'Vampire' bomb scare points out problem plaguing court system




Posted on March 15, 2010 at 3:11 PM

Updated Monday, Mar 15 at 5:23 PM

SEATTLE - Last Friday a 33-year-old man sparked a two-hour standoff and the closure of streets around the King County Courthouse after witnesses say the man walked into the Union Gospel Mission with a pipelike device on his arm, claiming to be a vampire who wanted to eat people.

That man had been in King County mental health court just the day before, claiming his medications were not working.

Seattle Municipal Court Judge Michael Hurtado says he's not surprised. There is a three- to four-month backlog for psych evaluations for both the city and the county.

"What we need are more doctors. More beds at Western especially for those that are in custody," said Judge Hurtado.

Unfortunately there's no money for it. In fact King County lost $7 million in mental health funding last year, according to Amnon Shoenfeld, the Division Director of Mental Health for King County.

"The taxpayers don't save money by cutting mental health services," said Shoenfeld. "Because if you don't serve people when they need the help in the community, you end up paying more for jail costs like the incident the other day."

According to King County Mental Health Court Manager Lois Smith, there are five full-time doctors from Western State Hospital in Seattle who evaluate inmates with mental health issues. The biggest priority are those who are in custody. She says they're doing the best they can, but without more resources they can only do so much.

Judge Hurtado says what happened Friday should be a wake-up call.

"They goodness nobody got hurt," said Hurtado. "But, if left untreated these types of cases may result in a homicide or fatality."