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TAC Newsletter 1/27/06


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January 27, 2006


1. HELP MENTALLY ILL OUT OF DANGER ZONE - Albuquerque Journal, January 1, 2006

SESSION - Las Cruces Sun News, January 15, 2006

BEFORE CRIMES HAPPEN - Press Release Of U.S. Senator Pete Domenici, January 14,

19, 2006

Of New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson, January 20, 2006

January 21, 2006

Albuquerque Journal, January 24, 2006

24, 2003


1. ALBUQUERQUE JOURNAL (NM), January 1, 2006

[Editor’s Note: As you will see in this edition of the E-News, the effort to
bring assisted outpatient treatment (AOT) to New Mexico has gained full steam,
experiencing one political breakthrough after another in the last weeks.

This editorial from New Mexico’s “paper of record” sets the scene as it was on
New Year’s Day, and also features two of the state’s champions for treatment.
Representative Joni Gutierrez introduced legislation that, if passed, would
bring AOT to one of the eight states without a law for it. And she did so
despite knowing that that this type of legislation could be heard in the
legislature only if one of the few bills that Governor Bill Richardson placed on
his legislative “call list.” The comments of some of the Governor’s
administrators about Rep. Gutierrez’s proposal, made a spot on that list seem a
distinctly remote possibly.

In stepped Albuquerque Mayor Martin Chávez, another hero and early proponent,
who pledged to implement AOT in his city even if the measure was not considered
in the legislature. As Mayor Chavez notes below, it would probably be the first
time that AOT has been implemented on the municipal level (a warning to
advocates who may see an opportunity – the possibility of city only adoption is
only available in Albuquerque due to some unique provisions of New Mexico law.)]



In New Mexico, you have to deteriorate to the point of being dangerous before
someone can intervene and force you to get the mental-health help you need.

Albuquerque Mayor Martin Chávez and state Rep. Joni Gutierrez say help should be
available before that.

After being rebuffed by the state's Human Services and Health secretaries, the
mayor unveiled a plan Wednesday asking the City Council to pass a law allowing
mandatory outpatient treatment for people with mental illnesses.

"To my knowledge, this is the first time this is being done on a municipal
level," says Chávez, no stranger to forcing an issue he feels strongly about.
His push to register sex offenders got a reluctant state government on board
with its own program.

Human Services Secretary Pamela Hyde and Health Secretary Michelle Lujan Grisham
say the state lacks the mental health services for such a plan and they "favor
caution in this kind of government intervention in the lives of people who have
committed no crime."

If the strongest argument is lack of a place to treat the mentally ill,
Gutierrez says that perhaps some of the state's estimated $500 million in extra
revenue should be spent on the problem. And do we have to wait until a crime is
committed to help those who can't help themselves while in the throes of
schizophrenia, bipolar disorder or other serious mental illness?

New York's mandatory treatment law is credited with reducing homelessness,
hospitalization, arrests and incarcerations by 74 percent or more for patients
who have been subjected to it.

New Mexico is one of only eight states without such a law. Chilling arguments
for earlier intervene include:

2005: John Hyde, 48, is accused of killing five people, including the two police
officers trying to pick him up for a mental health evaluation. Bipolar and
schizophrenic, Hyde was off his medication, according to his family, which
desperately tried to get him help.

2003: APD Sgt. Carol Oleksak is shot in the head by Duc Minh Pham, 43, who had
schizophrenia, a brain injury and numerous run-ins with police. He, in turn, is
shot and killed by police officers.

1994: Stephen Mercer, 33, is shot and killed after shooting and killing his
father, former state Sen. Joe Mercer, and Bernalillo County Sheriff's Lt.
William Sibrava. Stephen Mercer didn't want to be taken in for a mental-health

Gutierrez, D-Las Cruces, took the issue up at the state level on Thursday,
announcing a bill for the upcoming legislative session that "will allow New
Mexico courts to order people who meet strict criteria for severe mental illness
into intensive and supervised outpatient treatment."

"Existing New Mexico law essentially forces people who lack insight into their
illness to hit rock bottom before they can be helped," Gutierrez says. "Forced
deterioration is cruel and inhumane."

The approach is backed by state and local chapters of the National Alliance for
Mental Illnesses. But Leslie Tremaine, the governor's adviser on behavioral
health, says the state should target resources to those who want to be treated.
"We very strongly oppose what the mayor is recommending."

