DA Seeks Three Strikes for Mentally Ill Man Accused of Vandalism

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courtroom.jpgA trial begins today for Loren Poirier, 42, accused in separate cases of vandalism.  Mr. Poirier has a history of serious mental illness, diagnosed as Bipolar Disorder, and there are serious questions both about his competency to stand trial as well as his state of mind at the time in which the crimes were committed.

Nevertheless, the Yolo County DA’s office, apparently overruling the judgment of Deputy District Attorney James Walker, who was assigned to this case, is pursuing this as a three strikes case and seeking to put Mr. Poirier in prison for life.

On September 9, 2009, Mr. Poirier apparent broke windows in an empty house in West Sacramento in the middle of the day while shouting, “America never loses.”  He did not enter the home.  He was not using alcohol or drugs at the time.  Mr. Poirier was homeless.  A neighbor reported that he had argued with Mr. Poirier and had asked him to leave the premises prior to him breaking the windows.

In jail at Monroe Detention Center the next day in the Medical Unit, Mr. Poirier banged on the wire mesh reinforced glass of his cell window with his food tray and broke the glass.

The District Attorney’s office apparently charges Mr. Poirier for this episode with felony vandalism.  However, in order for vandalism to be categorized as a felony, it must amount to more than $400 in damage.

The District Attorney’s office submits to a glass company in Sacramento that would charge the county $1100 to repair the glass at Monroe Detention Center.  However, according to the defense, a local Woodland Glass Company would only charge a little over $300 to do the job.  Here’s the kicker, that individual was the individual that installed the glass in the first place.

The defense is therefore arguing that the DA’s office is trumping up the cost of repairs and the assessment of damage in order to get a felony charge on Mr. Poirier and attempt to put him in jail for life under three strikes.

According to the complaint filed by James Walker, the defendant has four priors stemming from two incidents.  In October of 1987 he was convicted of residential burglary.  In April of 2008, he was convicted of two counts of making criminal threats and assault on a peace officer.

Mr. Poirier suffers from acute bipolar disorder, apparently he is okay when he is on his medication as we will see in the psychiatric reports.  However, he quickly escalates out of control when he is not properly medicated.  The defense is seeking to have Mr. Poirier placed in a facility such as Napa where the defendant would be supervised and administered medication.

While it seemed that the Deputy District Attorney and Judge were agreeable to that arrangement, the DA’s office itself under the authority of supervisor Garrett Hamilton has sought to continue to push for three strikes despite the strong evidence of the mental state of Mr. Poirier and despite the relatively minor nature of the initial crime for which he is accused.

Mr. Poirier was submitted to two psychiatric evaluations.  According to Dr. Captane Thomson, “The Defendant’s arrest report describes both the window breaking in the vacant house in West Sacramento and again in the medical observation cell in the jail.  Both suggest that the Defendant was acutely psychotic when this occurred.”

He continued, “It reminds me of the previous episode in 2008 where he broke into a car and then honked the orn, apparently hoping the police would come to help control him.  Instead, he was badly beaten by the neighbors who owned the car and suffered an orbital fracture from a blow to the cheek.”

Furthermore, “It is not clear to me or apparently to the Defendant why he broke the windows in the abandoned home unless it was a cry for help in the hope that he would be apprehended and brought under control in the jail or hospital setting.  According to the Defendant, he was afraid that he would be killed.  By his account, he was attacked with tasers and perhaps a “cattle prod” or stun gun in the jail to help bring him under control.”

“He has not been consistent in following through on outpatient treatment in the community on a voluntary basis,” Dr. Thomson wrote, “He would be an appropriate candidate for mandatory assisted outpatient treatment with anti-psychotic medications.”

Dr. Thomson concludes, “It is clear that he was in an acute manic and paranoid state at the time of his arrest.  He claims to have been afraid that he was about to be killed and was acting to protect himself.  His acting in self defense should negate the assumption that he understood that what he was doing was wrong, even if he did have a basic understanding of the nature and quality of his acts, the senseless window breaking.”

Dr. Thomson recommends that “he would be a candidate for a finding of Not Guilty by reason of insanity.”  If that is the case, he write, “He should be referred to a state mental hospital with follow-up intensive outpatient treatment through the Conditional Release Program.”

Dr. Joan Gerbasi described Mr. Poirier’s conduct in great detail and offers a lengthy opinion.

