By Tracy Record
West Seattle Blog editor
Repeat offender Ryan Cox is back in jail this afternoon, hours after his case came up at last night’s West Seattle Crime Prevention Council meeting – on a night when the Seattle Mental Health Court was a long-planned topic of discussion.
During the discussion of Cox’s case, we discovered a warrant had been out for his arrest for two weeks, a warrant for violation of probation – same reason he had been taken in (and released after a day) last month. This time, the notation on the publicly viewable Municipal Court docket described him as “not a good candidate for probation” and labeled the warrant as “do not release.” (Photo at right is from 2009, distributed by police the first time Cox was being sought for vandalism.)
The docket also mentioned presiding Municipal Court Judge Kimi Kondo, who happened to be last night’s guest speaker.
Here’s how last night unfolded, including the discussion of the Mental Health Court in general, as well as Cox’s case.
Cox came up during the “community concerns” section of the meeting following new precinct commander Capt. Steve Wilske‘s listing of current crime trends (WSB coverage here). An attendee mentioned Cox’s brief time in jail last month following a discussion at the January WSCPC meeting (explained in this WSB report). “We’ve told the patrol officers to be (on the lookout) for him,” Capt. Wilske offered. But the attendee was implacable, frustrated that Cox was back out again.
Judge Kondo tried to explain how the Mental Health Court process worked, but didn’t have any direct knowledge of Cox’s case.
“Do you think nine times in Western State Hospital is enough?” the attendee asked, regarding Cox’s record. Judge Kondo explained how competency and dropping of charges worked, as well as the threshold for civil commitment. “It’s unfortunate, but that’s one of the reasons why we started Mental Health Court, to try to get people some help.”
“He’s being let down by the system,” said another attendee. They tried to explain some of Cox’s behavior, including homophobic insults and vandalism. “If he’s not competent to stand trial, then how is he competent to be out on the street?” Capt. Wilske said he would contact the Crisis Intervention Team to see if there’s anything they can do to help. Judge Kondo noted that no one can be forced to go through the Mental Health Court system, which can be a problem; she said she had relatives with mental-health challenges and knows that one problem is, “they start feeling good and stop taking their meds.”
Said an attendee, “Why should it be up to them to opt in or not? … When these mentally ill people are committing crimes and they’re escalating …”
The judge noted at one point, “If we held every mentally ill person in custody, the jails would be bursting at the seams.” She also said Western State Hospital “got so far behind in the last month or so … there was negotiations … they brought in a team of psychologists and did (so many) psychological evaluations in one day,” they got closer to catching up. Judge Kondo said most of those defendants are not a somewhat extreme case such as Cox.
Judge Kondo brought up a bill that came up in the State House this session, proposed by parents of a mentally ill man shot and killed by Seattle Police during a standoff on Capitol Hill, trying to make it easier for people like their son (and, having read the bill, we’d suggest, like Cox) to be committed. She suggested that people follow the bill’s progress. “It is really difficult to get somebody to acknowledge that they need help and … go into the system.”
She says that the Department of Justice process regarding Seattle Police also revealed that “police don’t really deal well” with mentally ill people, and it depends on what they are dealing with – manic-depressive, schizophrenic, bipolar disorder. They’re working on a training program to give police more tools to identify which cases can “go right into the Mental Health Court.”
While the discussion of Ryan Cox proceeded, we looked up his case in the Seattle Municipal Court system, discovered on the publicly viewable docket that a warrant was issued for his arrest two weeks ago, carrying a bail amount of $15,000. The notation described him as “not a good candidate for probation” and labeled him as “do not release.” It seemed important to bring it to the attention of those gathered during the meeting, so we did. They indicated they’d follow up as soon as they could – which they did, post-meeting – and the general discussion continued.
What age range does the Mental Health Court see? Judge Kondo was asked. 20s, 30s, 40s, she said, but cautioned that it’s not so much that those are the age ranges of mental illness, as the age ranges in which people tend to commit crimes.
