Edward Piker Attorney San Antonio

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Edward Piker Attorney San Antonio – Inmate 1 of 3A at the Bexar County Jail looks at a corner wearing a protective hood, which is used to prevent inmates from harming themselves. He is in the mental health unit, an 18-cell unit visited by a psychiatrist once a day. Show more Show less

Inmate 2 of 3A at the Bexar County Jail looks at a corner wearing a safety smock, which is used to prevent inmates from mentally harming themselves. He is in the mental health unit, an 18-cell unit visited by a psychiatrist once a day. Show more Show less

Edward Piker Attorney San Antonio

Edward Piker Attorney San Antonio

Editor’s note: This story appeared Sunday, Aug. 1 exclusively in the print edition of the San Antonio Express-News.

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Bexar County is violating a state law that requires an immediate evaluation of all inmates with mental illness at the jail, leaving an unknown number of inmates languishing without psychiatric care.

Local courts are required to order psychiatric examinations and use the results to steer many mentally ill criminals into treatment and out of jail, where only one part-time and two full-time doctors are employed to treat about 900 suffering inmates per day. from some form of mental illness.

The jail screens inmates upon admission and provides a daily list of mentally ill patients to judges.

But the courts then drop the ball, saying they are overwhelmed and don’t have the resources to order investigations or distribute reports to lawyers. And mental health workers at the prison say they lack the staff to adequately screen all inmates who may be mentally ill.

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As a result, the prison continues to house criminals with mental illnesses accused of minor crimes who would do better in mental hospitals. The courts’ failure to follow the law contributes to overcrowding in the prison, where an estimated 21 percent of the 4,500 inmates have mental illness.

Rope. Rep. Pete Gallego, D-Alpine, who sponsored a bill last year to clarify how officials should share information about inmates’ mental health, said the law’s goal is to ensure resources are directed more effectively.

“The goal is to move forward,” Gallego said. “The way the system worked, you didn’t hold (the mentally ill) until the end of the tail, and by that time the person was in jail and needed medical care for a while.”

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Amended during the last legislative session, the law now requires prison officials to notify a “judge” within 72 hours of learning that an inmate is mentally ill.

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The judge must then order an examination of the prisoner, and the report of this examination – including the recommended method of treatment – must be submitted to the judge within 30 days of the decision.

The judge will then send a copy of the report to the prosecutor and the defendant’s attorney. The court cannot proceed with charges against the prisoner until it receives the investigation report, according to the law.

“I have a full-time responsibility to work in 10 criminal courts,” Carruthers said. “My schedule won’t accommodate it.”

He added that the law “says ‘judge.’ It doesn’t say criminal judge in Bexar County.”

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“In recent weeks, someone within the prison administration emailed me a list of people suspected of being mentally ill,” he wrote, adding that his “responsibilities and resources do not include enforcement” of the law, Article 16.22 of the Texas Penal Code.

“That’s part of the problem,” he said. “We don’t know who they mean. And the poor jailer doesn’t know who they mean.”

Fischer said the judges in the county magistrate’s office, where three are full-time and nine are part-time, “don’t do mental health evaluations. That’s not their job.”

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He added, “A lot of (Texas) counties are like us. They don’t have the resources and they haven’t enforced this according to the law, as they should be.

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In a May letter, District Judge Mary Roman told county commissioners that Bexar does not have “additional medical staff, mental health judges and administrators” to comply with the law but “fully complies with the intent of Section 16.22.”

“We’re doing everything we can at this point,” Roman said in a recent interview. “We would love to do more, but the resources have to be there, and we are not resource managers.”

Roman said he believes the law is best suited for small rural municipalities, a claim supported by other local officials, including Bexar County Sheriff Amadeo Ortiz and District Attorney Susan Reed.

“I would say that Austin, San Antonio, Houston, Dallas, Fort Worth, El Paso, just statistically, are going to have more people with mental health issues in their jails than rural counties,” the lawmaker said.

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“The example I’ve used is basketball,” Gallego said. “The ball either goes through the hoop or it doesn’t.”

An inmate who is seriously mentally ill in prison today saw the inside of the cell almost two decades ago.

The television, he thought, was sending him a terrifying message, as was the family dachshund, which he tried to give to a stranger.

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His parents, Leonides and Rafaela, encouraged him to see a doctor, but he refused. In 1991, a conflict broke out: Alejandro, then 23, punched his father, hitting him several times in the head, the police report said.

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Alejandro, who asked that his last name not be used, was jailed for 10 days until a judge dismissed the case and ordered him to San Antonio State Hospital.

For many years his paranoid schizophrenia was effectively controlled with medication. Then his pills stopped working, and he began self-medicating with alcohol and marijuana.

Police arrested him for possession of marijuana in 1997, the first in a string of nearly a dozen crimes that would land him in prison repeatedly over the next 13 years.

Again and again, Alejandro would be released on probation which he would repeatedly violate, leading to more time in prison.

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Over the years, Alejandro has been incarcerated seven times, for a total of 225 days, in the Bexar County Jail, where he remains today after violating the terms of his probation for driving drunk and attacking his father again, this time stomping on his father. Father. bone.

“There were no bruises, really,” said Edward Piker, Alejandro’s court-appointed attorney in the case. “It was very small. But he was still arrested for elder abuse.”

It’s unclear whether the extent of Alejandro’s mental illness was considered during his sentencing in March, when Judge Monica Guerrero found him guilty of the attack and imposed additional conditions of probation — community service, stress education and more.

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Alejandro failed to comply with the terms and was eventually arrested for reckless driving, leading to his current incarceration.

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“I trust lawyers to know about someone’s mental illness,” he said. “If we discover there is a difficulty or illness, it can prevent community service.”

Associate Justice Oscar Kazen, who presides over enforcement hearings for people with mental health problems, said Section 16.22 has been amended to avoid such uncertainty.

“Right now (the system) is ad hoc and depends on luck and goodwill,” Kazen said. “If you’re unlucky, one might slip.”

A few weeks before his latest arrest, Alejandro was sitting at the kitchen table in his parents’ home. He was recently released from an 81-day prison sentence and had just woken up from a nap.

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He has since instituted strategies to divert inmates with mental illness, moves that local officials cite as supporting claims that Bexar County has “high compliance” with Section 16.22.

Here’s one: When an inmate’s mental illness is so severe that he’s a danger to himself or others, Taylor’s staff sometimes requests a review by the district attorney’s office for a possible dismissal of the charges. If deportation is possible and a bed is available, the inmate is transferred directly from the prison to a psychiatric facility.

And every 72 hours, Taylor’s staff sends a list of inmates suspected of having “severe mental illness” during booking to the county’s four mental health criminal defense attorneys and the County Court Coordinator in Law no. 12, which drives the mind. health certificate once a week.

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The process of determining whether an offender is mentally ill begins in the prison’s holding area, where all inmates are asked a series of questions on a one-page sheet of paper, including: “Do you hear noises or sounds that other people don’t see? hear?”

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If the answers raise doubts, the inmate is moved to another area where a social worker makes a more detailed assessment. Consisting of three benches separated by glass partitions, it’s a lively place with little privacy.

If there is an open cell, inmates with mental illness in crisis go to the Mental Health Unit, an intensive 18-cell unit where they are visited once a day by a psychiatrist.

In the unit’s two closed rooms, the only accommodation is a blue mattress on a bench and a net on the floor as a toilet. The walls, still hard but softer than cement, bear the scratches of previous residents, which are monitored by cameras 24 hours a day.