By Angela Patel
RIVERSIDE, CA – A defendant diagnosed with severe schizoaffective disorder was denied mental health diversion here in Riverside County Superior Court late last week – the diversion would have authorized his release for up to two years so the defendant could receive treatment.
Mental health diversion is a program that allows defendants to undergo up to two years of treatment instead of being prosecuted and placed in jail. The program is meant to help individuals with mental illnesses avoid a criminal record, but only if they meet the criteria and successfully comply with treatment.
Christopher Overland, the defendant in this case, is currently in custody after being charged with attempted first-degree murder for attacking a stranger with a stolen screwdriver and stabbing him multiple times in the head and arm.
According to defense attorney Jose Rojo, Overland was under the delusion that the victim was sleeping with his wife. When police arrived at the scene, Overland seemed to believe that he had a wire in his head and told the officers that he was Chris Hansen, the host of ‘To Catch a Predator.’
Rojo argued that the violent act was an “aberration,” saying that the defendant had never previously attacked anyone and was simply “reacting to his internal stimuli” caused by his disorder.
The defense claimed that Overland is in desperate need of mental health treatment in a locked facility in order to ensure that he takes his medication and improves without the risk of violating any laws.
The defendant was unhoused before being placed in custody, making it difficult for him to comply with his medication and previous court orders such as a 52-week domestic violence program held over Zoom.
Rojo emphasized that due to Overland’s lack of shelter, internet connection, and access to the mental health treatment he needs, it was nearly impossible for him to comply fully with the law and avoid falling back into a pattern of outbreaks, delusional behavior, and illegal drug use.
Deputy District Attorney Lauren Donovan conceded that Overland was suffering from severe schizoaffective disorder, and that the defendant’s mental illness was a substantial factor in the alleged offense, two suitability requirements for the mental health diversion.
However, DDA Donovan argued that Overland would require high levels of treatment, close supervision and monitoring that are unsuited to the “loosely structured” mental health diversion program.
She also argued that he would pose an unreasonable risk to the public, making him ineligible for the diversion.
Overland has a substantial history of misdemeanor charges. Donovan mentioned 52 cases in Riverside in which his behavior was reported to the police, several of which resulted in involuntary hospitalizations.
The defendant has also failed to comply with several court orders, including a restraining order for domestic violence.
DDA Donovan described the defendant’s repeated violations of the no contact order with his wife. She detailed Overland’s behavior during these violations, including sexual harassment, repeated phone calls from unknown numbers, and violent threats.
Overland’s wife, in a statement to the District Attorney’s office, wrote that she “is very fearful and is very worried about the safety of herself and their son.”
Donovan ended her statement by arguing that the defendant’s mental health problems required a much greater level of treatment than the diversion program allows for.
“If you add all of these things together,” she said, “all of the restraining order violations, all of the drug use, all of the medication noncompliance, all of these little pieces build up to the fact that Mr. Overland has a severe mental illness and does need treatment at a level that is so very far beyond mental health diversion.”
Even though prosecutor Donovan seemed to believe that the defendant needed a much more structured level of treatment, she questioned why Overland had not improved more substantially while he was in custody for a few months.
In the “completely controlled environment,” she claimed, “with daily doses of medication and no drug or alcohol use,” the doctor said he had only moderately improved. Donovan pointed to this as a sign of the futility of attempting treatment in an “uncontrolled setting.”
Defense attorney Rojo responded, arguing that “jail is not a mental health institution.” Doctors at the jail provide the minimum standard of treatment, Rojo contended, and so it makes sense that Overland could not completely improve.
In the end, Judge Otis Sterling III sided with the prosecution, arguing that it was unlikely the defendant would comply with the treatment program in a less restrictive setting than the jail.
Judge Sterling recognized the role of the defendant’s mental illness and lack of housing in his previous violations of the law, but also believed that Overland’s eventual release into the community posed too much of a risk.
“Mental health diversion is not the appropriate avenue to address severe issues,” he said. “It has to be the right case, the right defendant, the right suitability.”
Defense counsel Rojo seemed determined to get this defendant into a state mental hospital where he can get better treatment than in jail, but for now Overland will have to move forward with prosecution for this case while in custody.