No Memory, No Felony

by William Skink

A homeless man who nearly killed another homeless man 6 months ago under a bridge in Missoula is out, free, because his victim couldn’t remember the trauma.

Because the victim claimed no memory, the county attorney’s office dropped the felony charge to a misdemeanor, to which the man pled guilty and was immediately released because he had already done the time.

We, as a community, have tried to criminalize benign behavior, like sitting on downtown sidewalks, but we can’t keep a man who, for whatever reason, nearly killed another person in jail longer than 6 months before releasing him back onto our streets?

Is this lack of accountability understood by our local homeless population? Does that reinforce a lack of cooperation from homeless victims when it comes to violence, like assaults and rapes, which happen and will continue to happen at alarming frequency? Is that why this particular homeless man casually confessed to a police officer during a “non-custodial” ride? From the link:

In his initial statement to police, Halks said the attack was unprovoked but he could only describe the perpetrator as an old, white man with short hair.

Immediately after the stabbing, Halks came out of the camp and made his way to the Town Pump on North Reserve Street, where employees rushed to his aid and emergency responders transported him to a hospital for treatment.

More than 24 hours later, Stephens, who is well-known to police, was picked up on Mullan Road. While an officer gave him a “noncustodial” ride downtown, Stephens started to talk about stabbing a person named “Mud Duck” under the bridge.

Police thought there may be a connection between Stephens’ tale and the report of the stabbing the day before.

There is a lot of talk about jail diversion right now. Not that long ago the criminal justice focus was on sexual assault. I think our criminal justice system continues to be unable to hold violent people accountable when substance abuse is involved, and our community continues to lack the infrastructure to deal with addiction and mental illness.

Jail diversion has the potential, if done poorly and without the right input, to put the cart before the horse and make our community less safe. I would encourage people to educate themselves and be a part of this conversation in a constructive manner (I’m looking at you, Greg) because it’s important, especially as vital programs continue to lose funding while we spend hundreds of thousands of dollars to keep studying the problems as they worsen.

About Travis Mateer

I'm an artist and citizen journalist living and writing in Montana. You can contact me here: willskink at yahoo dot com
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7 Responses to No Memory, No Felony

  1. Greg Strandberg says:

    Where is the money for jail diversion to come from? Certainly not the state, as Bullock only felt the need to kick down $1.8 million to 16 counties.

    You say that our current system “continues to be unable to hold violent people accountable.”

    I couldn’t agree more – how many Missoulian stories have we seen over the past month or two where someone is getting out of jail after serving only a few years, and nearly always for quite a violent crime? I’ve read several.

    I totally agree that “our community continues to lack the infrastructure to deal with addiction and mental illness.”

    What is the plan for this?

    On Tuesday night I attended a meeting where 8 options were presented. We’d spent $40,000 to come up with those 8 options, which to me is a horrendous rip-off to the taxpayer. Ellie Hill on Twitter the other day even admitted that problems persist, despite she having taken part in that study.

    What are we paying for? $40,000 so Cynthia Wolken can have a cushy pay and benefits package for two financial quarters? C’mon.

    Again I’ll ask, where is the money for jail diversion to come from?

    I suppose the taxpayer. I mean, we’re already asking for $120 million for schools in the city of Missoula, we nabbed $40 million for parks, we’ll likely spend another $16 million for a mall, and I’m sure there are quite a few I’m missing.

    Let’s not even get into the costs of the water company.

    Where is the money for jail diversion going to come from?

    “Vital programs continue to lose funding” because our do-nothing legislators won’t fund them.

    2 legislators out of our 15-strong Missoula delegation were at that meeting on Tuesday, and that is pathetic.

    Why does the state have $455 million in the bank right now while our infrastructure crumbles, our jails overflow, and old people die in the snow if they can’t get a jail cell?

    Steve Bullock needs to call a special session to deal with this. Unfortunately, he’s too busy jet-setting around raising his dark money for 2016.

    We need to our budget surplus money to our local communities where it can be put to work, not in the bank where it’s doing nothing.

    It’s time for a special session to address these serious issues.

