to the hospital in critical condition. Adan Ibrahim also stands to accumulate payments. He’s accused of carjacking two utility workers at knifepoint and then hitting four bicyclists in Seattle last November, badly injuring two of them.
The money is either ordered to be paid to a defendant or to someone else on their behalf for their care.
So why is this happening? According to a federal judge’s ruling in what’s called the Trueblood decision, once the state Department of Social and Health Services receives a court order finding someone is incompetent to stand trial, it’s supposed to admit that person in a week.
But that’s not happening.
“We’re approaching (a) seven- or eight-month wait for people to get into treatment,” said Rebecca Vasquez, a senior deputy prosecutor with the King County Prosecuting Attorney’s Office. “It’s the longest I’ve ever seen it.”
Her focus is felony defendants going through competency proceedings. She said in some cases, judges are dismissing charges like assault and robbery. That’s because when a case is dismissed, that person goes to the top of the waitlist for evaluation by DSHS. That waitlist is now about 850 people long.
And if that person has their charges dismissed but still can’t get in for treatment, they’re leaving the system entirely, creating a whole different kind of problem.
“Are you seeing people who would otherwise be waiting in jail for mental health services from the state, then going out and re-offending?” KIRO 7 reporter Linzi Sheldon asked.
“Absolutely,” she said. “We see people who start with one case and end up with two or three or four cases pending.”.
“How often is that happening?,” Sheldon asked.
“Over and over again,” said Vasquez.
All this has created what DSHS Office of Forensic Mental Health Services Director Dr. Thomas Kinlen calls “an absolutely terrible, horrible situation.”
He points to the COVID pandemic as a cause, with hospital admissions on the DSHS end, the pandemic backlog of cases coming through, and a demand for competency restoration.
“We’ve had more referrals in this last fiscal year than ever before, almost a 40% increase from fiscal year (20)21 to (20)22,” said Kinlen.
“How do you get ahead of this?,” Sheldon asked.
“One (way) is just trying to figure out how to get more beds online,” said Kinlen.
He said next year, DSHS aims to add 58 beds at Western State Hospital between January and March, 16 beds near Rochester at the Maple Lane facility and 30 more there for people found not guilty by reason of insanity, which would free up room at places at Western.
In the interim, though, Dr. Kinlen warns that the situation will continue to escalate.
“Unfortunately, I do think we’re still going to have (it) getting worse before it gets better,” he said. “One of the things I would highlight, though, is traditionally there’s a slowdown. Data will show between November and December there’s a slowdown in referrals for competency.”
That said, it’s unclear if the same trend will appear this year, with the impact of the COVID pandemic.
DSHS also still needs to fill positions at its facilities. Staffing vacancies are high and KIRO 7 found out DSHS is spending about $3.4 million per month for contract nurses at Eastern State Hospital.
“Are you optimistic that you can fill all those positions for those beds coming online?,” Sheldon asked.
“Optimistic, yes,” said Kinlen. “(We) recognize the reality of workforce is definitely different now, unfortunately.”
Life is different now for Kim Hayes. Her sense of safety is gone, she said, but she’s speaking up because she wants more people to know this system is in crisis.
“We need to improve this process and we need to do it thoughtfully and fast,” she said. “I want people that think about it. It’s out there, and maybe there’s someone out there who has a great idea.”
She’s still waiting for closure.
“(Alexander Jay) gets the treatment he needs, comes back,” she said. “You face a legal trial. You get that out of the way and then, the result of that is that’s what I would call justice, I guess.”
DSHS said admissions are prioritized based on the severity of a person’s illness, including whether they could hurt themselves or others, whether they’re in jail or out on bail, and how long they’ve been waiting behind bars.
Kinlen said the state does not consider the seriousness of a person’s charges, though they are looking at whether that should be factored into the decisions. DSHS does not consider whether the state has been ordered to pay a person for their wait.
It is unclear why Alexander Jay is still waiting more than eight months later, as DSHS won’t comment on specific cases.
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