The Oregon Court of Appeals has affirmed that Oregon State Hospital leaders “willfully” violated court orders when they did not promptly admit a criminal defendant with severe mental illness for treatment so he could help in his legal defense.
A three-judge panel on Wednesday unanimously upheld a 2019 lower court ruling declaring the state psychiatric hospital in contempt of court, The Oregonian/OregonLive reported. The contempt ruling came for forcing Carlos Zamora-Skarr to stay in the county jail for over six weeks as his mental state deteriorated.
Under a 2002 federal court order, Oregon must admit defendants within seven days who are deemed unable to aid and assist in their own defense.
Zamora-Skarr was jailed in November 2018 on burglary charges. His attorney petitioned the court to have him treated, writing that he was “undergoing as severe a mental health crisis as a person could ever undergo."
Despite repeated court orders and inquiries starting in March 2019, state hospital officials said they couldn't admit him because the hospital did not have room.
But judges noted the hospital had more than a dozen empty beds in its aid-and-assist units.
In the Appeals Court ruling, Judge Erika Hadlock wrote about the legal meanings of “willfully” and “inability to comply,” as state hospital officials argued they lacked the money and staffing needed to admit more patients.
Hadlock wrote that officials voluntarily left Zamora-Skaar in the county jail.
Hospital Relations Director Rebeka Gipson-King said Wednesday that hospital officials are disappointed by the decision because they feel they have been working so hard to serve patients well.
“Even through the pandemic, we have continued to work diligently to make sure people who need hospital-level care are admitted,” she said. “The decision does not recognize the hospital’s capacity challenges.”