Monday, November 5, 2012

"Because Maryland lacks an assisted outpatient commitment law, Simmons could not order Cobbold to take medication for her mental illnesses without holding her in a state facility, Davis said."

Published: Friday, November 2, 2012

Virginia woman to stand trial for Walter Reed hit-and-run despite mental health history by Jeremy Arias Staff writer

The Virginia woman who was shot at after almost running over a security guard at the Walter Reed National Military Center in Bethesda last week was found competent to stand trial by a Montgomery County District Court judge Wednesday despite her extensive history of mental illness.

Angela A. Cobbold, a 27-year-old Manassas resident, was released from a psychiatric ward on Oct. 19 — just four days before police said she crashed into several cars on the medical center campus and had a confrontation with security — said Montgomery County State’s Attorney Peter Feeney during Cobbold’s bond review hearing last week.

In spite of this, along with evidence of what Feeney called Cobbold’s “significant psychiatric history,” Judge William G. Simmons found her mentally competent to face the first-degree assault and reckless endangerment charges made against her.

Officer Scott Davis, the county police department’s Crisis Intervention Team coordinator and mental health expert, said Cobbold appeared more stable in her second court appearance Wednesday following an evaluation last week by corrections department psychiatric specialists. While Simmons’ decision means Cobbold will go to trial, Davis was not sure if she will ultimately be found criminally responsible for her actions.

“The whole thing about competency is the ability to understand court proceedings and her ability to understand the role a public defender or defense attorney would play in her trial, so if she is able to understand the charges against her, she is competent,” he said.

Simmons assigned Cobbold a $50,000 bail after Wednesday’s hearing, increasing the original $20,000 bail assigned to her case after her initial appearance Oct. 23. Cobbold was ordered held without bond at a review hearing Oct. 24 until after her psychiatric evaluation.

Cobbold’s brother-in-law also spoke at the hearing, telling Simmons that she had been staying with family members in the months leading up to her arrest, but she had moved out when family members started to feel unsafe around her, Davis said. Her brother-in-law also told the judge that Cobbold had refused to take her medication for schizophrenia and bipolar disorder, Davis said.

In the wake of Cobbold’s arrest, some mental health advocates are calling for the implementation of new laws granting judges more power in mental health cases. Brian Stettin, the policy director for the Treatment Advocacy Center, a Virginia-based mental health nonprofit, believes that situations like the shooting at Walter Reed can be avoided if judges take advantage of what he called ‘assisted outpatient commitment.’

“It’s the idea of a judge being able to commit a person to comply with an outpatient treatment plan as a requirement for them being allowed to stay out in the community,” he explained. “It’s a court order saying you need to take your medication.”

Under Maryland Civil Commitment law, people with a mental illnesses can be committed to a treatment facility against their will if they are found to pose a threat to themselves or others, but those individuals are committed in an inpatient capacity to a mental health facility. Even though a judge can require mentally ill individuals to seek treatment, no law exists to compel mentally ill individuals to seek treatment as a requirement for release without them first having been committed to a facility.

“Maryland is one of only six states where that is not possible,” Stettin said. “Most states have these laws on the books but they aren’t used nearly enough; what we’re doing is waiting around for the inevitable to happen and hoping that, when it does, someone won’t be seriously hurt or killed.”

While Virginia does have an outpatient compulsory treatment law for individuals who both understand the treatment plan assigned to them and are willing to be monitored by a community services board, Cobbold was arrested and will remain in custody in Maryland. Because Maryland lacks an assisted outpatient commitment law, Simmons could not order Cobbold to take medication for her mental illnesses without holding her in a state facility, Davis said.

Ramon Korionoff, a spokesman for the Montgomery County State’s Attorney’s Office, said his office will continue to monitor Cobbold’s case closely and take proactive steps to ensure she receives any treatment she needs while also ensuring the public’s safety.

“It is always in the best interest of the state, the residents of the county and the subject of any mental health evaluation to receive treatment, if needed. We will take the appropriate steps to ensure the public is kept safe at each stage of this matter,” he said.

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