King Co., Seattle attorneys challenge DSHS over mental health services

King Co., Seattle attorneys challenge DSHS over mental health services
King Co., Seattle attorneys challenge DSHS over mental health services


UPDATED: 1 MARCH 2023 AT 3.09 PM

A lack of mental health beds and services for criminals found incompetent to stand trial is one of the main reasons Seattle keeps seeing violent people get out of jail, according to King County Prosecuting Attorney Leesa Manion and Seattle Attorney Anne Davison.

“If someone has been determined to be incompetent to stand trial, they have the right under case law to have their competency restored,” Manion said on The Gee & Ursula Show. “It is to ensure that they understand the charges against them and that they have the opportunity to participate in their defence. Restoration of competence falls solely on the shoulders of the Department of Social Health Services (DSHS).

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A KING 5 investigation in 2022 found that DSHS faced a potential $300 million in fines for failing to follow state laws to move defendants deemed incompetent to stand trial to state psychiatric hospitals in a timely manner.

“When DSHS fails to provide timely mental health evaluation and competency treatment, judges are faced with a difficult decision whether to release the individuals charged with a crime, many of whom remain in crisis, or simply dismiss the charges outright,” Manion said.

Manion and Davison — who also joined The Gee & Ursula Show to discuss this increasingly dire situation — co-wrote an op-ed in The Seattle Times earlier this week.

“It’s the state’s responsibility to provide these services,” Davison said. “That’s what we’re looking for them to do, and I’m going that far, because I appreciate that we’re talking about it as the taxpayer who has to pay for it, but what’s so important to me is that when I don’t in good faith can ask for restoration because we know the state is not going to make a bed for it at the misdemeanor level.”

Davison launched The High Utilizer Initiative last year in an effort to root out repeat offenders by allowing misdemeanor orders of a limited number of repeat offenders. The program works with the Seattle Police Department, the King County Jail, the Seattle City Attorney’s Office and the King County Prosecutor’s Office.

Davison and Manion opened their opinion with a specific story that happened in Seattle last year when a 63-year-old nurse was attacked and thrown down a flight of stairs at the International District/Chinatown light rail station by a dangerous regular.

The man was charged with a separate murder charge just hours later.

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“It’s also inhumane that this person continues to decompensate in prison, and the state provides zero resources and actually doesn’t meet its obligations,” Manion said on The Gee & Ursula Show.

According to both Manion and Davison, there are approximately 400 individuals waiting to be licensed and become mental health providers in Washington, but a backlog of licensing applications has been pending.

– What is the cause of the backlog? Gee asked.

“That’s the question of the day, Gee,” Davison replied.

“It would be great if the state could maybe bring in some outside resources to help staff those beds at DSHS,” Manion said. “It would be great if the state could provide some resources to provide some services while individuals are in prison. It’s definitely not the responsibility of the counties or cities to restore competency, but to let people go untreated is unkind.”

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Eighty people charged with serious crimes are currently in the King County Jail awaiting services, as of this reporting, with nine more awaiting admission for felony-level inpatient evaluation, according to Manion.

“Restoration is a critical component of equitable justice and is the Department of Social and Health Services’ (DSHS) legal responsibility,” Davison and Manion wrote in their piece. “Yet DSHS repeatedly fails to admit incompetent individuals to Western State Hospital for necessary evaluations or services.”

Listen to Gee Scott and Ursula Reutin on weekday mornings from 9am to 12pm on KIRO Newsradio, 97.3 FM. Subscribe to podcast here.

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