There was a lot of anger and apprehension that came out of Judge Dan Maguire’s decision to grant Lauren Kirk-Coehlo probation rather than prison time. And there is justification for that view.
There are those who believe that a person of color committing a similar crime would have gotten prison time for sure – and indeed it’s hard to picture that a Muslim attacking a Christian church, with sympathies for Jihad and ISIS and threats to kill all Americans, wouldn’t have gotten prison time.
At the same time, it is clear – as both Deputy DA Ryan Couzens’ and the victim’s impact statement indicated – that Muslims in this community and this nation feel extremely vulnerable. We saw what happened in Portland. We’ve seen a rise of anti-Islamic hate crimes. And the actions of Kirk-Coehlo did lasting emotional harm.
I don’t want to downplay either point because they are completely valid.
Instead, I want to take you into the decision that Judge Maguire found himself having to make. In a way, he was choosing between the lesser of two suboptimal decisions. A big factor in his decision is that the maximum sentence here would have been six years.
This was not a violent crime – despite the contortions that Mr. Couzens made – and therefore, given that she had effectively no priors (trespassing from years ago really is not applicable here) – the judge was stuck acknowledging that she would be out after a few years and we still had to figure out what to do with her at that point.
This is a point I’ve made many times in this case. This is not a life sentence. Ryan Couzens argued, hey at least we’ll be safe while she’s in prison, and Judge Maguire weighed in on what the long-term best interest of the community was going to be.
For Judge Maguire, this came down to an assessment of public safety and rehabilitation. He said that the sentence choice needs to be the one to enhance public safety in the long term.
In many ways he agreed with the People. He found this was more serious than other similar crimes. He agreed on the vulnerability of the Muslim community in these times, the emotional injury as well as the monetary loss.
He said that a prison sentence would not be unreasonable.
He did have probation’s assessment that she was a low risk if she received treatment.
A big part of his decision came down to the fact that the treating psychiatrist, Dr. Joan Gerbasi, believed that with treatment Kirk-Coehlo would overcome her identified mental condition – an immature personality structure.
The belief expressed by the defense, probation, the psychiatrist and ultimately the judge was that, in prison, she would not get the level of care she needed.
“Treatment for what?” Ryan Couzens asked incredulously when responding to the probation recommendation for mental health treatment.
“There is no bonafide mental health condition that can be addressed,” he said.
Is this enough? The judge put every supervision restriction he could on her. Five years of probation. It is searchable probation. She has stay away orders. She can’t have weapons or use social media. She has to get cultural sensitivity training and receive intensive weekly psychiatric treatment.
Is that enough?
I think Judge Maguire made a solid point when he said that her past shows that she thrives when treated, but falls off the rails when not treated.
This is not going to calm anyone who is nervous, but to be honest I agree with Judge Maguire here. The problem you have is that prison is not a place to treat people in need of help. Prison is where you put someone who needs separation from society and where you punish people. The downside is that people often come out more hardened and angry than before.
What we need is a different paradigm. Our traditional criminal justice system, when a crime occurs, asks the questions, “What law was broken? Who broke it? And how do we punish that person?”
As abhorrent and damaging as Ms. Kirk-Coehlo’s crime was, the answer is not to sever her from humanity, but rather to bring her back into our community.
The way to do that is not through punishment, but through restorative justice.
Mayor Robb Davis sent a letter to Judge Dan Maguire and the attorneys for both sides asking for a restorative justice process.
The mayor wrote, “I am not certain of your knowledge of restorative justice but it is an alternative legal theory that views crime as an offense, not against the state, but against humans and human relationships. It articulates harms caused by crime as having implications for community health and seeks to build accountability by providing a process for offenders to face their victims in a carefully facilitated process.
“This process enables victims to explain the harms caused by the act and to seek, with the offender, a way forward that enable the harms to be made right, as much as possible, and assure they will not be repeated.”
Mayor Davis noted, “Over the past few months I have been in touch with a former prosecutor—Fred Van Lew—who has used restorative justice in the case of hate crimes. Mr. Van Lew has also used these processes when the offender was living with mental health challenges. He has strongly encouraged me to press the actors to consider a restorative approach in this case.”
He added, “As a resident of Davis, you understand what makes for a healthy and thriving community and I believe that if it is possible to provide an opportunity for the victims to meet the offender in this case that it will be an important step towards community healing in this event.”
Judge Maguire indicated that he would be amenable to that if the victims were agreeable.
Deputy DA Ryan Couzens was supportive of the idea.
However, the defense team was more guarded. They wanted to consult with the psychiatrist on whether she thought this was in the best interest of their client.
The issue will come back on August 25 at a review hearing.
I am a strong believer in restorative justice because it allows for the victim to confront the perpetrator and make them aware of the impact of the crime, to force the individual through a mediation process to acknowledge harms done to the community, and to put together a plan to redress those harms in a way that is not possible under the current confines of the criminal justice system.
Under a traditional approach, Ms. Kirk-Coehlo would serve her period of probation, do her treatment, and hopefully stay out of trouble. The restorative justice process would force her to accept a much greater level of responsibility and do more than simply pay for the damage to the property.
Will this work? I don’t know. I understand people’s anxiety and anger over this. But I think Judge Maguire carefully weighed his options and decided that this one had the best chance of being the best choice for the community.
—David M. Greenwald reporting