Gutierrez says she understands the concern that forced treatment can infringe on
individual rights and be abused. But she says her law is crafted to prevent
that. "If there's a better solution, help us find it. We're trying to find a way
to help these families. We need something."

And at least Chávez and Gutierrez are willing to look for it before another sad
situation turns tragic.


2. LAS CRUCES SUN NEWS (NM), January 15, 2006

[Editor’s Note: In addition to the Albuquerque press conference described in
the last article, Rep. Joni Gutierrez also had one in her hometown of Las
Cruces. Although he was unfortunately unable to make his scheduled appearance,
the effort for AOT received a huge boost from her partner for the event – Pete
Domenici, one of New Mexico’s U.S. Senators and perhaps Capitol Hill’s most
influential advocate for the care of those with severe mental illness. He is
also on our Honorary Advisory Board.]


By Dolores M. Bernal, Sun-News Reporter

State Rep. Joni Gutierrez, D-Las Cruces, said Saturday she will introduce a bill
requiring New Mexico to provide treatment to those who suffer from severe mental

The Legislature convenes Tuesday in Santa Fe for a 30-day session.

Gutierrez said her legislation will help prevent crimes committed by people who
are mentally unstable.

"This is something new in New Mexico and is going to cause a ripple effect in
our state," said Gutierrez. "(The law) will allow treatment for a small, but
significant number of people."

Sen. Pete Domenici, R-N.M., was scheduled to attend the news conference in
support of Gutierrez's bill but was unable due to a death in the family.

"There are many mentally ill in jail and they should receive treatment,"
Domenici said over a speaker phone at the office of the National Alliance for
the Mentally Ill of Doña Ana County in downtown Las Cruces. "... They're crying
out for help."

Domenici has been a longtime advocate in Congress for the mentally ill. His
daughter suffers from schizophrenia.

The bill Gutierrez will introduce is modeled after New York's Kendra's Law --
legislation that provides for court-ordered assisted outpatient treatment or AOT
for certain people with mental illness who are unlikely to survive safely in the
community without supervision.

Some 42 other states already have AOT laws in the books, including Michigan and
Florida. New Mexico does not.

Legislators believe that having an AOT program in the state will prevent crimes
such as the one committed by Carlos Preciado Jr. of Las Cruces.

In 2005, 24-year-old Preciado struck and killed pedestrian Alvin Moore, 68, of
Las Cruces. Preciado had been diagnosed with schizophrenia, but had refused

Authorities had dealt with Preciado at least 32 times previously, according to

"This death and others can be prevented and it is my belief they will with the
incorporation of this legislation," Domenici said in a letter to Gutierrez
endorsing her legislation.

Advocacy groups such as the National Alliance for the Mentally Ill said that
such legislation is overdue in New Mexico and that they will support it fully.

"We're asking anyone if they feel compelled to help us convince our fellow New
Mexicans that this is a good thing for their communities," Gutierrez said.



[Editor’s Note: Senator Domenici’s support for bringing AOT to his home state
is more than just a loan of his name. If the unusual involvement of a federal
legislator in a state legislative issue isn’t enough, this comprehensive press
release and letter from his office and for AOT makes his vigorous interest
patently clear.]


January 14, 2006

Contact: Chris Gallegos



Saturday, January 14, 2006

LAS CRUCES - U.S. Senator Pete Domenici, a long-time advocate for the mentally
ill, today endorsed proposed state legislation that would help those with
serious mental illnesses receive the care they need before their illness drives
them to commit a crime.

Domenici today joined state Representative Joni Gutierrez (D-Doña Ana) to
support her legislation to establish a judicial process allowing New Mexico
District Courts, under strict guidelines, to require intensive and supervised
outpatient treatment or assisted outpatient treatment (AOT) for some people
suffering from severe mental illnesses. New Mexico is currently one of eight
states that do not have such a policy.

Gutierrez plans to introduce the bill during the upcoming legislative session,
which begins Tuesday. Domenici presented Gutierrez with a letter of endorsement
(text included below).

“New Mexico must join the 42 other states with assisted outpatient treatment
laws. It is imperative for New Mexico to make proactive decisions to provide
clear and compassionate assistance to those who suffer from severe mental
illness,” Domenici said.