What makes a mental-health patient a danger to themselves? Capt. Wilske noted, when they can’t take care of themselves.
“People in mental health crisis are not going to recognize that they need help,” Judge Kondo observed.
The crossover between substance abuse and mental illness came up as well – since people so often “self-medicate” with oft-abused drugs. Judge Kondo said the combination of marijuana and alcohol is increasing in collision reports.
Capt. Wilske said more officers are going to be trained in crisis intervention; Judge Kondo also brought up the subject of the National Alliance for the Mentally Ill as a resource for families. She then revealed that her son is bipolar and has been hospitalized for his illness more than a few times. She said it has been time-consuming each time to get him stabilized, yet he has persevered with his goals in life, including getting a college degree in six years, though he currently, she says, is not able to work. “It’s difficult – you don’t get a lot of support … (and) there’s not a lot of resources,” she said, explaining she can empathize with families. He has been in jail and had clashes with police, she went on to explain. When he’s off his medication, she doesn’t even want him around. She said she asked not to even be involved with the Mental Health Court calendar until a year and a half ago because it would have been too emotional, given what had been going on with her son.
“I know from a parent point of view what it’s like to have to deal with this sort of situation,” she said, while also acknowledging it’s “frightening” as a property owner or citizen or someone else. “It’s a difficult situation and I know the police are doing the best they can.” She spoke of one of the SPD Crisis Intervention Team members who she wishes could be “cloned … so we could have 100 of him in the city.”
Then the topic turned yet again to Ryan Cox. A person with a restraining order against him after a skirmish talked about the victimization she felt going through that. Shouldn’t she be getting a call when he’s out? she asks. Judge Kondo says she has orders against people who have threatened to kill her and she doesn’t know where they are, either.
“Earlier you talked about identifying people (who could be serious trouble). It seems to me, John Q. Public, that Ryan Cox has been ID’d.”
But, Capt. Wilske explained, you still have to have some current behavior to deal with someone, to get them off the street, for example.
One of the other attendees, whose workplace has been vandalized by Cox, said that as she gets closer to work, she gets more nervous, all the time. She talked about dreading the thought that he is out there somewhere.
What’s needed to improve the Mental Health Court? WSCPC president Richard Miller asked Judge Kondo as the meeting came to an end.
More forensic psychologists, more access to treatment, more money, said Kondo, saying, “This is the first year in the budget for five years that (the MHC hasn’t been cut) … you can’t solve the problem with money but it certainly helps to get people a little more support.”
She also said that it would be helpful if “the public” could recognize signs of danger and mental illness sooner, to get help earlier. Right now, most serious problems manifest around 19 or 20, she said – “you need education, people need to recognize what they’re looking at, the difference between bipolar and schizophrenia and OCD, which is a different animal …”
Another attendee asked, do you turn people away when you run low on resources?
“We don’t do that, because we have really resourceful people … so far we’ve been able to meet the need,” said the judge, again stressing “it’s a volunteer program, people have to opt in.” And she stressed there are success stories, where people “graduate” from the program after two years’ jurisdiction and are sent on their way – “we give them as many positive strokes as we can … and hope it takes.”
“The stigma of mental illness has kept a lot of progress from happening,” the judge said, clearly with regret. “It doesn’t go away – there’s not a cure for mental illness – it can be managed. It’s a part of their life forever, and a part of yours.”
As Ryan Cox’s has been a part of the community for five years now, since he first came to West Seattle-wide (and beyond) attention in spring 2009 for a spree of homophobic graffiti vandalism. He wound up being arrested twice that year.
His most recent case was a guilty plea to assault, for spitting on and yelling slurs at a man, in December. He was released on New Year’s Eve.
Today, he appeared on the jail register just an hour ago. The Municipal Court website does not yet include information on a hearing or what’s next, but we’ll continue to follow up.