Rodolfo Vega-Carrillo, 30, has been diagnosed with schizophrenia since childhood, but he’s got other health problems too, life-threatening ones, and needs dialysis soon or he will die. The fear is he will die in the Mendocino County Jail where he’s been since April for roughing up and threatening family members with even more dire forms of violence.
As of last Friday, Mr. Vega-Carrillo was in the hospital in St. Helena, Napa County, where he went for dialysis, which he refused, having previously refused to take his psych-meds, setting up this chain of events that will only end with his death.
The hospital in Saint Helena is about to release him back into the custody of the Mendocino County Sheriff, where he has been living under 1368 status; which is to say, he’s unable to participate in his own defense, so his public defender can’t do anything for him.
The jail is full of people like Vega-Carrillo. That’s the main reason Sheriff Allman wanted the Measure B initiative on the ballot last fall – because the jail is also full of more or less sane Prop 47 people and CDC prisoners from Realignment. But before we get mired in the political quicksand, let’s return to Rodolfo’s life-and-death predicament.
On Tuesday last week, Captain Tim Pearce, Jail Commander, and a man who makes his impossible job look easy, got on the phone to the Public Defender’s office, which is currently in a state of turmoil – Assistant Public Defender Christiane Hipps on Friday fired a lawyer she didn’t like – to see if something could be done to save Rodolfo’s life. As a result, Deputy Public Defender Mary LeClair brought the matter before Judge John Behnke on Wednesday, asking for a release from jail and a 5150 hold to get Rodolfo into the hospital at Ukiah Valley Medical Center where he can be put back on his meds and given the dialysis treatment he needs to stay alive – otherwise he has about a week to live, time having already run out during his stay in St. Helena.
Deputy DA Tom Geddes said, No, too risky, Mr. Vega-Carrillo is a danger to the public, he’s been disruptive at the jail, we (the People) can’t take any chances with him being out on a 5150 hold, come what may. Judge Behnke gave Mr. Geddes a blank look, and Mr. Geddes, a bright young man, tall and good-looking, smart dresser, up on all the latest in fashion, technology and the law, informed the old judge there was something His Honor could do in the form of an obscure part of the Penal Code called 4007, which he then obligingly read to the judge as if Judge Behnke were back in law school.
Penal Code 4007 – the part Deputy DA Geddes was interested in – says the judge can sign an order having the prisoner in question forcibly removed from the jail and put in prison, out of the County’s hair, so to speak, and let him expire there, if die he must.
Judge Behnke didn’t appear enthusiastic at this grim option. He turned to his bailiff and asked him to call the jail and see if Captain Pearce could come down to the courthouse; the judge asked his clerk to call County Counsel Katharine Elliott, as well.
Within the hour, Captain Pearce and County Counsel Elliott were at the courthouse, along with a Undersheriff Matt Kendall and Deputy County Counsel Brina Blanton, along with a veritable gaggle of other idle functionaries from the County Offices on Low Gap Road, all of whom appeared thrilled to be on an outing to the courthouse. To judge by the gushing and grinning, hugging and mugging, it was the social event of the season! Elliott, sporting a smart new suit (a reflection of her recent pay raise, no doubt), didn’t actually do anything but shepherd Ms. Blanton into the courtroom, and then make a fuss over chatting up all the old friends she was so happy to see at the courthouse – meanwhile, as the subject of all this bonhomie was dying out on Low Gap Road, Pearce, Blanton, Geddes, LeClair and the judge retired into the judge’s chambers to furrow their collective brow on what to do with their custodial hot potato.
Ms. Elliott’s unsequestered entourage ensconced themselves in the spacious area on Level Two where they held court and all the interested parties could come by to admire the kinds of outfits a properly remunerated county official can afford.
By the end of the day, nothing had been resolved. And on Thursday, the PC 4007 option was out the window because the state prison refused to take the dying man. Judge Behnke wanted everyone (except Elliott and her groupies) back on Friday morning. Mr. Geddes said, Sorry, he was otherwise engaged. District Attorney David Eyster appeared instead.
What many people do not understand about the criminal justice system is that nobody ever gets in a hurry over anything, and nobody – except the prisoners and citizens summoned en masse for jury duty – is ever inconvenienced. It just wouldn’t be fair. So the normal way this kind of thing goes, i.e., when you have a 1368 prisoner who is mentally incompetent to stand trial, is that he will wait in jail until the great ponderous wheels of bureaucracy turn and a place at the State Hospital in Napa comes up – which never happens in less than four or five months, usually longer.
So when Judge Behnke put through a call to the state hospital asking for an emergency placement he was told, by a Ms. Perdu, that they would get right back to him. Two days later, still no word back from a woman whose name seemed coyly apt (a le recherché du temps perdu, by Marcel Proust, what we call in English: In Search of Lost Time, or Remembrance of Things Past)… Perhaps she forgot.
As the week ended, Rodolfo Vega-Carrillo was left in virtual limbo in lieu of the real one just ahead, assuming he’s of the Catholic faith. Where are all our lushly compensated mental health professionals when we need them? Ms. LeClair was tasked with getting in touch with Rodolfo’s family – the people who filed charges against him – to see if they could convince him to take his meds and allow the dialysis. How LeClair will accomplish this daunting diplomatic feat with folks who don’t speak English went unanswered.
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Also on Friday, as mentioned above, Assistant Public Defender Chistiane Hipps fired Deputy Public Defender Chelsie Thurmond, a 2017 graduate of the Univ, of San Francisco law school originally from New Orleans. There is a hiring freeze in place at the Public Defender’s Office. Ms. Hipps was brought in despite this freeze by now-former Public Defender Linda Thompson, as Ms. Thompson refused to promote any of the lawyers already in her office. Under Thompson’s administration the lawyers were practically forbidden to speak to the press about anything that goes on in their lair – it wasn’t just the AVA, as Tiffany Revelle formerly of the Ukiah Daily Journal and Glenda Anderson of the Press Democrat told me they too were treated like lepers by Public Defender lawyers, although the Boonville weekly was the only paper to suggest in print that Thompson was a nut and an incompetent, a walking menace to the defendant class.
I’ve been told that Ms. Thurmond was fired in retaliation over some personal matter, and the attorney’s bargaining unit lawyer has filed a grievance. It is my belief, and it’s not entirely unfounded, that Linda Thompson, who is rumored to be physically unwell, has already picked her successor – Ms. Hipps – and the interviews currently underway, are just a jumping-through-the-hoops circus act to amuse the public, and that the Deep County bureaucracy, secretly referred to as The Valley of the Dolls, will do Ms. Thompson’s bidding when the time comes.
At first, Ms. Hipps used her position to make Ms. Thurmond so miserable she would just up and quit – Hipps has the support of two or three sycophantic lawyers who were so devoted to Thompson that they readily cooperate with any kind of skullduggery Hipps puts them up to, and so this effort to drive Thurmond off nearly succeeded – and when it didn’t Hipps simply came right out and fired the unfortunate Thurmond.