Thursday, February 14, 2008

Close to Home

This story comes to you from King 5 News in Washington. The way people with developmental disabilities and mental health issues are treated in the Criminal Justice System is absolutely disgusting. I have highlighted some of the words and phrases that made my eyes widen as I read this piece.

You don't need to have a great understanding of developmental disabilities to see how wrong these law enforcement people were. My hope is that a lawsuit is in the works.

PS... adults don't wear "diapers", they wear Attends or Depends. Also, there's no such thing as an"invalid" when describing a human being.

10:50 PM PST on Wednesday, February 13, 2008

PORT ORCHARD, Wash. – In July 2006, a frightened mother called 911 to get help for her developmentally disabled son. But that phone call set off a chain of events that landed him in the Kitsap County Jail and altered his life forever.

Bill Trask walked into that jail healthy and left so damaged he can't even feed himself. His story opens a window into the treatment of the developmentally disabled behind bars in Washington State. Increasingly independent before he went to jail, Trask had the mind of a child, but the physical abilities of a 41-year-old man.

He played sports year-round. "He was very fast, he could run," said Wanda Smith, his Special Olympics Coach. Trask also worked as a dishwasher. His employer called him a "great employee." "On his way to being very successful," said Roxanne Bryson, of the Holly Ridge Center.

But as he became increasingly independent, he started challenging his mother, Marie Watson, the one person who'd always taken care of him. One night, Trask went too far.
"I called 911 because Bill was very angry," Watson said. "He hit me twice."
It was the first time she'd ever called police. She was trying to help her son, but the call would change his life forever. "I can't believe I've kept him safe for 41 years and something like this," she said. "They've taken his life away."

Trask is a different man now. He spends his days in diapers and a wheelchair. He's been like this ever since he left the Kitsap County Jail in August 2006.
On July 27, 2006, when he was arrested for misdemeanor assault, it was obvious Trask was mentally impaired. The officer flagged him as "mentally retarded." The jail as having "mental problems."

Twelve days into his stay, Trask became disoriented - screaming and begging for his mother.
"I'm sure that Bill did not know what was going on, why he was in there," Watson said.
That same day, he was moved to a padded crisis cell for his own safety. "It's not something we like to put people in, because you have to constantly check on them and we do when they're in here," said Sergeant Steve Lawson, of the Kitsap County Jail. "They're on camera the entire time they're here."

Trask now spends his days in diapers and a wheelchair. The KING 5 Investigators reviewed hundreds of pages of jail records and in-house surveillance tapes. The picture that emerges is that of a man disintegrating as jail guards stand by and watch.

On a tape of Trask inside his crisis cell, he's seen slapping the walls, taking of his clothes, sitting on the drain. They move him back and forth between the crisis cell and a less restrictive isolation cell. The jail asks a mental health professional for an evaluation, but she only notes that he will need "special care and handling." The next day when a sack breakfast is tossed into his cell, Trask shoves it down the drain.

"Those are all behaviors that are crying out for help," said Sue Elliott, a spokesperson for the Arc of Washington, an organization that advocates for the rights of the developmentally disabled.
We asked two experts to interpret Trask's behavior. "Well, I think he was probably trying to say he was afraid," said Ed Holen, executive director of the Washington state Developmental Disabilities Council. "He didn't know what was happening to him. Maybe he didn't even know why."

After 15 days in jail, he was released to the person he cried out for - his mother. But he was so out of control she was forced to call 911 again. He was only free for five hours.
"I asked them if they could take him and get him evaluated," Watson said. "They said no… they had to take him to jail."

Back inside, day after day, his jailers watched as Trask became more agitated. He tried to stuff his clothes down the drain. He spun on the floor in his own urine. When guards threw in his meal, he opened it and rolled around in it for hours. "To check a box when somebody is urinating on themselves and putting their food down the drain and not drinking water, and not intervening, makes me angry because that's just something you'd do for anybody," Elliot said. But this time the jail didn't ask for another mental health evaluation.

Twenty-two days after he first entered the jail, a doctor happened to stop by his cell while investigating a possible chicken pox outbreak and recognized that Trask was in danger. Trask was sent to a hospital in an ambulance. "He was dehydrated, he had bacteria in his blood, he had gangrene on four of his fingers, and his kidneys were failing," Watson said.

Experts who evaluated Trask said the dehydration he suffered could have caused his brain damage. He remains an invalid even a year and a half later.

Trask's mother, Marie Watson, said: "I've lost my son. I really have." "He's lost everything," said Smith, his former coach. "He's lost his life." For the people who'd helped him come so far, it's heartbreaking. "I've lost my son, I really have," Watson said.

Sheriff Stephen Boyer oversees the jail. He wouldn't talk to us on camera, but in a written statement told us he's sympathetic to the seriousness of Trask's health situation, but believes what happened is not their fault.

Disability advocates say situations like Trask's are a serious problem in jails, which is why they want special training for corrections officers. The Legislature passed a training bill in 2003, but didn't fund it.
Advocates say Bill Trask's case proves they need to try again.

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