My View: Why Did Yolo DA Put Dominguez and the Community through All of That?

By David M. Greenwald
Executive Editor

Woodland, CA – This was not a close call.  In fact, I would argue this was never a close call.  I could not really fathom what the DA expected to gain from a trial on Carlos Dominguez’s competency.

Under the law, a criminal defendant needs to be competent in order to stand trial.  The most important thing is that they need to understand the charges against them while being able to assist in their defense.

The Davis Police Department when they arrested Dominguez believed him to not be showing signs of mental illness.  The DA was the next week going to show a seven-hour video of his interview with the Davis Police Department.

We never got to see that.  They believe it showed him communicative and cognizant of what he was facing.  We never got to evaluate it.  It is possible that they were right and that Dominguez has decompensated while in custody.  However, one of the psychologists who testified last week offered a different explanation, that he was responding yes and no to leading questions, and responding flatly.

I can’t say if the DA and police misread the interview or if he decompensated.  We know he had gone downhill for some time prior to the horrible chain of events in April.

The DA kept implying and asking if he was malingering.  The answer from Dr. Tyler on Thursday was no, he was not malingering, because that implies he was embellishing his symptoms for some sort of strategic advantage, and in this case, he was simply denying that he had any symptoms.

That’s troubling to me, because whenever I have seen contested competency hearings, it has always been an accusation of malingering—as though there is really an advantage to the subject or as though anyone could actually for a long period of time maintain such a façade.

Everyone who watched the hearing saw someone in a suicide smock with unkempt hair, we were told he was not bathing or brushing his teeth or even eating for a days at a time, multiple 5150 holds were placed on him, and to me the remarkable thing is that he sat perfectly motionless for hours.  I’m no expert, but I don’t think someone could fake that.

From the DA’s perspective, I understand that he was charged with a horrible crime, but what is the advantage of rushing this process, putting a very sick individual through a criminal trial.  We have treatments for schizophrenia—once he’s medicated, it is possible and even likely that he will be restored to competency.  And at that point criminal charges can proceed against him.

Then it will be up to the jury to determine whether he was legally sane or insane when he committed these crimes.  I think it’s important to understand that the threshold for an insanity defense is extraordinarily high (I might even argue too high, as people suffering from serious mental illness most of the time would not qualify).

And even if he is found insane, that likely means he would spend the rest of his life in a mental hospital rather than a prison—which might be a better course of action, but still is a remote possibility.

Why the DA chose to contest these matters is something we probably will never really know for certain.  It seemed very cynical that they would then demand a jury trial rather than allow a judge to determine this.  That also always seemed problematic.

The week prior, I watched a competency hearing in Modesto.  That was done in front of a judge and, unlike this case, that was a very close call.  The judge struggled to sort out the conflicting and competing expert opinions.  Two court-appointed evaluators found him competent, but the third found him not competent.

Because all were experts, all were court appointed and thus presumably neutral, the judge took the most recent evaluation and found him not competent.  A judge struggled with this.  Having a jury attempt to do it would have been more difficult had this been a close call.

But it was obvious to everyone I talked with, who was watching the hearings, that this was not a close call.

I think Judge McAdam deserves a lot of credit for putting an end to this.  He had finally seen enough on Friday, and during a court break, he had a lengthy discussion that led to a Riese hearing on Thursday.  He expressed his concern about the well-being of Dominguez and saw him as a danger to himself and others.

One of the things that struck me on Thursday was that the judge had to make legal findings in order to order the medication.

Among other things he said “that Carlos Dominguez has a mental illness or disorder … As a result of that illness, the inmate is greatly disabled and lacks the capacity to consent or refuse treatment with psychiatric medications.”

So you are going to tell me that Dominguez could be found not able to consent or refuse treatment, but that he is competent to stand trial?  That would have been an utter absurdity.

DDA Matt De Moura finally acknowledged the inevitable on Thursday afternoon—although he was not willing to fully concede they were wrong.

He noted that regarding the initial doctor’s report, the People elected to challenge that report.

“The People stand by that position,” he said.  “However, after last week’s testimony and the development of the evidence particularly with Dr. Watson and this morning, during the Riese hearing with Dr. Tyler, as well as the involuntary medication order, the People have changed our position and we would agree that Mr. Dominguez is no longer competent to stand trial.”

He didn’t fully concede.

He said, “While we do believe that Mr. Dominguez understands the nature of the proceedings against him and understands his status in these proceedings, we no longer believe that he’s able to assist his attorney in a rational manner. While the People do believe that two of those elements, as they relate to competency are still intact, we need all three.”

Judge McAdam who, as I said, tipped his hand last week, acknowledged on Thursday, “I sat through the trial and watched it and I agree with the defense position all along…”

As I said, this was not a close call.  But at the same time, this is also not a situation of no harm, no foul.

Because of the contested nature of these proceedings, Dominguez spent another month without medication, decompensating in a jail cell which was inadequate and ill equipped to address his needs.

Last week, we learned that Dominguez had been placed on 5150 holds numerous times.

DPD Dan Hutchinson told the court, “What I could tell the court, we did consult with county counsel, and it was in, I believe it was the efforts of Ms. Olson [Tracie Olson, the public defender] with County Counsel that ultimately led to the one dose on July 13, because County Counsel did get involved, but they made the decision only to do an emergency order, which did not require court authorization. I can’t speak to why they haven’t come before the court.”

In my view this is misconduct on the part of the DA’s office to try to argue somehow that this guy was faking his symptoms, not getting him the medical treatment he needs—which eventually will allow him to regain competency and then he can be held accountable in an appropriate way for what he might have done.

At this point, this is not a “who done it” it is a matter of understanding why and, in so doing, his level of culpability.  But we can’t get there when he is in a quasi-vegetative state and unable to interact with the outside world.

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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