COURT WATCH: Judge Denies Mental Health Diversion, Argues Accused Poses Public Safety Threat

By Sarah Chayet and Kyndall Dowell

WOODLAND, CA – In a preliminary hearing here in Yolo County Superior Court Wednesday, Deputy Public Defender Ashley J. Bargenquast’s motion for mental health diversion was denied by Judge Daniel M. Wolk, who said he agreed with Deputy District Attorney David Robbins that the accused is a potential risk to public safety.

In response to this reasoning, DPD Bargenquast asked “what danger is presented by an individual who has been out of custody since 2019?”

According to the California Senate Committee on Public Safety, granting mental health diversion in this case would mean that, while the accused may be accused of committing a specific crime with the justification of their mental instability, the accused would receive mental treatment in place of serving jail time.

However, as the Committee stated, for the diversion to be effective, the accused would have to meet the following criteria: 1) their mental health be consigned by a mental health expert, and 2) their mental health has to be deemed causal, contributing to, or motivating of criminal behavior in which a treatment would be necessary to prevent such behaviors in the future.

“Just because he would be receiving mental health treatment would not make him more dangerous to the public,” said DPD Bargenquast. “Because he would not be a danger to the public and is obviously not charged with any disqualifying crimes…I believe that his eligibility has been shown and that his suitability has been shown, and the only question is what that mental health treatment should be.”

Despite DPD Bargenquast’s argument that the accused is both eligible and suitable for the requested mental health diversion, DDA Robbins maintained the court should be skeptical of the accused’s diagnoses.

“Regarding the qualifying diagnosis (the prosecutor) argument was that there are so many different diagnoses and there’s such a lack of consistency that it does give rise to concern. That’s not the main issue. Rather, it’s…about whether this conduct equals or is a result of the diagnosis. And obviously there’s a presumption, but that can be overcome by clear and convincing evidence, the DDA added.

In his argument, DDA Robbins said the accused’s actions should not be solely attributed to the accused’s mental condition.

Meanwhile, as DPD Bargenquast stated, the accused allegedly believed he was not committing a crime–while simultaneously doing so–because of a mental health-related delusion.

“Thinking he had permission…goes contrary to everything (the DDA) cited in the facts about (the accused) hiding vehicles, how he was using multiple business names, cash, illegal drugs,” said DDA Robbins.

“There’s a whole list of reasons that point to the fact that [the accused] was trying to conceal this business and this…was not some rinky-dink operation, this was sophisticated action,” the prosecutor added.

Both Judge Wolk and DPD Bargenquast took issue with this specific argument made by DDA Robbins that the accused’s mental health did not play a key part in influencing the accused’s actions.

“I think although I understand the points that Mr. Robbins is raising, I think that it is clear that (the accused) has been diagnosed with an eligible mental disorder and he was diagnosed with that or treated for that within the last five years,” said Judge Wolk.

“There is an inappropriate linking between if something comes from a mental health condition that it somehow has to be unsophisticated. Just because (the) delusion did not mean that he did not pursue it in a sophisticated manner, doesn’t mean that it didn’t come from a delusion that was created through his mental health condition,” said DPD Bargenquast.

According to DPD Bargenquast, the accused had allegedly committed the crimes while suffering from symptoms of multiple mental health diagnoses.

“What you see here is (the accused) had a very specific conglomeration of mental health concerns, specifically his past with psychological trauma, with sexual abuse, the relating post-traumatic stress and then paired with his delusional disorder…was this kind of distorted and self-aggrandized view of himself violating the rules and pleasing authorities at the same time,” said DPD Bargenquast.

While Judge Wolk acknowledged his belief that the accused’s mental health was legitimate, he did not ultimately find the accused suitable for mental health diversion.

He ruled that while the accused was “checking certain boxes,” or met the technical requirements needed to pass a motion for mental health diversion, the court has to override this.

“The court does have discretion even beyond the specific language of the statute. The court can refuse to grant diversion even though (the accused) may meet the technical requirements of the program,” said Judge Wolk.

Judge Wolk explained his denial of the motion arose out of concern the accused has potential to pose risk to public safety, adding, “I understand Mr. Robbins’ arguments regarding prong two of eligibility regarding whether that mental disorder was a significant factor in the commission of the crime. (He) is right when he notes that a very high bar has been set, at least in my reading of the statute, regarding that presumption that’s made…that there’s a nexus between a person’s mental health condition and the charge defense as the statute lays out.”

However, DPD Bargenquast stated there was no reason to believe that the accused should pose any risks to public safety, and maintained the accused did not have a past of this behavior, even relating to the charges.

DPD Bargenquast said, “There is in fact some rather misleading factual cherry picking that occurred in the statement of facts that I would like to clarify to the court. I think that one of the main arguments… is that the behavior itself is very dangerous because of the use of chemicals in the space. If that is one of the concerns, I would like to point out that at one point HIDTA had to come and look at the facility because of all these chemicals.

“There was nothing unsafe about the facility. HIDTA had to take no remedial measures whatsoever. As soon as they measured this facility, it was clear that it was being operated in a safe manner. So my concern…is that I don’t believe there was any condition that would provide that public danger.”

In response to this, Judge Wolk repeated his concern stemming from the “nature” of the accused’s offense,” without going into specific detail.

The next hearing for this case is set for Feb. 28.

About The Author

I'm a recent California Polytechnic University, San Luis Obispo grad. I majored in English and received a minor in Studio Art. In the fall, I plans to go back to school for a master's degree in English Literature. Currently, I am a transcript editor for CalMatters, and I hope to enter the field of technical writing someday. In my freetime, I love to draw, go on roadtrips, and camp

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