She writes, “It is my opinion, with reasonable medical certainty, that Mr. Poirier, at the time of the alleged offenses was acutely psychotic and mentally ill.  He was in the midst of a manic episode that did not resolve until he was arrested and received treatment at the Monroe Detention Center.”

She continued that he has a well-documented history of Bipolar Disorder and was not taking his medication during the time of the incident that led to his arrest.  “His behavior on the day of his arrest and after being arrested was without rational motive.  His contemporaneous writings include delusional and paranoid material and also reveal a disordered thought process.  Additionally, his statements at the time of his arrest also contain references to delusions and paranoia.”

Dr. Gerbasi  then concludes, “It is my opinion that, at the time of the acts charged, Mr. Poirier, due to his psychotic, manic symptoms, was unable to know or understand the nature and quality of his acts.”  Furthermore, “It is also my opinion, that, at the time of his acts, Mr. Poirier was not capable of knowing or distinguishing right from wrong.”  Interestingly she notes, “Although he stated that he asked the booking officer if breaking a window would be considered “vandalism”, he tied that action to some delusional belief about having broken the window of a man who raped his daughter, made statements about being a government agent and did not know the owner of the residence he vandalized.” 

She continued, “He was acutely psychotic and unable to behave in an organized, goal directed fashion.  Additionally, while at the Monroe Detention Center, he believed that he was going to be killed and broke the window in an attempt to hasten the attack.  While psychotic, he viewed this act to be one of self-defense.”

She also writes that at the present time that he has recovered his sanity.  While on medication, he “has no symptoms of psychosis or mania.  At the present time he states that he understands his need medication and will follow-up with further treatment.”

The bottom line in this case is twofold.  From a criminal standpoint, Mr. Poirier is accused of a fairly minor crime in vandalism. the DA’s office is pushing for this to be a felony and therefore trying this as a three-strikes case.  Even without the mental history of Mr. Poirier the case would be sketchy. 

But the mental state of Mr. Poirier at the time of the two incidents is clearly one of an individual suffering from a psychotic episode.  It is unclear why the DA’s office is attempting to do anything other than get Mr. Poirier the supervised treatment he needs.  Any effort to continue to prosecute this case, scheduled to go to trial today, is a waste of taxpayer money at a time when the DA’s office is crying poverty and telling the county that they if they suffer future cuts they cannot afford to try minor crimes.

Yolo Judicial Watch will be monitoring this case and provides updates as needed.

—David M. Greenwald reporting

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About The Author

David Greenwald is the founder, editor, and executive director of the Davis Vanguard. He founded the Vanguard in 2006. David Greenwald moved to Davis in 1996 to attend Graduate School at UC Davis in Political Science. He lives in South Davis with his wife Cecilia Escamilla Greenwald and three children.

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22 thoughts on “DA Seeks Three Strikes for Mentally Ill Man Accused of Vandalism”

  1. biddlin

    Lest one think this is an isolated incident, according to the NIMH the occurrence of mental illness in the general population is about 5%. In prison it is 22%. Bi-Polar disorder affects almost 6 million people between 18 and 65 in any given year.

  2. Ryan Kelly

    She also writes that at the present time that he has recovered his sanity. While on medication, he “has no symptoms of psychosis or mania. At the present time he states that he understands his need medication and will follow-up with further treatment.”

    At some point, during a time of “sanity”, he has made a decision to stop taking his medication. It seems that he has repeatedly done this. He may be forgiven or deemed Not Guilty for his behavior during the periods of insanity, but how does one punish the poor decision that occurs just prior? That is what threatens public safety.

  3. biddlin

    Doctor Thomson wrote,”He would be an appropriate candidate for mandatory assisted outpatient treatment with anti-psychotic medications.” Like most chronic illness, bipolar disorder requires monitoring and follow-up treatment and in the absence of a family support system, a more formalized community approach is necessary.

  4. Rich Rifkin

    I think biddlin’s comments (12:20) are spot on.

    [i]”I suppose that this gentleman is victim of an inadequate healthcare system.”[/i]

    Yes, but it is a bit different wrt serious mental illness. Very often, in cases where family members of the mentally ill try to force their loved ones into treatment, our civil libertarian approach, which puts the mentally ill patient in charge of his own care, ensures that the patient does not get the treatment he needs.

