Judge reluctantly releases mentally ill woman accused of throwing boy out window

EVERETT — A Snohomish County judge on Monday reluctantly released a mentally ill woman who has been waiting for treatment at Western State Hospital for more than two months.

Beteha Kebede is expected to leave the Snohomish County Jail with three days of medication and instructions to seek mental health treatment. The judge was told that she doesn’t have the means to see a doctor immediately and it may take some time to get her more medication and services.

Superior Court Judge Bruce Weiss ordered that the woman be fitted with a GPS bracelet so her whereabouts can be monitored. She is expected to live with a friend and was ordered to stay in Snohomish County. The judge forbade Kebede from living with children under the age of 16. He also ordered her to stay away from any child under the age of 10.

Kebede is accused of throwing a 1-year-old boy out a second-story window in July. She was visiting relatives in Lynnwood at the time. Kebede, 39, explained to detectives that she threw the child out the window to protect herself and her own children, court papers said. She has a history of mental illness. Her own children were removed from her care because of her condition.

A county mental health professional determined on Friday that Kebede didn’t meet the criteria to be civilly committed to a psychiatric facility.

Kebede’s status and the chronic shortage of treatment beds at Western State Hospital have been the focus of numerous hearings. Her case is among several in the county that have put the hospital’s practices and management on trial.

A civil lawsuit with roots in Snohomish County recently was filed in federal court against the state because of the long waits at the hospital. The lawsuit alleges that the state is violating the rights of criminal defendants who are left to languish in jails awaiting treatment.

Hospital officials repeatedly testified that they don’t have the resources to cut the wait list.

The hospital provides mental health treatment to criminal defendants who aren’t able to assist with their own defense. Its staff also conduct the evaluations to first determine if a person is competent.

Weiss already had concluded that Kebede’s constitutional rights were being violated by being locked in solitary confinement for months, waiting for a treatment bed.

During at least one hearing she was strapped to a restraint chair. Up until recently she refused to take medication. She also has declined to follow doctor’s orders in the past, Snohomish County deputy prosecutor Elise Deschenes said Monday.

Deschenes once again raised concerns about Kebede being free while waiting to be admitted to the hospital. She questioned whether Kebede would take her medication and follow the judge’s orders.

Snohomish County public defender Cassie Trueblood said prosecutors are trying to use Kebede’s mental health as the reason she should remain behind bars, yet the state refuses to treat her while she is incarcerated.

Weiss said Monday that he wasn’t pleased about releasing a mentally ill woman accused of serious offense to an uncertain living situation.

This “is not what I’d like to do. It is what I believe the legal status of this case requires me to do,” Weiss said.

The judge said he doesn’t take the safety concerns of the public lightly or the possibility that Kebede may abscond once she is released. She is from Ethiopia and has ties to California.

“But I also don’t take it lightly that she is housed in solitary confinement,” kept in her cell 23 hours a day, Weiss said.

The judge last week declined to dismiss the charge against Kebede. He also has refused to hold the hospital in contempt, saying that he didn’t find that the state was acting in bad faith.

Weiss said the issue needs to be decided by the higher courts, instead of the current piecemeal approach.

Kebede is expected to be admitted to Western State Hospital by the end of the month. It will be up to her to make it to the hospital.

Diana Hefley: 425-339-3463, hefley@heraldnet.com. Twitter: @dianahefley

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