“We must have realistic solutions to stop such horrific crimes and to better
serve the mental health population. I believe Representative Gutierrez’s
proposed legislation would not only prevent possible crimes, but offer fair and
safe treatment for individuals who suffer from severe mental illnesses,” he

“An AOT program will identify individuals who need the most help and support
them through an intensive and supervised outpatient treatment program. With this
legislation, I know New Mexico can positively affect many individuals who live
in the turbulent world of mental illness,” he continued.

In recent months, New Mexicans have learned the tragic consequences of severely
mentally ill persons are accused of killings related to their illnesses going
untreated. Inciting the John Hyde case in Albuquerque and the Carlos Preciado
Jr. case in Las Cruces, Domenici also pointed to the April 2000 New York Times
series, “The Well-Marked Roads to Homicidal Rage,” that analyzed the cases of
100 rampage killers across the country, 48 of which involved killers who had
some kind of formal diagnosis for a mental illness.

“Some argue that it is wrong to force individuals to undergo treatment against
their will. We argue that the tragic consequences are simply too monumental not
to require help under certain circumstances,” Domenici said. “The success rate
of the AOT program in other states has been well documented in both research and
in practice.”

Domenici cosponsored the 1999 federal law that authorized the federal mental
health court program, through which Bernalillo County has established a Mental
Health Court that operates with a separate docket and are specially geared
toward the mentally disabled, with personnel trained in understanding mental
illnesses. The court includes a training component so that law enforcement is
better able to recognize signs of mental illness.

Domenici is the author of the landmark federal 1996 Mental Health Parity law to
begin ensuring fuller insurance coverage of mental health benefits by
prohibiting a group health plan from treating mental health benefits differently
from the coverage of medical and surgical benefits. He is continuing to work on
new legislation to build on the progress made with the 1996 legislation.


The following is the text of Domenici's letter endorsing the Gutierrez bill:

January 14, 2006

The Honorable Joni Marie Gutierrez New Mexico House of Representatives 208 North
Miranda Las Cruces, New Mexico 88005

Dear Representative Gutierrez:

I want to express my strong support for your introduction and sponsorship of new
mental health treatment legislation to create an assisted outpatient treatment
(AOT) program for individuals who suffer from severe mental illness. As you
know, I continually advocate for federal legislation regarding mental health
issues in the U.S. Senate. I believe it is imperative for New Mexico to make
proactive decisions to provide clear and compassionate assistance to those who
suffer from severe mental illness. The proposed AOT program will identify
individuals who need the most help and support them through an intensive and
supervised outpatient treatment program. With this legislation, I know New
Mexico can positively affect many individual lives who live in the turbulent
world of mental illness.

Many times we read the news and recoil in shock and disbelief at the actions
taken by individuals who were not diagnosed or who do not follow their treatment
plan. This strikes us most when we realize the results are tragedies we could
have prevented. Sadly, on August 18, 2005 the citizens of the City of
Albuquerque and the State of New Mexico learned of the tragedies that can ensue
when individuals with severe mental illness are not supported and served by the
current system. On this day, 48 year-old John Hyde allegedly shot and killed
five people. Two of whom were police officers. It has been reported by his
family that Mr. Hyde had been off his medication for schizophrenia and bipolar
disorder for at least five months. The family felt helpless to assist him and
his therapist told his family they had to wait for him to “escalate.” In the
case of Mr. Hyde, at what point do you identify an individual as escalated?

The John Hyde case is not the only incident where New Mexico law failed to help
an individual with severe mental illness. Also in 2005, 24-year-old Carlos
Preciado Jr. struck and killed 68-year-old Alvin Moore of Las Cruces. Mr.
Preciado had recently been discharged from the hospital because he was not
considered a danger to himself of others. The record shows that Mr. Preciado was
refusing medication for his diagnosed schizophrenia. Also, the record
demonstrates the police had dealt with Mr. Preciado at least 32 times in the
past. This death and others can be prevented and it is my belief they will with
the incorporation of this legislation.

