CLARK COUNTY, WA (KPTV) - A video showing Clark County deputies restraining an inmate during a court appearance is rekindling conversations on how best to deal with the mentally ill in the justice system.
The suspect, David W. Carpenter, is accused of stabbing a stranger near an Applebee’s in Hazel Dell, Saturday.
Deputies tased Carpenter during the arrest.
During his court appearance, deputies forced Carpenter into the video conference room and are seen grabbing him by the neck, manipulating his head, stepping on his feet and putting a cover over his head -- all as attorneys are trying to ask Carpenter questions that he doesn’t answer.
Court documents reveal that deputies believe Carpenter displayed observable mental health problems and “spoke of his God and Satan” and said he “stabbed someone because his God told him to.”
In a statement to FOX 12, Disability Rights Washington called Carpenter’s treatment during the court appearance a “shocking incident” that is “unfortunately characteristic of Washington’s broken approach to mental health and criminal prosecution.”
The organization also said, “Our state must do more to end the brutal and dehumanizing treatment of people with mental health issues…This deeply disturbing event should be a call to action to ensure that people with mental illness are treated with dignity and respect.”
Across the river, Disability Rights Oregon Legal Director Emily Cooper has spent 15 years as an expert on disabilities and the legal system.
“Jails are designed to punish, and not to treat or to appropriately respond to behaviors related to mental illness,” Cooper said.
Cooper couldn’t comment specifically on Carpenter’s case, but said incarceration is a national problem that disproportionately affects the mentally ill and puts them at even greater danger.
“Jails have become the de-facto mental health provider,” Cooper said. “What that means is that you have more people in jail with mental illness -- that subjects them to more risk of harm -- including use of force because the jail’s mechanism to respond to behavior that doesn’t comply, is force.”
Washington County Deputy Brian van Kleef knows the issue well.
“Jail, as a whole, is not what I would call a therapeutic environment for somebody with a mental illness,” van Kleef said. “Someone with mental illness might not understand what’s going on and may become violent in some cases, may not follow the rules, as someone else otherwise might, so that creates an unpredictability that we have to deal with in some way.”
van Kleef said in Washington County, the most severely mentally ill are housed in a separate pod of the jail – one where staff have extra training to help them deal with the inmates.
While counties continue to grapple with solutions, Cooper said the long-term solution should be to keep mentally ill individuals out of jail in the first place.
“We’re working on a behavioral health reinvestment, reinvesting out of the jails and into the community, and that’s really where we should be focused and where we should be going,” Cooper said.
The Clark County Sheriff's Office has declined interview requests, instead sending a statement saying that deputies had to use force in Carpenter’s case because he refused to voluntarily go to his first court appearance.
Carpenter is currently in the hospital. It’s unclear why he was moved there.
Carpenter is due back in court at the end of the month.
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