    In the last week, there were two serious tragedies in California in which patients were released from mental health facilities (due to our civil libertarian approach) against the wishes of their family members. In the first one, a young woman ended up stabbing four people in a Target store, one very seriously: [quote] A sister, who only provided her first name Stephanie, told the Los Angeles Times that the family had repeatedly sought psychiatric treatment for Layla Trawick and she had been hospitalized with mental health issues. [/quote] In the latter case, the family said much the same thing before the tragic outcome yesterday in Pittsburg: [quote]
    A police official said Sunday that snipers had no choice but to shoot and kill a 20-year-old man with a history of mental illness who had held his mother hostage at gunpoint in the family’s Pittsburg apartment for almost 30 hours.

    The suspect pointed the gun at his mother Saturday evening, and the two snipers from the Contra Costa County Sheriff’s Office believed her life was in danger, said Pittsburg police Lt. Brian Addington.[/quote]

  5. Rich Rifkin

    btw, in case anyone reading David’s story does not know Dr. Thomson, he is Supervisor Helen Thomson’s husband. When she was in the Assembly, she authored a very good bill called Laura’s Law, which would allow involuntary treatment of the mentally ill upon a court hearing. However, the system is run by the counties, and counties don’t have the money to enforce this law. So virtually no patients get treatment against their wishes in California.

  6. Superfluous Man

    David-

    “The District Attorney’s office apparently charges Mr. Poirier for this episode with felony vandalism. However, in order for vandalism to be categorized as a felony, it must amount to more than $400 in damage.”

    There are circumstances in which a person may be charged with felony vandalism even though the amount is less than $400.

    What exactly was DDA Walker arguing for?

    Are we going to see some more back peddling from the DA’s Office, as we did with the cheese pants guy?

  7. Themis

    How much money are we willing to spend to keep these petty criminals behind bars for life? No wonder why our state is in a perpetual financial crisis.

  8. David M. Greenwald

    Ryan: According to the expert I spoke to, part of the symptom of the disorder is the cessation of taking medication. That probably argues for more supervision.

  9. biddlin

    Rich Rifkin-You describe the involuntary treatment situation perfectly. According to NIMH, mental disorders are common in the United States and internationally. An estimated 26.2 percent of Americans ages 18 and older suffer from a diagnosable mental disorder in a given year. This figure translates to 58 million people. Mental illness, including suicide, accounts for over 15 percent of the burden of disease in established market economies, such as the United States. This is more than the disease burden caused by all cancers. Mental disorders are the leading cause of disability in the U.S. and Canada for ages 15-44. As community resources continue to shrink and support from the State is nonexistent, this is likely to become a more common story. The best we can do is educate ourselves and our officials. Here is where I started. http://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/topics/statistics/index.shtml

  10. David M. Greenwald

    Superfluous:

    Walker was specifically arguing that it was more than $400.

    The case was settled today. Mr. Poirier got 32 months maximum at the Napa facility and a 4 year plus suspended sentence. He probably could have done better had he challenged the charges, but it is at least a reasonable outcome.

  11. Superfluous Man

    David-

    So Walker didn’t want to go for the third strike? What judgement of his did the DA’s Office overrule?

    Why did the DA’s Office change it’s mind this time?

  12. David M. Greenwald

    Not sure the DA’s Office changed its mind. The judge struck the one of the strikes to prevent it from being a three strikes case, the rest was just a settlement.

  13. Daniel_nicholson

    Which Judge exercised his authority to dismiss the prior ‘strikes?’. Did that judge dismiss one or two priors? Which DA argued the ‘Romero motion?’ Why did the court grant the motion; on what specific basis? Who was the attorney for defense? Why isn’t the outcome a headline? Do you need an editor? — submitted by local concerned defense counsel

  14. roger bockrath

    Daniel,
    I’m with you. More questions here to be answered. I’m hoping David will follow up tomorrow on this one. I want to know what is meant by the D.A.s office decided to go for a three strikes conviction. Are we talking about Jeff Reisig or is this some kind of a democratically arrived at decision among upper level deputy D.A.s. As long as these kind of decisions are going to get exposed to the voters it’s important to attach the name of the responsible party or parties.

  15. David M. Greenwald

    This is where I’m more fuzzy, so bear with me.

    Judge Mock was the Judge in this case. I believe he dismissed one of the priors and only counted one of the current charges. I do not believe that the DA argued the Romero motion nor do I know why the court granted the motion, I left by that point. The defense attorney was Daen Johanson from the Public Defenders Office. The outcome isn’t a headline because it happened yesterday after the article and I don’t think I have enough information additionally to write another full story. Yes, I need an editor.

