David Earl Johnson, LICSW

11 minute read

Map of Washington highlighting Skagit County

Image via Wikipedia

Another shooting, another story of a mentally ill man in need of court ordered treatment who didn’t get it. My thoughts follow the story. TwinCities.com
“A shooting rampage in which six people died along a trail of blood stretching from a tiny town to the state’s busiest highway ended with the surrender of a man who was recently released from jail, authorities said. The dead included a sheriff’s deputy who had tried to help the mentally ill man’s family in the past, the man’s mother said. State Department of Corrections officials identified the gunman in Tuesday’s deadly spree as Isaac Zamora, 28, who had just served a six-month jail sentence for drug possession in Skagit County, in northwest Washington. Since his Aug. 6 release, Zamora had been under community supervision by corrections officers, spokesman Chad Lewis said. Zamora’s mother described her son as “desperately mentally ill” and said she had tried repeatedly to get help for him. “We’re so devastated for the families,” Dennise Zamora told the Associated Press by telephone. “I wish it would have been him or me that was killed. That’s how deeply I feel about it.” The six who died included Skagit County Sheriff’s Deputy Anne Jackson, 40, who was shot while responding to the initial call by Dennise Zamora. The dead were found at multiple crime scenes. Jackson and a second person were killed at the same location near the small town of Alger, two construction workers found shot nearby, and a body was found a few houses away, Trooper Keith Leary said. A civilian motorist was killed along I-5 near a rest stop, Leary said. Dennise Zamora described Jackson as a sympathetic figure who had tried to help the family in the past.”
Seattle Times
“Dennise Zamora, the suspect’s mother, said her son was “extremely mentally ill” and had been living in the woods on and off for years. He was released last month from jail after a drug offense and was under Department of Corrections supervision, according to a department spokesman. Dennise Zamora said Jackson was aware of her son’s illness and told the Zamora family to call her anytime for help. After watching Isaac walk in and out of neighbors’ homes, Dennise Zamora called deputies on Tuesday. She said her son wasn’t aware of his mental illnesses. [..]Dennise Zamora said her son, who sometimes worked as a house painter, had struggled with mental illness since their family’s house burned down more than a decade ago. She said he was “agreeable” and “placid” Tuesday morning and that she didn’t know what made him snap. She also said she didn’t know where he got the gun used in the shootings. Barbara Crossen, who lives across the street from the Zamora family, said Dennise Zamora came to Crossen’s home Tuesday afternoon and asked her to look after a young boy. “She said, ‘Keep him here, Isaac has gone crazy,’ ” said Crossen, who added she’d known Isaac Zamora since he was born and never saw any signs of trouble. “He was always quiet and never demanded a lot of attention or anything. That’s why I think we’re so shocked.” Joe Corbell, a longtime friend of the Zamora family who lives in Alger, said Isaac is a quiet, withdrawn person. He said he believed Isaac had received some psychiatric treatment, “But it’s never really been to the point where it’s done him any good.” Another neighbor, John Hughes, said he and his 21-year-old grandson, Johnathen, have seen Zamora walking on the road alone by himself at all hours. Zamora was under state supervision and considered a high-risk offender, with convictions for theft and drug possession. While Zamora was regarded as a nonviolent offender, he was supervised at a high level because of his long-standing mental-health issues, according to DOC records. Zamora last reported to his probation officer in Mount Vernon on Aug. 21. In a news release, DOC Secretary Eldon Vail said Zamora had been released from jail during the first week of August. He had been serving time for felony drug possession, according to court records. After his release, Zamora had reported to his community corrections officer twice as instructed, DOC said. A urine analysis indicated no drug or alcohol consumption. Governor Christine Gregoire Tuesday night called for an independent review of how Zamora’s case was handled.”
