Richard Dunn has been at the Flagler County jail for the last 166 days. He may be there for another hundred, awaiting an opening at a state psychiatric hospital.
It’s not that he hasn’t committed a crime. He stabbed his father to death at his Palm Coast home in 2006, was found not guilty by reason of insanity, and has been under strict court supervision since. He was first in a locked-up state psychiatric hospital until 2012, then in a halfway house in Daytona Beach, then in an apartment on his own, but still under supervision. He was working on re-entering society a free man, and last year came very close.
Things deteriorated again last year either when his medication was altered or when he wasn’t taking it as prescribed. He became delusional again, behaved bizarrely, and worried counselors at SMA Healthcare enough that they were concerned he’d do something violent again. But they had no way of legally confining him, let alone jailing him. With one exception. He’d had some marijuana. That ranked as a probation violation. He was immediately jailed at the Flagler County jail last Sept. 23 on no bond, which is normal on probation violations.
After additional psychological evaluations, Perkins signed an order in January re-committing Dunn to a state hospital so he can be re-stabilized, with the understanding that he would likely be returned to supervised living on his own at some point.
What’s not normal is a defacto jail sentence now stretching into its sixth month, raising concerns not only for Dunn’s attorney and for Dunn’s mental health, but for Circuit Judge Terence Perkins.
“We filed this motion because there’s still no progress with him being sent over to the state hospital,” John Hager, Dunn’s attorney, said this morning. The hospital has a waiting list of 582 inmates. Dunn has been making his way up the waiting list. As of today, he’s Number 99. An SMA staffer told the court that Dunn “possibly could be transported by the end of May” to the hospital. By then, Dunn will have been at the jail nearly 200 days.
Dunn’s case is sharply illustrative of a judicial and mental health system both overwhelmed with mental health cased and often ill equipped to handle them–and of the frustrations of both courts and attorneys in the face of that system. Perkins spoke without reserve this morning to express his dissatisfaction.
“This is certainly not what I intended and certainly not the best circumstance that we find ourselves in, either as a system or for Mr. Dunn specifically in that regard,” Perkins said this morning in the latest of many hearings since September.
Hager had filed a motion to have Dunn released to another halfway house, Free Spirit Stone Soup Ministries in Daytona Beach, where Dunn had resided before. One psychologist whose evaluation was considered by the court recommended that very option, rather than sending Dunn back to a state hospital.
Pekins denied the motion today, if unhappily.
“It just doesn’t make sense that he has to sit there and wait to go to a facility to have that evaluation done,” Hager had argued.
“I think it’s outrageous. I agree with you,” Perkins said. “It’s absolutely not what any of us either wanted or expected. I don’t think the state is condoning it in any fashion in that regard. But I don’t know how to get the evaluation that I need to move forward on Mr. Dunn’s case without doing this, and so, in that respect, I think I do have to deny your motion, not because it’s not without merit. It absolutely has merit. I just have no other alternative available to me.”
Perkins suggested to Dunn to find a way to get Dunn evaluated somehow even without him having to go to the state hospital, if it can be legally done. That’s open to question. “The only way to get that changed and get those conditions is through Florida State Hospital, at least based on my reading of the statute,” Perkins said. “So I’m happy to consider alternatives if we can do it legally.”
The judge added: ” I and I share your concern. And also your belief that this is clearly not what we intended when we had our hearing that the system is not supposed to function like this. But, you know, the law requires that we get certain things I need certain things to move forward. And I can only get that through Florida.
When Dunn smoked pot in September, it was little more than a pretext for the court to lock him up while lawyers and psychologists figured out whether he was again a danger to society. Assistant State Attorney Jason Lewis, who is prosecuting the case, did not want to take a chance. Perkins certainly didn’t. And counselors at SMA were anxious, in their testimonies in hearings, about the gray area Dunn was in. So keeping him in jail was everyone’s default solution, except for Dunn. His attorneys–first, Assistant Public Defender Regina Nunnally, now Hager–have tried to keep him out of jail, but unsuccessfully.
“We stand by our position that the safest place for him is in the state hospital,” Lewis said, “and more importantly, the safest places for the community is in the state hospital. So we would ask that he remain there.”
Perkins reminded the attorneys that earlier hearings were to determine whether Dunn had been in violation of his conditional release–which he was. So legally, he could be kept in jail. But Perkins also believes Dunn needs adjustments to his conditional release plan. That can’t happen before he goes to the state hospital, and he can’t be released in the meantime. “There’s no other alternative to get that,” Perkins said, “and as much as I don’t I don’t want to wait any more than you do to have him placed back in the hospitals so we can get that., there is no other way to get that and get the evaluation of the type that we need. That’s really the motivation for sending him back to Florida State Hospital.”