Legal professional Requires Trammell’s Launch from Benton County Jail – Arkansas On-line

BENTONVILLE – A person who is acquitted of a serious crime because of a mental illness usually goes to the state hospital for treatment. When the Little Rock hospital is full, the person often waits to be transferred to be incarcerated in the county jail – a practice contested in Arkansas and the United States

A Benton County attorney argues that a recent Arkansas Supreme Court ruling means the mentally ill person can no longer be detained, monitored, or restrained once they are acquitted. The problem emerged a second time recently when a lawyer for Justin Trammell made the same argument.

Trammell, 37, of Rogers was convicted as a teenager in 1999 of killing his father with a crossbow. He was acquitted in a separate trial on attempted homicide and other charges of mental illness in June.

Prosecutors say the Supreme Court decision was specific to a client and cannot be applied to Trammell’s case.

“The Arkansas Supreme Court decision is important to our entire state,” said attorney Jon Comstock.

“If a mentally ill person needs to be locked up, then they need to be in a therapeutic setting where psychiatrists can provide adequate service. The court rejected the almost barbaric reaction of putting her in jail until the state made a treatment bed available, “he said.

There is already a waiting list for admission to the state hospital, where it can take anywhere from 100 to nearly 200 days to open a bed, according to the Arkansas Department of Human Services. The Covid-19 pandemic made matters worse.

Comstock represented a man in Benton County Circuit Court, John Ward, who was acquitted of terrorist threat charges in August for his mental health. Benton County District Judge Robin Green ordered Ward to surrender to Benton County Jail, where he would wait for a bed to become available at the State Hospital.

Comstock appealed to the Arkansas Supreme Court, where the justices overturned part of Green’s order, which meant Ward no longer had to be incarcerated or wear an ankle monitor.

Comstock believes the ruling means people who have been acquitted of a crime because of a mental illness should not be held in jail as they will be placed in the care of the Arkansas Department of Human Services after the acquittal.

Nathan Smith, Benton County attorney, is also the president of the Arkansas Prosecuting Attorneys Association. The Supreme Court order is specific to one case, and the extent to which it can be applied to other cases is likely to be decided on a case-by-case basis by judges, he said.

The Supreme Court made an order in Ward’s case, not a full court opinion, explaining the reasons or outlining principles to be followed in similar situations, Smith said.

“We have one option that is not good, but not as bad as the other,” he said of the insane incarceration.

There are practical and serious things to watch out for, he said.

“It is clear that releasing people who are both mentally vulnerable and dangerous due to lack of sleeping places is not an option in our communities,” said Smith.

“In the immediate future, we will seek to get Arkansas State Hospital involved in the legal process as early as possible so that a person responsible for their care can be admitted immediately,” he said.

Trammell was held in Benton County Jail for more than four months after his acquittal while waiting for a bed at Arkansas State Hospital.

Trammell was arrested on July 9, 2018 after he destroyed a pickup truck with two girls riding in bed, according to court records. He was charged with attempted murder of the girls.

Benton County District Judge Brad Karren ordered Trammell to be taken to the State Hospital. He was relocated on October 4th.

Sam Hall, Trammell’s attorney, filed an application with the district court a few days before the transfer to release Trammell from prison for not having been rushed to the hospital. Hall is an assistant public attorney for Benton County.

“We are always concerned when a person is found not guilty because of their mental health and needs to go to Arkansas State Hospital for treatment,” said Jay Saxton, Benton County’s principal defense attorney. “There is no point leaving her in prison waiting to go to the hospital. The prison does not have the skills to help someone who needs help for psychological reasons.”

Bryan Sexton, senior assistant prosecutor, responded to Hall’s motion, citing security concerns and denying Trammell’s release from prison. He wanted the judge to schedule a hearing on the matter, but Trammell was transferred before a hearing could take place.

Washington County Attorney Matt Durrett said he was unaware of the situation in Trammell and Ward’s cases.

“While I can’t say for sure, it seems like we’re having to wait an exceptionally long time for open space down there due to the limited number of beds,” Durrett said of the state hospital. “I don’t know what the logistics of adding bed space would be or what the cost would be, but it seems like a good idea to at least explore.”

Amy Webb, a spokeswoman for human resources, said the waiting time for people in custody was 105 days, while the average waiting time for people out of custody was 188 days.

Webb said 44 people were acquitted of indictments in September and were awaiting treatment at the state hospital. Of these, 28 were in the ward and the remaining 16 were in prison.

Webb said the state hospital discharges and admits between 25 and 30 patients each month. The state hospital has 186 beds for adults, 92% of which are intended for patients involved in court.

Covid-19 has affected the state hospital’s ability to discharge patients as quickly as hospital officials want in two ways, she said.

“Some of the facilities that patients leaving the hospital would go to have staffing problems due to Covid and therefore have no available bed space,” said Webb.

“Second, if we have a patient that tests positive, we have to stop admission to this unit to limit the spread. On several occasions, we have had to stop admittance altogether.”

Detaining the mentally ill in jail is common across Arkansas and across the country, said Buster Lackey, executive director of NAMI Arkansas, the state affiliate of the National Alliance on Mental Illness.

“If it were up to me, there’d be a state hospital up there and in South Arkansas too,” Lackey said. But it is very expensive to keep someone in a prison or in a state hospital, he said. “There has to be a cheaper way,” he said.

The goal should be to protect the mentally ill and treat their condition before their behavior is prosecuted. Mental health services are particularly lacking in rural Arkansas, he said.

Local law enforcement agencies across the state, the courts, and the state hospital are lacking in opportunities.

Lawsuits against the detention of mentally ill people are pending in Alabama, Colorado, Louisiana, Nevada, Oregon, Utah and Washington state, Lackey said. There is clinical evidence that detention conditions for mentally ill people make their condition worse, he said.

Comstock called it inhumane to have acquitted a person of his or her mental health because the state does not have a bed available.

“This is especially true if that person has been detained for many months during the pending criminal case and has no further alleged acts of violence and is undergoing psychiatric treatment, including taking antipsychotic medication,” he said.

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Arkansas State Hospital

Arkansas State Hospital is the only state-run acute psychiatric inpatient hospital. The hospital has nine units and 222 patient beds in three service areas: general adult medicine, adult forensics and adolescents.

Source: Arkansas State Hospital

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