By Koda Slingluff
WOODLAND, CA – Psychologist Alison Steffensen advised here in Yolo County Superior Court, Dept. 14, Wednesday that her patient’s charges should be dropped because he wasn’t competent to stand trial—in the end, the judge decided to give the defendant one more shot.
The patient, Nico Kade Traversie, faces 11 charges related to vandalizing a Sacramento church with swastikas. Dr. Steffensen said that Traversie’s schizophrenia rendered him unable to understand or participate in a trial.
The court determined Traversie incompetent a year and a half ago. Unless a defendant is competent, legal proceedings against the defendant are considered unfair and in violation of due process. This is why Dr. Steffensen had been assigned to treat Traversie, to help him reach a point of competency.
Deputy Public Defender Monica Brushia asked if Dr. Steffensen believed Traversie’s competency could ever be restored.
“I tried for an entire year. So I just don’t think that there would be any further changes that haven’t happened after this entire year…over a year,” Steffensen explained.
Deputy District Attorney David Wilson argued Dr. Steffensen did not adequately check in with the defendant during the past year. He asked if she verified that Traversie was really taking his medication, if he was really getting medical care, and if she had ever actually interacted with him face to face.
Dr. Steffensen said she had no way to verify confidential medical information, and she could not meet with Traversie because of the coronavirus pandemic.
Steffensen had around 10 or 15 phone calls with Steffensen throughout the year of 2020, but had trouble contacting him because of his homelessness and changing phone numbers.
When Wilson asked Dr. Steffensen what she would discuss with him on phone calls, she said, “I essentially tried to gauge how clear he was. I tried to ask him, like what you’re asking, ‘Where are you living now? Who are you living with? How did you get to board-in care?’
“He told me he lives in board-in care. ‘What’s the name of the board-in care? Who works there? Can I talk to them? How did you get there? Was that through Sacramento County?’ And he couldn’t answer any of those questions. And so I was kind of stuck.”
The doctor noted that he received a text from the defendant of a prescription bottle of Seroquel with his name on it. Aside from this picture, she only had Traversie’s word to trust that he was getting support through his insurance and Sacramento County.
After numerous questions suggesting she didn’t have other sources of information, Dr. Steffensen replied, “I tried to get the number for the board-in care, for someone to talk to somebody, but he just was not aware enough to communicate that information, and all I can give you is…I believe that he was trying his best.”
In redirect, Dr. Steffensen elaborated on what Brushia had called “acute psychosis.” She explained that Traversie would say things suggesting he was a member of the fictional militia Stargate.
“Especially since you’ve been having these communications with him, you noted at the beginning that he would say things like ‘I will use my intelligence to recall my Stargate year’ and ‘I’m a Stargate traveler.’ Is that right?” Brushia asked. “Correct,” the doctor confirmed.
She also confirmed that after he sent her the picture of his prescription, the “acute psychosis” symptoms seemed to stop. This led her to believe that, while still not competent for court proceedings, she could trust that Traversie was medicated and getting help.
Once Dr. Steffensen was dismissed, DDA Wilson moved to strike her entire testimony.
“As it relates to anything that came from Mr. Traversie, it’s hearsay, it’s fact specific, it relates to the present motion before the court. It’s unreliable even by her own terms in terms of the accuracy. And we just don’t really know a whole lot in terms of what Mr. Traversie has been doing for the last year and a half. I would submit it on that,” the prosecutor said.
Judge Paul Richardson said, “I’m going to allow it for the purposes of this hearing and I will hear from both of you if the motion by defense should be granted.”
PD Brushia argued passionately that Traversie’s charges should be dropped due to incompetence.
“It has been over a year, and it’s been a challenging year, a difficult year. However, Mr. Traversie has a history of noncompliance, He has schizophrenia. He may no longer be acutely psychotic, but he never got, and according to the doctor he will not get, to that second tier of when… he still lacks the grasp of the court system,” she said.
PD Brushia also acknowledged that 11 charges is a staggering amount to drop. “I understand there’s a lot of cases. But it’s only one Nico Traversie. It’s only one person that we have to see. And now the medical expert basically told us, he’s not gonna regain competency. So I ask the court to dismiss these cases because I believe the code allows the court to do so, in the interest of justice.”
In response, DDA Wilson said, “I understand that this last year has been difficult… but it just seems to me that in a year and a half, more than a few phone calls should’ve happened.
“It’s just insufficient evidence for the court to say ‘yes, enough has been done. And nothing more can be done that would change anything.’”
Wilson continued, passionately casting doubt on the doctor’s testimony. “It is a little frightening to me in my opinion that the doctor just says, ‘Well I believe him.’”
Ultimately, Judge Paul Richardson decided to deny the motion to drop Traversie’s charges. The judge agreed that Dr. Steffensen did not have enough information to say certainly that Traversie would never be competent. He decided to continue the matter yet again.
“I think we’re at a point, prematurely, for the court to consider dismissing all of these matters. I’m not sure that continuing this matter too much longer is going to put us in any better position than where we are today, but we have to try.
“An unusual year we’ve just had, and I think there needs to be more that we need to try to do. And again I’m not completely optimistic that were going to be in a different position, and you may be right Ms. Brushia,” Judge Richardson stated.
The judge decided on a formal order for involuntary medication and a new ‘treatment competency plan’ from Traversie’s mental health support.
Regarding communication, Judge Richardson said, “Mr. Traversie may be without home, transportation, phone, other contact. But I think an effort has to be made, and I will sign an order to that effect.”
Traversie’s case will resume in three months, on Sept. 16, to determine if the court will drop his charges due to incompetency.
Koda is a junior at UC Berkeley, majoring in Philosophy and minoring in Rhetoric. He is from Ventura, CA.
To sign up for our new newsletter – Everyday Injustice – https://tinyurl.com/yyultcf9
Support our work – to become a sustaining at $5 – $10- $25 per month hit the link: