A man who has been jailed for the past seven months for telling a crisis worker at a hospital he was having homicidal thoughts will be released into Salt Lake County's mental health court.---
The resolution for the man, Jack Harry Stiles, came on May 5 after weeks of escalating allegations from his attorneys, who say in court documents that prosecutors committed misconduct worthy of being thrown off the case and that Stiles’ prosecution was being fueled by politics.
These claims, though, will never be aired before a judge.
Stiles, 43, pleaded guilty in abeyance to making terroristic threats—charges that stemmed from last August, when he told a crisis worker he intended to “kill as many people as possible” at the City Creek Center mall, and possibly even blow up a UTA Trax train.
His plea—hailed as an appropriate resolution by his defense counsel and Salt Lake County District Attorney Sim Gill—means that Stiles must successfully complete 36 months of mental health court.
Many of the details surrounding the plea were not revealed, though it’s clear Stiles will be released from jail and live in a supervised environment for a time until housing is found. He must appear in court weekly. At the conclusion of the 36 months, the charges against Stiles will be erased.
“We were finally able to achieve a resolution that will get Mr. Stiles the treatment that he needs,” said Neal Hamilton, Stiles’ public defender. “He is in very good hands now in mental health court.”
Stiles’ legal troubles began on Aug. 11, 2013, when he called the police because he was suicidal and was thinking of hurting others. Police transported Stiles to the hospital where his homicidal thoughts grew more detailed. The crisis worker called police and Stiles was arrested.
But prosecutors opted against filing charges, and Stiles was released. He remained free for more than a month before he called police a second time. He was once again taken to the hospital. This time, however, a warrant was issued for his arrest and he was taken into custody.
Charged with making terroristic threats, Stiles has been behind bars ever since.
Hamilton told City Weekly in April that his client did nothing wrong, and he worried that other mentally ill people, fearful of being thrown in jail, would be discouraged from seeking help for mental illness. “We should facilitate what Jack did, not criminalize it,” Hamilton said in April. “What Jack did was the ideal situation. He got law enforcement involved and he got medical treatment involved. This is what we should strive for, and here we are.”
Gill declined to comment on the content of Hamilton’s motions in the case, saying that he simply feels that mental health court is an adequate place for Stiles to receive the help he needs.
“We disposed of this exactly the way we had hoped to and we had a meeting of the minds and we reached a resolution,” Gill said.
Gill said the gravity of the charge against Stiles, which constituted a third-degree felony, was not too serious to be funneled through mental health court. He pointed out that crimes as serious as aggravated arson have been dealt with successfully in the court.
Gill played a key role in starting mental health court 13 years ago. He says it’s kept 400 people out of prison, and no more than 15 have entered mental health court, only to fall short and wind up behind bars.
In explaining his passion for the court—Gill was handling cases in the mental health courtroom when Stiles’ case was resolved—the district attorney tried to shed some light on the driving forces behind Stiles’ prosecution.
He said mental health court aims to provide a safe environment for the mentally ill to process how they’re feeling, and tell case workers and a judge if their conditions are becoming unmanageable.
At a fundamental level, this is exactly what Stiles did. He called the police on himself and told a medical worker at a hospital how he was feeling. Gill said the case drew renewed scrutiny from prosecutors when Stiles’ statements made it outside the hospital gates to the authorities.
“If they utter, or go into the public domain, it raises a very different kind of concern,” Gill said of threats a person might make. “Even in a private, therapeutic sense, there is an exception if [clinical workers]think a crime might happen.”
This does not explain why Gill’s office declined to file charges the first time it had an opportunity to do so, though Gill told City Weekly in April that his office routinely takes a second look at cases that didn’t warrant charges on first review.
One thing Gill and Hamilton both agree on is that prisons should not be warehouses for the mentally ill.
“The criminal justice system should not have to be the only real option for mental health treatment,” Hamilton said. “Jails should not be our de facto place to treat the mentally ill. We need to do better, and that’s not a comment on this case, these are the realities that both sides live with everyday.”
And on Monday, rather than heading back to jail with serious charges hanging over his head, Stiles—though still shackled in chains and wearing a yellow jumpsuit—left the courtroom to the applause that is customary for all of those in mental health court.