Incidents such as this are not solitary and cannot be identified as “they just
snapped.” On April 10, 2000, The New York Times published a four part series of
articles titled The Well-Marked Roads to Homicidal Rage. This report analyzed
the cases of 100 rampage killers across the country. Most notably these articles
reported that of the 100 cases, 48 killers had some kind of formal diagnosis for
a mental illness. Twenty-five of the killers had received a diagnosis of mental
illness before committing their crimes. Fourteen of 24 individuals with
prescribed psychiatric drugs had stopped taking their medication prior to
committing their crimes. Also, The Times discovered that in 63 cases the killers
had previously made threats of violence, in 55 cases killers had regularly
expressed explosive anger or frustration, and in 35 cases these individuals had
a documented history of assaults and violent behavior.

As you can see, it is imperative to find realistic solutions to stop such
horrific crimes and to better serve the mental health population. I believe your
proposed legislation would not only prevent possible crimes, but offer fair and
safe treatment for individuals who suffer from severe mental illnesses.
Currently, New Mexico is one of only eight states that do not provide an AOT
service. The success rate of the AOT program in other states has been well
documented in both research and in practice. It is time for New Mexico to take
the steps to support individuals with severe mental illnesses and prevent the
possible harm to themselves and possibly others. Let us not pledge not to have
another day like August 18, 2005 in our state.

It is my hope this legislation will be accepted by both the New Mexico House of
Representatives and the Senate and signed promptly into state law. Thank you
very much for your attention to this matter, and if you need any other further
assistance in this matter please let me know

Sincerely, Pete V. Domenici United States Senator


4. ALBUQUERQUE JOURNAL, January 19, 2006

[Editor’s Note: Just as important as the legislative leaders of the campaign
for AOT in New Mexico is the tremendous grassroots effort to bring the treatment
mechanism to the state. At the head is NAMI-New Mexico. A unanimous board vote
to make AOT a priority followed up with scores of packets to legislators, office
visits both in districts and Santa Fe, and an informational lecture in the heart
of the Capitol offer only a glimpse at the breadth of its activities targeted at
bringing intensive and supervised court-ordered treatment to those most overcome
by a severe mental illness.

Particularly active has been a cadre of advocates from the Albuquerque chapter.
Below is an exceptional op-ed from NAMI-Albuquerque President Jane Lancaster.]


By Jane Lancaster
National Alliance for Mental Illness

Assisted outpatient treatment is a court-ordered program designed to bring
intensive, consistent care to people overwhelmed by severe psychiatric
illnesses. New Mexico is one of only eight states that do not have some form of
AOT law, but that may soon change.

State Rep. Joni Gutierrez, D-Las Cruces, is advocating legislation to enable and
fund AOT. Albuquerque Mayor Martin Chávez has announced his intention to push
for an ordinance if action at the state level is delayed. U.S. Sen. Pete
Domenici endorses AOT measures as a matter of both compassion and public safety.

The proposed Albuquerque ordinance would create a psychiatric officer to
evaluate referrals and advise the Mayor's Office, which could petition District
Court to order assisted outpatient treatment, including psychiatric, medical and
social services and ensuring medications are taken as prescribed.

Before entering an order, a judge would have to find that there is no less
restrictive option for that person's care. The person with the severe mental
illness must also be unlikely to survive safely in the community and likely to
cause serious harm to self or others without the court-ordered outpatient care.

Referrals for AOT consideration can come from concerned family, physicians, the
police department's Crisis Invention Team (CIT), or the Albuquerque Family and
Community Services Department.

Based on statistics from other states, AOT might be used in Albuquerque in 35
cases a year. These AOT orders are subject to petition, limited to a period of
six months and can be extended only after review.

Albuquerque has a history of proactive mental health reform at the community
level. The city was one of the first in the country to establish a CIT, groups
of specially-trained police officers who respond to mental health calls. The CIT
follow up such calls by making connections to social and mental health workers
to ensure the individual doesn't fall through the cracks between providers.

By 2005 Albuquerque had established fully functioning mental health courts, a
jail diversion program and a Program of Assertive Community Treatment (PACT) for
individuals with mental illness and in trouble with the judicial system.

The mayor has announced that a second team is to be added to the program that
has become a national model for integrated services.

Now the community is being asked to respond again: this time, to protect the
most severely mentally ill who have no insight into their problems and who,
because of their disease, cannot cooperate on their own.

