Sunday, December 11, 2005

 

Steve Lopez: Wrong, Again

Steve Lopez believes that putting mentally-ill offenders in jail is a crime against humanity. As usual, following his logic is like navigating a cavern with a tea candle.
"I run the biggest mental hospital in the country," Sheriff Lee Baca often says.

That's a bit misleading, since only a small percentage of inmates actually need inpatient hospital services. But with roughly 2,000 inmates who've been identified by the jail as having mental issues, about two-thirds of whom are in for nonviolent crimes, Baca has a point.

People are locked up for being mentally ill, essentially, because there's nowhere else to put them. The jail is a dumping bin, teeming with inmates the jailers are ill-equipped and too understaffed to help, and sometimes can't even protect.

On Nov. 16, 35-year-old Chadwick Shane Cochran's mental problems cost him his life.

A drifter whose friends said he suffered from paranoia and delusions, Cochran was brought in out of the rain in October by an elderly Covina woman who let him stay in a trailer behind her house. When he said he was afraid that people were out to get him, she gave him a revolver, in the misguided belief that it would make him feel safe. Instead, it got him arrested for being a felon in possession of a gun.

Cochran's mental history landed him in the Twin Towers, along with other sick inmates. But he wasn't as sick as some of the others, and since there's just not room to segregate every mentally ill prisoner, Cochran got transferred over to the hard-core Men's Central facility, which resembles a dungeon.

There, deputies had the bright idea of stashing Cochran in a windowless holding room with 30 other prisoners and no supervision. Apparently thinking Cochran was a snitch, two gang members tortured him for up to 30 minutes, then stomped and beat him to death. One of the alleged killers was awaiting trial on murder charges and the other on kidnap and carjacking charges.

Cochran was the eighth person killed in Los Angeles County jails over the last two years.
The reason we have jails is to keep offenders from hurting anyone else before their court date, or while en route to a state or Federal prison. As you can read in the above text, Cochran was arrested on valid grounds. However, that isn't good enough for Lopez, who has been under the belief for as long as he's been writing that society owes a debt to any and all criminals. There is no difference, as there should not be, as to whether an offender is mentally-ill or not. It's common knowledge in jail that if you can fake a mental illness and get sent to Patton for four years, you'll be let off the hook because there's a good chance that the DA will not be able to file charges against you if you're a 5150. The irony of this entire situation with Lopez makes itself apparent with the article that is set right across from it in the LA Times, describing the problems at Patton, and how they worry about not being able to pass a Federal inspection due to the problem with homicides at the facility.
On the eve of a long-scheduled federal inspection, the state's largest mental hospital is contending with a recent surge in violence — two patient homicides in the last three months.

Dwight Wenholz, a 43-year-old long-term patient at Patton State Hospital in San Bernardino was found dead on a bathroom floor late Wednesday, just days before the inspectors' visit, which is set to begin Monday. He had been choked and slammed to the floor, police said.

Samuel Gomez Galindo, 33, a paranoid schizophrenic patient, was arrested and booked on suspicion of murder. He later tried to commit suicide in jail, his family said.

In September, Robert Lucas, 50, was choked and stabbed in the neck. Two patients, 32-year-old Jason Porter and 43-year-old Tom Smith, have been charged with his murder.
Quick! Someone better tell Steve Lopez to write a letter to the inspectors about how these guys are merely victims of society and the evil jailer, Lee Baca.

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