Arsonist Felon Remains in Custody in Order to Keep Him on Meds

By Susana Jurado

WOODLAND – A convicted arsonist in court for violating the terms of his probation—including trespassing on the property of a former victim—was provided an opportunity Wednesday by Judge Peter Williams in Yolo County Superior Court to receive necessary mental health treatment.

According to the district attorney’s office, Frank Martin Purtill went to prison for attempted arson in December 2017, with a prior arson in 2014.

The first violation of probation terms occurred when he was found in possession of a lighter and was observed lighting a fire outside of a housing complex. His second violation involved his failure to contact probation after being released.

And in the most recent case, Purtill  was cited for trespassing in a big grassy field on an individual’s property where he had set a fire previously. The owner of the property was extremely concerned, because, based on the current climate conditions, he was worried about the damage a fire would do.

A number of people were in the courtroom to observe Purtill’s case, including Probation Officer Nichole Whitten and an officer representing the Yolo County Health and Human Services (HHSA), Mr. Dee.

Deputy Public Defender Martha Sequeira admitted that her client’s first felony count “seemed to be a little bit concerning,” but she noted allegations of both violations of probation don’t seem to be new cases, “just appear to be violations with his probation terms.”

Purtill’s attorney requested more information on the case, including: “Winters Police Department report that is contained in count one. I would also want information in connection with the allegation of what the homestead staff said they observed.”

The public defender emphasized the significance of this needed information and told the court she could not move forward “without litigating the actual merits of the declaration.”

Deputy PD Sequeira asked the court for Purtill’s immediate release despite protests from probation Officer Whitten and Mr. Dee, who both asked that Purtill remain in custody to give him the opportunity to engage in services that would keep him in stable medication.

“I want the court to know that my position and your position, is that you should not be in custody on an alleged case worth only your second violation of probation and you’ve been on probation for almost three years now,” said Sequeira to Purtill.

Ms. Sequeira said, “I do not think he’s a flight risk, and so…”

At that moment, Purtill interrupted the courtroom session and yelled through the camera, “I am not a flight risk!”

The public defender interjected and immediately asked him to stop talking.

Judge Williams then turned to Deputy DA Robin Johnson, asking about her thoughts on the matter.

The district attorney told the court that the 45 days in custody offered by probation included releasing Purtill to a board and care facility. She told the court that, if he should agree, that is where he would remain in custody.

DDA Johnson classified him as a public safety risk based on criminal history and the danger he could have put many lives in.

Judge Williams acknowledged the seriousness of these charges and admitted to the court that he would not release him on supervised own recognizance release, where the court allows an inmate to leave jail, but with an added condition that he reports regularly to the court system. 

However, given the attendance of many people in the courtroom that day supporting Purtill, Judge Williams had some questions about the treatment plan Purtill would be receiving.

The district attorney responded, “It’s my understanding that they’re trying to find a board and care facility. I know probation is here if the court wants to hear directly from them about what their plan is.”

“What’s the plan, Ms. Whitten?” asked Judge Williams.

Probation Officer Whitten told the court that probation and HHSA were working together to attempt to find some stable housing for Purtill. She informed the court on HHSA’s goals to keep Purtill on his medication, admitting that was the very reason why “they want to re-engage him and have a plan with him. I’ve [also] been told that they will see him within the next week.”

Public Defender Sequeira cut in and pointed out to the court that because Purtill hasn’t admitted to the charge yet, if he admits, he could get a low sentence and could be released really soon.

“Don’t disagree with that,” stated Judge Williams.

“[However], it doesn’t sound like we’re going to win this argument,” Sequeira said, “so if you want an opportunity to try to get some stability take advantage of this.”

With that said, Judge Williams moved forward with the ruling and agreed to release him over to probation’s custody in order to receive treatment, and appointed a hearing date for an admit or deny on October 2.

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About The Author

The Vanguard Court Watch operates in Yolo, Sacramento and Sacramento Counties with a mission to monitor and report on court cases. Anyone interested in interning at the Courthouse or volunteering to monitor cases should contact the Vanguard at info(at)davisvanguard(dot)org - please email info(at)davisvanguard(dot)org if you find inaccuracies in this report.

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