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Oregon State Hospital, Health Authority inaction targeted by local lawyer

Aaron David Whitley
Circuit Court judge allows hearing to learn why state health entities have left defendant in Jackson County Jail since January

A man who has been in the Jackson County Jail since he was convicted of robbery 10 months ago could learn later this month why he hasn’t been transported to the Oregon State Hospital for mental health treatment.

Jackson County Circuit Court Judge pro tem Paul Moser granted a request from public defender Alyssa Bartholomew for a show cause hearing that would require the Oregon Health Authority and Oregon State Hospital to explain why Aaron David Whitley, 39, who was found guilty except for insanity Jan. 15, remains in the county jail.

Bartholomew asserted that the two state health entities are in violation of a Jackson County Circuit Court order to transport Whitley to the state hospital.

Bartholomew asked that Whitley receive financial compensation for the court order violation due to “the loss, injury and costs suffered by him as the result of the contempt of court” as well as creation of another court order to ensure “compliance with the prior court order.”

If Whitley is transferred to the state hospital before the show cause hearing occurs Oct. 29, the hearing may still happen. Oregon Revised Statute 033.015 allows for sanctions in such instances no matter whether the contemptible action has ended or is ongoing, and “within two years of the act or omission constituting the contempt,” the lawyer noted in her written motion and then explained to Moser Thursday in court.

Whitley’s attorney is citing a recent case in Multnomah County in which two men, Jarod Scott Bowman and Joshawn Douglas-Simpson, both found guilty except for insanity for their respective offenses, had been in the Multnomah County Jail for months in spite of court orders asking that Bowman be placed in the state hospital without “unreasonable delay” and Douglas-Simpson be sent there “immediately,” a Multnomah County Circuit Court document stated.

The two men’s cases were combined with the aim of finding the state hospital and health authority in remedial contempt of those court orders.

The same court document explained that as of July 14, there were 18 guilty except for insanity defendants being held in county jails across the state because there were no transports to the state hospital from those jails since the beginning of 2021.

Multnomah County Circuit Court Judge Nan Waller found that the state health entities were in contempt because they were holding open beds based on choices, such as specifically prioritizing some patients over others.

Even though the choices were based on earlier court orders, decisions could result in a defendant determined to be unfit to stand trial being given higher priority for a bed at the state hospital than one declared guilty except for insanity, for example.

Waller determined that the state hospital and health authority could still comply with the Circuit Court orders placing Bowman and Douglas-Simpson in the state hospital, because the cap on patients in the facility exists for the sake of providing staff with flexibility to move patients as deemed necessary — even when doing so is “necessary for health and safety reasons.”

The judge also ordered the state to pay Multnomah County $100 per day that each man isn’t housed in the state hospital. The money would offset the cost to keep them in the county jail.

Bartholomew noted after court last week that Whitley has been in the Jackson County Jail longer than Bowman and Douglas-Simpson were in the Multnomah County Jail.

She previously asked the Jackson County Circuit Court to either find a bed for Whitley in the state hospital immediately or that he be released from the county jail until he gets into the state hospital for his court-ordered mental health treatment.

On Aug. 20, Whitley was released from the jail temporarily. The District Attorney’s Office acted to have him returned to the jail because the Circuit Court didn’t actually have the jurisdiction to release him. His case had become the responsibility of the Psychiatric Security Review Board, the DA’s Office argued.

Also cited in the District Attorney’s request to reverse the order to release Whitley from the county jail was that his victims weren’t notified and the state wasn’t provided substantive notice of his release.

Whitley was convicted of first-degree robbery and coercion for attempting to commit a carjacking Feb. 10, 2020, in Ashland, according to previous accounts. He was found guilty except for insanity Jan. 15, and has been held in the Jackson County Jail since his arrest.

Reach reporter Terri Harber at 541-776-4468 or tharber@rosebudmedia.com.