Seattle Times
“On good days, Isaac Zamora could be charming, warm, creative. But over the past decade, the suspect in Tuesday’s fatal shooting rampage showed increasing signs of serious mental illness, ranging from suicide attempts to auditory hallucinations, from smashed windshields to outright threats. On good days, Isaac Zamora could be charming, warm, creative. He could be strange, too — aimlessly walking the streets alone at all hours, causing trouble by grabbing a fistful of paper towels from the gas station and letting them trail out his window as he drove off. But most recently, however, Zamora was scary, say family and friends. In some ways, residents of his close-knit neighborhood in rural Skagit County were living under Zamora’s shadow. Over the past decade, he showed increasing signs of serious mental illness, ranging from suicide attempts to auditory hallucinations, from smashed windshields to outright threats. He racked up dozens of criminal charges, and while none of them were particularly violent offenses, they were enough for him to draw extra scrutiny from the state Department of Corrections, which supervised him in the community under a special program for offenders with mental illness. Meanwhile, those who know Zamora best say that for years he was left wanting for the psychiatric help he so obviously needed. His mother, Dennise, said that despite his family’s urging, Zamora wouldn’t agree to ongoing mental-health treatment, and the law prevented them from forcing it on the 28-year-old. In recent weeks, he went from sleeping in the woods to sleeping out on neighbors’ lawns, after his parents told him he could no longer spend the night in their Alger home. Last week, he told neighbor Shirley Wenrick, “I am going to get even with them.” On Saturday, however, Dennise Zamora said the family had its first ray of hope: He agreed to the first of two evaluations he needed to qualify for state mental-health programs. Three days later, he would be accused of killing six people, including a Skagit County sheriff’s deputy. “This happened because of the law and because of Isaac’s choices,” Dennise Zamora said. “The major difficulty is … when you’re mentally ill you don’t think anything is wrong.” Isaac Zamora was a quiet, unremarkable kid, said neighbor Christie Howard. At worst, she recalls, he “was one of the kids who rode his obnoxious motorcycle through the property.” From the outside, his upbringing appeared relatively ordinary. Zamora’s father took him to Boy Scouts; his mother home-schooled him. “I remember a sweet, sweet, sensitive mama’s boy,” said Rachel Brown, who grew up with Zamora. Then, when Zamora was about 14, the family home burned down and they lost everything. They struggled both financially and emotionally. “It’s all we can do to keep the electricity on,” Dennise Zamora wrote as part of the family’s bankruptcy petition. A doctor diagnosed Zamora as suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder and said that his problems would likely subside after puberty. “By the time he got to be 18,” Dennise Zamora said, “we thought, ‘He’s gone past the junction here.’ He was never the same.” The family stayed in the neighborhood, putting a triple-wide mobile home on the property. Around the same time, Zamora stole his mother’s gun to sell to another teenager, but was later charged with filing a false report after telling police a stranger had stolen it. Ex-girlfriend Connie Hickman met Zamora around 2000 when they were both working at a health-care facility. At the time, Zamora had trouble holding jobs. Still, Hickman said, he had a lot of promise. “He was kind,” she said. “He was easy to talk to, easy to get along with.” But every so often, signs of trouble popped up. He would make threats and start fights over “things that never happened,” Hickman said. Initially, she attributed it to Zamora’s drinking and drug use — he has arrests for cocaine and marijuana possession. Zamora attempted suicide several times and told her at one point he was hearing voices. Hickman said Zamora was diagnosed over the years with both bipolar disorder and schizophrenia. In 2003, Hickman and Dennise Zamora took him to a Whatcom County hospital, saying they feared for their safety. People with mentally ill family members say it’s often difficult to meet the threshold for involuntary psychiatric treatment. Washington law says that to hold someone, an imminent threat of harm must exist. What constitutes imminent danger, however, is open to interpretation. This time, he qualified and was held for a few weeks. But the treatment wasn’t quite enough, Hickman said. “The night after he was released, he called me and said, ‘I want to go back,’ ” she recalled. But when he showed up again at the hospital, it