Such individuals have inconsistent care that results in repeated
hospitalizations or such nonexistent care that they require emergency services.
Reactive responses such as these deplete New Mexico's scant mental health
resources and limited hospital beds.

We can do it this year. As with the CIT and PACT teams, Albuquerque is in a
position to put the AOT program in place in 2006. At least 20 percent of
killings in Albuquerque in 2005 were associated with mental illness in which
families, bystanders, police and the mentally ill were victims.

If the state is slow to respond, let's stop these tragedies at the city level
with a proactive rather than a costly, reactive program.

Jonathan Stanley from the Treatment Advocacy Center in Arlington, Va., will
speak on assisted outpatient treatment at noon Monday at Noon Day Ministry,
Central and Broadway NE.

A lawyer who has suffered severe mental illness, Stanley has worked with many
states to develop AOT legislation modeled after Kendra's Law in New York State.
For more information about the noon event.

Jane B. Lancaster is president of the Albuquerque chapter of the National
Alliance for Mental Illness.



[Editor’s Note: New Mexican advocates and political leaders fervently spoke of
the need for AOT, and Governor Bill Richardson listened. Last week he not only
announced that the AOT bill would be on his call list, he even held a press
conference to announce the decision – a strong sign that he not only thought the
measure should be debated, but that it should also be passed.]


January 20, 2006
Jon Goldstein

(SANTA FE, NM) - Governor Bill Richardson today announced his support for
“Kendra’s Law,” House Bill 174, a bipartisan effort to help those with a serious
mental illness receive the care they need before their illness drives them to
commit a crime.

The Governor was joined by Representative Joni Marie Gutierrez, the bill’s
sponsor, as well as Debbie King and Susan Smith whose husbands were killed by a
behavioral health patient last August in Albuquerque, and Albuquerque Police
Sgt. Carol Oleksak who in 2003 was shot in the head by a man with both brain
injuries and schizophrenia.

“Kendra’s Law will help patients live and function in their communities by
working to get them the compassionate care and treatment they need,” said
Governor Richardson. “We need this law to prevent events like the tragic murders
in Albuquerque last summer. We have to do everything we can to prevent this from
happening to another family, another police officer, or another community, ever

Under this law, a patient’s family or doctors will be able to get a court order
to require treatment for those whose severe mental illness makes them a threat
to themselves and their community. This law, named for Kendra Webdale a New
Yorker who was pushed in front of a subway train by a schizophrenic man, is
already in place and helping people in 42 states.

“This law is all about helping those who, sadly, are too sick to help
themselves,” said Representative Joni Marie Gutierrez, sponsor of House Bill
174. “Treating this small but significant group of people will make New Mexico’s
communities safer.”

Kendra’s Law is supported by the National Alliance for Mental Illness and Jane
Lancaster, NAMI’s Albuquerque Chapter President, also joined Governor Richardson
at his afternoon press conference. Both Albuquerque Mayor Martin Chavez and U.S.
Senator Pete Domenici, have also come out in strong support of this legislation.


6. ASSOCIATED PRESS, January 21, 2006

[Editor’s Note: Governor Richardson’s press release, however, only hinted at the
true depth of his determination to secure the benefits of AOT for his state.
This comment of his did:

"This is the governor's position. ... We're for the bill. We support it
strongly, and we're going to get it passed. And that's all there is to it."]


By Deborah Baker | Associated Press

Flanked by police officers' widows and an officer who survived a shooting, Gov.
Bill Richardson on Friday threw his support behind court-ordered outpatient
treatment for some mentally ill people.

It was a turnaround for the administration, which just a couple months ago had
opposed the proposal.

Under the bill, mentally ill people could be ordered by courts to get "assisted
outpatient treatment" if they were determined to be a threat to themselves or
the community. That could include medication, therapy sessions or
alcohol-and-drug counseling.

A family member, roommate, doctor, service provider, or parole or probation
officer could petition the court for the order.

Albuquerque Mayor Martin Chavez has proposed a similar ordinance for the city
and had asked Richardson to put a bill on the agenda for this session.

Two members of the governor's cabinet, Health Secretary Michelle Lujan Grisham
and Human Services Secretary Pamela Hyde, had written a letter late last year
saying they were against it -- in part because the state lacked the resources to
properly implement such a proposal.

