In another case pitting San Luis Obispo County law enforcers against advocates for the mentally ill, a schizophrenic Atascadero man is facing charges over an incident last year in which he struck a worker at SLO County’s psychiatric health facility. [Tribune]
Last November, Joseph Perez, 32, was placed in the county psychiatric health facility on a 72-hour involuntary hold while reportedly having a schizophrenic episode. During his stay in the facility, Perez became entangled in a heated dispute with two psychiatric technicians.
Surveillance footage shows the two technicians pinned Perez against a wall. Perez then aggressively paced up and down a hallway, shouted and got in the faces of the men.
Perez struck one of the men on the left side of his head. Video appears to show that Perez slapped the technician in the head.
Immediately following, multiple workers struggled with Perez and held him down until officers arrived.
The technician whom Perez struck suffered a deep laceration to his ear. It is unclear, though, whether the injury occurred as a result of the swing Perez took at the man or the subsequent struggle.
Initially, SLO County prosecutors charged Perez with two felonies, one of which alone carried the possibility of four years in state prison and a strike under California’s Three Strikes Law. In March, a judge reduced the charges to two misdemeanor counts of assault and battery after listening to testimony from the victim.
Perez’s attorney accuses the psychiatric technicians of having escalated, rather than deescalated the situation, by pinning Perez against the wall.
The case, which is expected to go to trial within 60 days, marked the second time in three years that Perez had been charged over a physical altercation at the psychiatric health facility. In Jan. 2014, SLO County prosecutors filed a misdemeanor battery charge against Perez that was later dismissed.
On Tuesday, Perez’s mother, Lisa Kania protested her son’s prosecution, as well as District Attorney Dan Dow’s handling of mental health related issues. Standing outside the San Luis Obispo courthouse, Kania said Dow Should not criminalize her son.
Kania also said if her son is convicted he will lose his disability and health insurance, which will leave the country psychiatric facility as his only option for emergency treatment through his Medi-Cal coverage. Perez has averaged at least one major schizophrenic episode very few months for the last several years, Kania said.
The district attorney’s office released a statement saying there is a delicate balance between public safety and the rights of individuals with mental illness and that sometimes a criminal case is the only way to address issues and get someone’s attention.
Meanwhile, critics and political opponents of Dow and Sheriff Ian Parkinson argue the mentally ill are not receiving proper treatment, and then they are being arrested and prosecuted over their subsequent mental health episodes.