declined to admit him. Eventually, Zamora was admitted to another hospital. During that stay, court records show that he bit an orderly who was trying to restrain him. Criminal charges were filed, then dropped for reasons that are unclear. “The next day, they discharged him,” Hickman recalled. “How could they put him out on the streets when it was obvious the man had some issues?” Zamora took his medication in the hospital, but when he was released he stopped, Hickman said, partly because “he didn’t have a job so he couldn’t pay for medication.” Eventually, Zamora’s volatility got to be too much and Hickman took out protection orders. She changed her phone number, but he was able to track her down through friends. One night, after she bumped into him on the street, a wine bottle came flying through her apartment window. Another time, her roommate’s windshield was smashed. Eventually, she packed up her car and left the state. He later tracked her down, leaving rambling messages on relatives’ answering machines. She said she has had no contact with him for about three years. Over the years, said Dennise Zamora, the family tried everything they could think of to get him to agree to ongoing treatment. “We’ve all tried to influence him, to threaten him,” she said. And Zamora’s troubles with the law continued: malicious mischief, drugs, theft. In 2001, for example, Zamora and an accomplice were investigated by the Mount Vernon Police Department for stealing an outboard motor. Zamora refused to cooperate. But Dennise Zamora crawled through an open window of a house trailer where her son lived on their property and found the outboard motor and turned it over to police. Zamora pleaded guilty to second-degree theft and served three days in jail with 17 days of community service. In May 2007, he flew into a rage when a friend refused to go hiking, hurling a concrete block into the friend’s car. In a statement to the Skagit County Court officials, the friend described Zamora as “devious and vengeful.” Zamora was charged with second-degree malicious mischief. On May 15, he signed a guilty plea and agreed not to possess or own firearms, although neighbors said at some point he had a collection of six or seven guns. He was released on Aug. 6 and the Department of Corrections (DOC) said he checked in regularly and passed two drug tests. A spokesman for the DOC said the agency is scouring its records to see what else it could have done. Dennise Zamora isn’t making excuses: “I’m not one of those people who say he’s not guilty by reason of insanity. He is guilty by insanity.” Seattle Times staff reporters Sara Jean Green, Steve Miletich, Jennifer Sullivan, Peyton Whitely, Ron Judd and news researcher Miyoko Wolf contributed to this report. Copyright © 2008 The Seattle Times Company”
Seattle Times
“Dennise Zamora’s longtime friend and neighbor, Shirley Wenrick, said Isaac was resentful that he had been banned from the house at night because his parents feared him following years of erratic behavior. In recent weeks, Isaac Zamora had taken to curling up in a sleeping bag in neighbors’ yards and would wander the streets at all hours, she said. Wenrick said Isaac Zamora also often clashed with a 9-year-old boy whom his mother was caring for and that she had been told that the two had argued Tuesday morning. Dennise Zamora denied there had been a confrontation. Isaac Zamora, Wenrick said, routinely confronted neighbors and ranted about his parents. He was disdainful and seemed jealous that they had homes or other possessions, she said. “I don’t know why I’m alive. I don’t know how I escaped death,” Wenrick said. “He ran into all those homes and killed everyone. Why not me? It could have been me. This will haunt me the rest of my life.””
The civil rights of the mentally ill are certainly important. In the not so distant past, only on a family member’s word, a person could be locked up in a mental hospital for months at least. It had become a divorce custody battle tactic to get your ex-spouse committed. Now however, until something really bad happens, a person can’t be locked up. There needs to be a middle ground. I certainly am no lawyer, and I’ve talked at length with County Attorneys about this issue. Their point of view is that there is no precedence to take rights away unless there is documented imminent danger to self or others. Anything less than that doesn’t warrant locking someone up. To a County Attorney, court ordered outpatient treatment is an oxymoron. How can you force someone to do something because a psychiatrist thinks they might do something? Psychiatrists are no better at predicting the future than anyone else. It’s truly a Solomon dilemma.
Reblog this post [with Zemanta]
comments powered by Disqus