Richardson acknowledged Friday that there had been "open dissent and
discussions" about the issue within the administration. He said after
conversations with Chavez, U.S. Sen. Pete Domenici, R-N.M., and other advocates,
he decided to back it.

"This is the governor's position. ... We're for the bill. We support it
strongly, and we're going to get it passed. And that's all there is to it,"
Richardson said at a news conference.

Grisham, who also endorsed the bill, said the administration had added $2
million to its budget for treatment programs.

Forty-two other states have a similar law, Richardson said. It's sometimes
referred to as "Kendra's Law," after Kendra Webdale, who died in New York City
in January 1999 after she was shoved in front of a subway train by a
schizophrenic who did not take his medication.

Joining administration officials at the news conference were Debbie King and
Susan Smith, whose police-officer husbands were among five people killed in
August in Albuquerque by a diagnosed schizophrenic.

Smith said lawmakers should "bridge the gap in our health-care system" by
passing the bill, which is sponsored by Rep. Joni Gutierrez, D-Las Cruces.

Sgt. Carol Oleksak, who was shot in the head on an Albuquerque street in 2003 by
a mentally ill man, said officers encounter people with mental illness every day
who need outpatient treatment.

Saying she found it "kind of surprising I'm still here," Oleksak said she has
concluded it provided her with an opportunity to "get out and get some things

The bill is also endorsed by the state chapter of the National Alliance for
Mental Illness.


7. ALBUQUERQUE JOURNAL, January 24, 2006

[Editor’s Note: The Treatment Advocacy Center has given extensive support to
the effort for AOT in New Mexico. Up until recently, that help had come via
e-mail, phone, and the postal service. This week TAC’s Jonathan Stanley and
Rosanna Esposito were able to lend a hand in person.]


By Jackie Jadrnak, Journal Staff Reporter

Jonathan Stanley remembers being perched on a milk crate in a New York deli,
stripping off his wet clothes to thwart transmission of government agents'
deadly energy.

Now he's an attorney, a person with bipolar disorder and an advocate for early
-- and forced, if need be -- treatment for people who can't manage their mental

"When I was standing on that milk crate in that deli, I had no idea I was sick,"
said Stanley, assistant director of the Advocacy Treatment Center in Arlington,
Va. He spoke to a roomful of advocates in Albuquerque Monday and plans to be in
Santa Fe this morning at the Capitol to speak in favor of Kendra's Law,
introduced as House Bill 174. It allows a court to commit a mentally ill person
to outpatient treatment for the disease.

Several people raised an issue that often comes up in New Mexico: "How can this
system work if our other (mental health) system is broken?"

"This (Kendra's Law) is for the sickest of the sick," Stanley said. "This is not
a proposal to cure all the ills of your state's mental health system."

Kendra's Law would direct services to people whose illness makes them incapable
of taking care of themselves and recognizing their need for treatment, he said.

He estimated that 75 people each year in New Mexico would be court-ordered into
treatment. Under such an order, he said, mental health providers tend to
coordinate their services and do a better job of treating people.

Forty-two states have some kind of outpatient treatment law, he said. However,
he noted that many of them have the same standards for an outpatient commitment
as for an inpatient commitment: that a person be an imminent danger to himself
or others.

New Mexico's proposed law has broader standards, those that show a person is
deteriorating and could become a danger to himself or others.

Because of New Mexico's shortage of specialists, its proposed law requires a
person's mental state to be assessed by a physician, but not specifically a
psychiatrist. That drew an objection from Lorette Enochs, a local board member
for the National Alliance on Mental Illness.

"People who have a heart condition go to a heart specialist ... I'm tired of
people with mental illnesses being treated like second- class citizens," she
said, noting that drugs treating brain disorders can have serious side effects
that must be monitored by an expert.

But, in the wake of the shutdown of institutions in the 1960s, a legal means has
to be provided to get treatment to people who resist it, Stanley said.



[Editor’s Note: A year-and-a-half before the recent flurry of promising events
in New Mexico, the Treatment Advocacy Center was bringing the need for AOT to
the attention of the citizens and leaders of the state.]


By E. Fuller Torrey, M.D., and Mary T. Zdanowicz, Esq.

Sgt. Carol Oleksak lies in a hospital bed, being treated for critical wounds
inflicted by a man who could not get access to a hospital bed to be treated for
his brain disease.

