While not all random acts of violence can ever be stopped, King County Prosecutor Dan Satterberg says Friday night’s random stabbing of a couple leaving the Sounders game again shows the mental health system is failing.
“It really depends on how much we want to come to grips with it as a society,” said Satterberg in an interview with KIRO Radio’s Tom and Curley Show.
Police say Donnell Jackson, 44, randomly attacked Kristin Ito, 30, as she and her boyfriend Troy Wolff, 46, walked near King Street Station. Wolff died from his injuries Saturday. Ito was seriously injured and being treated at Harborview Medical Center.
Jackson told detectives he is schizophrenic and that Wolff “was a member of a group trying to kill him,” according to a probable cause statement. He’s being held on $2 million bail after making his initial court appearance Monday. Charges are pending.
“Suspect is a dangerous mentally ill person who attacked and may have killed a stranger for no reason,” wrote Seattle police homicide Detective Cloyd Steiger. Steiger said that Jackson, a transient who moved to Seattle several months ago, is considered an extreme danger to the public.
“We just really haven’t come to grips with what kind of system we want to build for people who are suffering from severe mental illness,” says Satterberg. Satterberg argues a lack of funding and closing of institutions in the 1980s and 90s has led to a serious lack of facilities and treatment for the mentally ill, who end up on the streets, in jail, or local hospitals.
“Many of the people who are being held for short time evaluation are being held in a hospital emergency room,” Satterberg said. “Literally next to somebody with a broken leg can be somebody who’s suffering a psychotic episode and they’re being strapped to a gurney and being evaluated there simply because we don’t have any place else to do it.”
Seattle Mayor Mike McGinn issued his own call for increased funding for mental health services at a news conference Monday.
“That is the manifestation of a frayed social safety net. That is the manifestation of deep cuts in mental health services at the state level and we’re the ones that see the outcome of that right here,” said McGinn.
McGinn called it an “emergency,” citing in particular, shortcomings in a program to evaluate criminal suspects.
McGinn and Seattle Police Chief Jim Pugel sent a letter in July to Governor Jay Inslee, saying Seattle’s municipal court finds approximately 6-10 people a month not competent to stand trial.
“There’s a constant risk that individuals will be released before an evaluation space can be secured,” he said.
According to Satterberg, his office has seen a 30 percent increase in cases involving mentally ill suspects. He says while there are no easy solutions, increasing capacity in local and state mental health facilities and making it easier to involuntarily commit someone for evaluation are important steps. But they all cost money.
“There’s just not enough room in state psychiatric hospitals,” Satterberg said. “Capacity drives the decisions downstream. We’re not going to commit somebody because we don’t have a place to put them.”