Woman accused of throwing boy out window unable to stand trial

EVERETT — A state doctor has concluded that a Lynnwood woman accused of throwing a 1-year-old boy out a window isn’t able to assist with her own defense.

A Snohomish County Superior judge on Friday ordered Beteha Kebede to be transported to Western State Hospital where doctors will attempt to restore her competency. Kebede, 38, showed signs of psychosis, including paranoia and delusions, that likely will impede her ability to understand and track legal proceedings, according to a state psychologist. Some of the confusion also may stem from Kebede’s unfamiliarity with American culture, the doctor wrote. She is from Ethiopia.

Kebede allegedly told police she threw her nephew out of a second-story window to prevent someone from killing her and her children. She was unable to explain who wanted to harm her.

The July 3 fall left the boy with a fractured skull and brain bleeding. He is recovering at home. The boy’s mother has since told investigators that Kebede isn’t the child’s aunt. She is a distant cousin to the boy’s grandmother and reportedly was visiting the family in Lynnwood.

Detectives were told that Kebede’s own children were removed from her care in California because of ongoing mental health issues.

Kebede’s attorney tried Friday to persuade the judge to order the hospital to admit her client within a week. The attorney was trying to avoid an expected delay in moving Kebede from jail to Western State Hospital.

“I share those concerns, greatly,” Superior Court Judge George Bowden said.

Bowden, however, denied the motion, saying that if Kebede wasn’t admitted in a timely manner, her attorney could return to court and seek a remedy then.

Defense attorneys in Snohomish County routinely have been asking for sanctions against the state hospital for failing to quickly admit mentally ill people who aren’t competent.

There is a shortage of beds at Western State Hospital, creating long waits for the mentally ill, including criminal defendants who have been found incompetent to stand trial. Recently the hospital said that there are about 100 people waiting in jails to be transported to the hospital to receive treatment aimed at making them capable of assisting with their own legal defense. The average wait time is nearly two months.

Earlier this week lawyers with the Snohomish County Public Defender Association filed a federal lawsuit against the hospital and the state Department of Social and Human Services, alleging that the delays mean their clients are being left to languish in jail where they don’t receive proper mental health care and their conditions often worsen.

“This inhuman treatment of mentally ill individuals is an ongoing crisis,” public defender Braden Pence wrote in the lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court in Seattle.

Public defenders insist that a lack of beds isn’t a legal basis to delay admission for sick people. They say the statute allows the state to use other facilities when necessary.

“It is simply unlawful and unjustifiable to violate the constitutional rights of mentally ill people because the state has not appropriated sufficient funds to treat them (particularly when the state is willing to pay to prosecute them and to hold them in solitary confinement for months on end),” Pence wrote.

The public defenders Thursday asked a federal judge to grant an emergency injunction and order the state to admit their clients within a week.

In response to the motion, the hospital and DSHS claimed that they are “prohibited by the state constitution and state law” from spending more money than appropriated by the legislature. DSHS secretary Kevin Quigley is expected to ask lawmakers next year to fund an additional 30 beds. The state also is looking into options outside the hospital for services, such as competency restoration.

The state also maintains there is no law that requires Western State Hospital to admit mentally ill criminal defendants within a certain number of days. The statute applies only to those who have been acquitted because the courts have deemed them not guilty by reason of insanity, assistant attorney general Sarah Coats wrote.

A federal judge did not impose the injunction Thursday, ruling that the public defender association didn’t have legal standing to file the lawsuit.

The association does not plan to abandon the lawsuit. Instead the lawyers might seek court-appointed guardians for their clients or ask an organization, such as Disability Rights Washington, to join the lawsuit.

Meanwhile, the state Supreme Court ruled Thursday that it is illegal to warehouse mentally ill patients in emergency rooms while awaiting civil commitment to the state’s psychiatric hospitals.

Snohomish County Jail is the community’s largest mental health facility, but efforts to improve detainee safety there have led to booking restrictions. The changes are designed to reduce the number of mentally ill people being locked up for misdemeanor offenses.

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

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