That man, Duc Minh Pham, was killed by law enforcement officers (July 7, 2003)
after critically injuring Officer Oleksak.

In the past 10 years, Pham has been charged with crimes like breaking and
entering, burglary, larceny, shoplifting and criminal damage to property - at
least 50 arrests, according to Metropolitan Court records. These charges - and
others - were regularly dismissed.

Pham had schizophrenia, which, according to news reports, rendered him
incompetent for trial. Yet New Mexico law also says that as long as he was not
dangerous, he could not be committed for treatment. Without the option for trial
and treatment, he was repeatedly released back to the streets to commit another

A better law might have saved Duc Minh Pham and Officer Carol Oleksak from their
tragic and deadly encounter - earlier intervention could also have saved New
Mexicans from the financial expense of Pham’s many arrests, incarcerations, and
court dates. Unfortunately, the revolving door of jail, hospitals, and the
streets that he was trapped in for almost a decade was halted not by a needed
change in law, but by death.

People who are rendered incompetent by severe mental illness need treatment
based on need, not on dangerousness.

And they deserve a law that supports the use of assisted outpatient treatment,
court-ordered treatment in the community. This alternative is much less
restrictive than a hospital and improves outcomes for severely mentally ill

People with severe mental illnesses are about four times more likely to be
killed in an encounter with law enforcement than the general public; and the
risk to law enforcement officers, as became sadly apparent in this case, is
extremely high.

Even if a deadly encounter is averted, correctional officials often become the
caretakers of people lost to these treatable illnesses.

Nationally, 16% of incarcerated people have a severe mental illness. In New
Mexico, people with severe mental illnesses are incarcerated than are housed in
the state’s remaining psychiatric hospitals. Pham himself was jailed repeatedly,
sometimes for a few days, sometimes for months at a time.

By contrast, those placed under New York’s assisted outpatient treatment law had
an 86% reduction in incarcerations.

Kendra’s Law participants also experienced an 86% reduction in homelessness.
Approximately one-third of the homeless population have a severe mental illness
- at times including Pham, whose existence on the streets is what led to his
first encounter with police.

The New York program saw an 83% reduction in arrests. This could have helped
Pham, arrested more than 50 times and arrested for everything from disorderly
conduct to assaulting a police officer.

All New Mexicans could benefit from significant reductions in harmful behaviors,
such as harm to self (45% reduction in New York) and harm to others (44%

New Mexico’s law ignores that the majority of those not receiving treatment for
severe mental illnesses do not believe - indeed, are rendered physiologically
incapable of understanding - that they are sick. Most will only accept treatment
if ordered to do so.

In such circumstances, the battle to be returned to competency is the true civil
rights issue, not the false “right” to be and remain psychotic.

And New Mexico law ignores that early intervention is important for clinical
reasons, as well as for public safety. Studies have shown that delayed treatment
increases treatment resistance, worsens severity of symptoms, increases
hospitalizations, and delays remission of symptoms.

Waiting to intervene can condemn someone to a lifetime of more severe and
continual illness.

New York’s law is named after Kendra Webdale, the victim of a man with untreated
schizophrenia. Perhaps New Mexico should consider Carol’s Law - for a law
enforcement officer who fell victim to the law she had sworn to uphold.

E. Fuller Torrey, M.D., is president and Mary T. Zdanowicz is executive director
of the Treatment Advocacy Center in Arlington, Va.,, a
national nonprofit organization working to eliminate barriers to treatment of
severe mental illness.


Treatment Advocacy Center E-NEWS is a publication of the Treatment Advocacy

This E-NEWS is provided as a public service by the Treatment Advocacy Center.
There is no fee. If you would also like to receive a free subscription to the
Catalyst, our quarterly hardcopy newsletter, please forward your mailing address

The Center does not accept donations from pharmaceutical companies. Support
from individuals who share our mission, however, is essential to our ability to
effectively help our most vulnerable citizens. The Treatment Advocacy Center is
a 501(c)(3) not-for-profit organization. All contributions are tax-deductible
to the extent allowed by law. Donations to the Treatment Advocacy Center should
be sent to:

Treatment Advocacy Center
200 North Glebe Road, Suite 730
Arlington, VA 22203
703-294-6001 (main no.)
703-294-6010 (fax)

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