By Casey Rawlings
SANTA BARBARA, CA – Three unrelated defendants appeared in Santa Barbara County Superior Court for preliminary hearings and readiness and settlement conferences last Thursday, and access to mental health services was delayed for all of them.
All of the defendants have a similar criminal background—which appeared to be related to their mental health issues—but they have all been incarcerated awaiting assistance since August or September. Two of the defendants are under the age of 35, and one is as young as 20.
The oldest defendant, Timothy Ortiz, was attempting to hear a Humphrey motion, in which the constitutionality of holding a defendant on bail is decided.
In March of this year, the California Supreme Court ruled that requiring bail is unconstitutional in most cases, after a 66-year-old Black man named Kenneth Humphrey lived in jail for one year prior to any conviction because he couldn’t afford his $350,000 bail.
Kenneth Humphrey’s alleged crime was similar to Ortiz’s; while struggling with drug and alcohol dependency, he allegedly robbed and threatened a neighbor, making off with a $5 bottle of cologne.
In late August, Ortiz was charged with attempted robbery, assault, and a third strike allegation, among other charges—strikingly similar to Humphrey’s case—and has remained in jail since. At his preliminary hearing, Assistant Public Defender Rebecca Seldin asked for a mental health diversion petition, which will take one month to access the necessary services.
Ortiz will return on Nov. 4 for the Humphrey’s motion and preliminary hearing setting.
In another similar case, 33-year-old defendant Joseph Helo appeared in court for a probation violation hearing, after being charged with a felony and enhancement last year.
His attorney, Assistant Public Defender Jenny Andrews, recommended another mental health screening, although he has already qualified for mental health treatment.
Judge Von Deroian amended this term into his probation.
Helo has violated probation previously within the same time period, which calls into question the efficacy of his provided mental health treatment.
Andrews further specified that drug terms were previously incorporated in Helo’s treatment, indicating that his story of intersecting mental health and substance abuse issues may be quite similar to Humphrey and Ortiz’s.
Helo will next be seen by Judge Jean Dandona, who will decide if he can be released, as well as on what plans.
The youngest defendant, Juan Gutierrez, appeared for a readiness and settlement (R&S) conference regarding three different misdemeanor cases involving possession. He has been incarcerated since early September and awaiting R&S.
His attorney described him as “long eager for treatment,” and dedicatedly vouched for his susceptibility for treatment as well as his meritorious efforts thus far.
Elizabeth Branch, arguing for the DA, stipulated otherwise, stating that “he hasn’t been willing to comply with treatment, terms, or probation,” which further calls into question the success of mental health treatment if clients routinely violate probation.
Judge Deroian expressed clear concern for the defendant, focusing particularly on his age. She stated that “people are dying every single day because they’re cutting those drugs with fentanyl. You’re 20 years old and no one wants to see you die; you need to decide if you want to get help because you can absolutely get your life back on track if you want.”
The judge proceeded with more encouragement, directing him that “this is your chance, your shot, and you can do this if you really want.”