EVERETT — The state faces a Friday deadline to begin providing mental health treatment for a homeless man accused of fatally kicking another transient near the Everett Gospel Mission in September.
If that doesn’t happen, a Snohomish County judge has warned he will find the state Department of Social and Health Services in contempt and impose fines of $2,000 a day.
Joshua Thompson has been locked up at the county jail in Everett for nearly five months, charged with second-degree murder in the Sept. 25 death of Juan Gonzales.
He’s spent that time in solitary, detained in legal limbo. Unlike others locked up on a criminal charge, he has not yet even been arraigned. That’s because a state psychologist has determined Thompson is too ill to assist his lawyer.
The state has since Oct. 24 been under court order to find room in a mental hospital for Thompson.
There is hope that he will respond to treatment sufficiently to help his attorney defend against the murder charge.
Thompson’s case has run into the same legal log jam that in recent years has stalled other criminal prosecutions, led to a federal civil rights lawsuit aimed at protecting the interests of mentally ill detainees, mounting fines and a state task force that is attempting to make change.
The killing that landed Thompson behind bars attracted substantial attention. It occurred during Everett’s mayoral election, a race that focused in large part on the community’s struggles with street crime and homelessness.
Thompson allegedly was angry that Gonzalez, 47, had been lying on a mattress he’d been using along Smith Avenue near the gospel mission. The defendant, who turns 42 later this month, reportedly kicked Gonzalez in the head.
The attack occurred in a part of town that is monitored by a live-stream video camera set up by a Gary Watts, a frustrated business owner who offered himself up as a write-in mayoral candidate. The camera didn’t capture the kick, but witnesses said it did reportedly show Gonzalez clinging to a fence for about 20 minutes before collapsing from fatal bleeding to his brain.
Thompson initially denied kicking the victim, but also claimed that Gonzalez “telepathically” asked for the blow, court papers say. Since 2009, the U.S. Navy veteran has previously been found incompetent to stand trial in at least seven other criminal cases. An evaluation in this case determined he lives with schizophrenia and substance abuse. A state psychologist in October determined his illness likely would impede his ability to effectively communicate with his lawyer.
A judge ordered the case put on hold and Thompson to receive treatment in hopes of restoring his competency.
The lawyers agreed to meet again in early December to make sure Thompson had been admitted to Western State Hospital, which is operated by DSHS. Extended wait times for treatment have plagued the hospital for years.
Thompson still was in jail Dec. 1, and attorneys representing him urged that the charge either be dismissed or that he be released on his personal recognizance.
Superior Court Judge Marybeth Dingledy denied those motions. State officials expected Thompson to be admitted to Western by mid January, she was told.
That didn’t happen. On Jan. 16, public defender Jennifer Bartlett asked the court to find DSHS in contempt of the October court order. Only days earlier, officials at Western State had informed prosecutors that Thompson still was 27th on a wait list and unlikely to be admitted for up to another month.
At a Feb. 2 hearing, Superior Court Judge Bruce Weiss was told Thompson “will likely” be admitted to Western State sometime this week. Among other things, the judge was presented with a declaration from Dr. Thomas Kinlen, the state’s director of the office of forensic mental health services.
Delays in services exist because of factors largely outside the state’s control, including a burgeoning demand for inpatient evaluations and competency restoration, he wrote. A number of steps have been taken, including the opening of alternative competency restoration centers in Yakima and Rochester.
At the Feb. 2 hearing, Weiss signed a court order directing that Thompson be admitted to Western State by Friday. If that doesn’t happen, the judge said he will find DSHS in contempt and assess a $2,000 fine for every day the state fails to comply.
Kinlen late last week released this statement in response to questions:
“We understand the frustration with the amount of time defendants are having to wait for a bed at Western State Hospital for competency evaluation. The increase of inpatient evaluations and competency restoration services has risen approximately 58 percent since 2014.
“DSHS has taken numerous steps to reduce wait times such as increasing bed capacity by using alternative competency restoration facilities; adding beds at our state hospitals. We’ve increased the number of evaluators and increased staffing levels.
“We continue to work with our community partners to try and divert people from the justice system and getting them the services they need before law enforcement would ever need to get involved. The department is working to admit all defendants awaiting competency services as soon as possible.”
Thompson remained locked up in the county jail in Everett on Sunday, booking records show.
Scott North: 425-339-3431; firstname.lastname@example.org. Twitter: @snorthnews.