    To Roger, I believe they have a three strikes committee, I don’t know exactly how that operates, someone tried to explain the composition of that committee, but they basically made the call.

  16. E Roberts Musser

    RR: “btw, in case anyone reading David’s story does not know Dr. Thomson, he is Supervisor Helen Thomson’s husband. When she was in the Assembly, she authored a very good bill called Laura’s Law, which would allow involuntary treatment of the mentally ill upon a court hearing. However, the system is run by the counties, and counties don’t have the money to enforce this law. So virtually no patients get treatment against their wishes in California.”

    Perhaps I am being naive or don’t quite understand the problem, but I would think it would be cheaper to provide some sort of mandatory supervised out-patient treatment, than incarceration in the prison system. For instance, if a patient commits a crime (not as serious as murder or armed robbery or aggravated assault), then is given the choice of going to prison, or check in to be given medication once a day for the length of time for the prison term? But the problem is the state owns the prison system and funds it, the county would facilitate the check-in system and would have to find the funds for it which they don’t have. Hmmmmmm – perhaps the state needs to run the check-in system to save money, so not as many beds in the jail system are needed?

  17. Rich Rifkin

    [i]”I would think it would be cheaper to provide some sort of mandatory supervised out-patient treatment, than incarceration in the prison system.”[/i]

    It probably is cheaper than out-patient treatment. It costs about $45,000/prisoner per year in California. However, it costs much more than that for keeping involuntary mental patients locked up in psychiatric hospitals. (One of the motives for shutting down the hospital was to save this huge expense. The other primary motive was to “liberate” the mental patients.)

    [i]”For instance, if a patient commits a crime (not as serious as murder or armed robbery or aggravated assault), then is given the choice of going to prison, or check in to be given medication once a day for the length of time for the prison term?”[/i]

    In cases where the mental illness is quite serious — such as with hallucinaltory bipolar, schizophrenia, etc. — “choice” is a tough term to use, because very often the patients don’t have a rational understanding of their own illnesses. In those cases, they need supervision. They need someone to make sure they are taking medication (and of course they need the money for the meds). Even medicated, some of these patients will have periods of crisis. When that happens, what we need is a system for their families or a court-ordered guardian to be able to put them in a mental hospital until they again come back down to a normal state; and again, when released, they need supervision so they won’t end up committing crimes (or, more likely, committing suicide or being vicitimized on the streets).

    [i]”But the problem is the state owns the prison system and funds it, the county would facilitate the check-in system and would have to find the funds for it which they don’t have. Hmmmmmm – perhaps the state needs to run the check-in system to save money, so not as many beds in the jail system are needed?”[/i]

    Ultimately, the problem is one of priorities in our state: Do we care about people who are, due to this illness, unable to care for themselves? Do we have compassion for the mentally ill living on our streets or continually getting sent to prison? Or do we think saving a few bucks and making sure they are “liberated” is a higher priority?

  18. mrs.banderson

    This is my uncle that ther are talking about!! I really hope that he gets the help he needs!! he doesnt belong in priso but h definately needs to be on meds and get help dealing with the issues and problems he has had his whole life!!!

  19. Ward

    Most people do not understand why a bi-polar person would not take their medication. For one thing, it can take months to find the right meds to work for this illness. Everyone is differant and it takes up to two months to know if the meds they are on are working or not. The meds have very uncomfortable side effects that most patients can not tolerate. They give up and find another way to deal with their bipolar. They often use alcohol or drugs to self medicate.
    Another big problem is they enjoy the manic high too much. They become very happy during this phase of their illness and would not think of taking meds at this time. When they return to the depressed state, they have no will to get help, as they can barely function at that level of depression. This is one of the most devastating mental illnes’s that there is. It destroys their lives. In the case of my son, Loren Poirier, yes, he did things to alert the authorities hoping to get locked up and get help. Every thing he did, was a cry for help.
    He is now in Napa State Hospital and doing very well. He will continue to be there until the doctors feel he can safely leave. He will be placed in a drug and alcohol rehab after he is released. After that he will be under the care of a caseworker who will help him to establish a normal living situation. Something he has never experienced in his life. His illness started as a young boy, and not knowing what was wrong with him, most of his family has disowned him. Hopefully that will change, as they are all aware now that he needs their support and love.
    I am positive that he has a future now, and will not longer be a threat to his community.

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