    • JC says:

      Greg, here’s what’s going to happen to that $455 million surplus: the legislature is going to find a way to make the rich richer, those with power more powerful. It will be transferred to rich via property tax rebates or tax cuts. It will be transferred to wealthy businesses in the form of business tax cuts.

      Our local communities won’t see a red cent of it, nor will renters, low income folks, or needed services at nonprofits. The legislature will make sure that the money flows to entities that will return a significant portion of it as political contributions.

      After all, that’s what’s always happened before. Corruption reigns.

      • Greg Strandberg says:

        I hope you’re wrong, but something tells me you’re not.

        I don’t see the makeup of the legislature changing too much after the 2016 elections and that means we’ll indeed see more pushes for tax cuts like we saw last time, Wittich-like handouts to the top percent of the state.

        I’m sure we could roll out all kinds of studies showing that investing in infrastructure and essential services is beneficial long-term, or even that businesses seeking relocate look for those things.

        But what’s the point? Even if we have that information, or I should say Democrats, they can’t sell it. No one can convince the vast electorate across the state to send their party to Helena in greater numbers than the GOP.

        Democrats might have the better ideas, but if you can’t sell them, what good does it do?

        In regard to corruption, I’m sure there’s a lot of that. The problem is establishing a paper trail that can document it. For that to truly happen I feel we’d need some brave souls that work on the inside to step forward, perhaps anonymously, by supplying documents.

        • JC says:

          Read the article in the new Indy about Jon Motl, the Political Practices Commissioner. He’s a ray of light in very dark places. Pay attention to what his office is doing, and you’ll find your “paper trail” on much of what is wrong with political campaigns.

  2. JC says:

    Liz, this whole issue of a person describing a crime during a “non-custodial” ride in a cop car is really crazy. I assume that “non-custodial” means that Stephens, while “well known” to police hadn’t been arrested nor read his rights. Which a good public defender would pick right up on, and get his defendant off on a lesser charge, and reduced time. Which seems like exactly what happened here.

    Of further concern is just what the hell is the MPD doing giving “well-known” transients “non-custodial” rides in the first place? I assume there’s a whole lot of other untold back stories here. My observations of the MPD and emergency responses bear out that much of what transpires on the streets is just swept under the rug, with a lot of buck-pssing going on. And there is a code on the streets of keeping the issues out of the police spotlight, whether a victim or a perp. Justice is meted out on the streets with thefts, assault, fists, guns, and knives.

    And you’re right that jail diversion programs will do nothing if there aren’t adequate services available to handle the diverts. And while in the local communities, we have horrendous problems with crime, much of it from homeless and transient populations, spending tons of money on diversionary services is only putting a bandaid and some ointment on an issue that is festering much larger.

    So sure, we got a near half-billion in the state bank doing nothing but waiting for the Legislature to raid it and tithe it to their favorite benefactors. But the real problem is that the economy in this country, state and local communities is not serving the common person. Without enough jobs to keep people from descending into homelessness and transience in the first place, the outcome we are seeing is so predictable.

    If we want to solve the problems on the streets of our communities — and this includes things like mass shootings — we need to push our economy in new directions so that it works for the common person (and no Swede, I’m not advocating centrally-planned economies here). When people have meaningful employment (with the economy at a real “full employment” figure), being paid enough to maintain a stable home and relationships, then our problems on the streets will diminish. Simple as that.

    • honestly, I’ve heard of multiple instances where MPD are trying to help people, like giving people who have no where else to go a ride to a motel. if we had some place that operated 24 hours that wasn’t the ER or jail—which is one of the ideas from this jail diversion group—then it would be tremendously beneficial for everyone.

      the weather is getting cold and I know there are instances of people committing crimes because they want to go to jail. that is crazy, but it’s happening.

      I appreciate the need to get data so our community can make good arguments for what to invest resources in, but we keep having study after study, and then what? studies lead to reports, reports put forward recommendations, and then what? I’ll tell you what: death by politics.

      JC, we need to get together soon. I’m planning a month hiatus from the day job to save my sanity and I’ve got some ideas about a few creative projects I’ve been working on. hit me up next week.

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