When teachers and paraprofessionals speak of the dangers of their work–and when paraprofessionals speak of the low wages that don’t reflect the cost of those hazards–they have in mind cases like that of R.J., the 18-year-old student arrested last April at Matanzas High School after assaulting her teacher.
On Monday, R.J., who was in a class for behaviorally challenged students, was found incompetent to stand trial–and not qualified to be sent to a state psychiatric hospital while awaiting a return to competency. Instead, R.J. will signed a conditional release plan that will have her receive treatment at home in Palm Coast’s R Section, and possibly continue her education there.
The plan is modified probation, but not as severe: R.J. is not allowed to leave the state without court permission. She is not allowed to possess or access firearms, take any drugs other than those prescribed, is required to take her prescribed medication and meet with her psychiatrist, and may be hospitalized or placed in a crisis stabilization center at any point, with or without her consent, if her condition deteriorates. She must also submit to random blood or urine tests, submit to competency training, and make her own arrangements for all required transportation to meet the demands of the plan. She is not allowed to have contact with the teacher she victimized.
Circuit Judge Terence Perkins signed the order on Monday following receipt of a psychologist’s report finding R.J. incompetent to proceed to trial or conduct pre-trial proceedings, including entering a plea in the case. She pleaded not guilty at her Aug. 30 arraignment.
She is represented by Assistant Public Defender Regina Nunnally, who on Sept. 8 submitted a “suggestion” (a legal term, in this case, having the same effect as a motion requesting that the court consider the suggestion) of incompetency. Nunnally said R.J., a client of Devereux Advanced Behavioral Health, “was diagnosed with a mixture of (8) mental health conditions including Intellectual Disability and Developmental Delays. She was also a resident of a group home and was placed in an emotional-behavioral classroom.”
The conditional release plan is not to exceed a year, according to Perkins’s order, and is to be executed under the direction of the Agency for Persons with Disabilities. The agency is required to submit a status report in six months.
Meanwhile R.J. “will remain in outpatient training for incompetency during her conditional release period, and [will] participate in either individual or group training sessions, along with any other classes or therapy sessions as recommended by [her] treatment professionals,” the judge ordered.
According to her arrest report, R.J. had been upset at her teacher and began cursing her, threatening her–in colorful language–that she would punch her and beat her. When the teacher turned around, R.J. punched the teacher on her back. The teacher stepped away. R.J. continued to threaten her. Two paraprofessionals in the room witnessed the incident and attested to it to the Sheriff’s Office.
The State Attorney’s Office filed a third degree felony charge of battery on a school employee on July 16. If and when restored to competency–is is rare that defendants, at least in the eyes of the law, are not restored long enough to stand trial–R.J. is likely to face probation, not jail time, or possibly agree to a plea that could lower the charge to a misdemeanor. Even as a felony conviction, judges typically withhold adjudication on a first offense.