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Wednesday, May 31, 2023
May 31, 2023

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Mentally ill son’s request for help heartens mom

By , Columbian Assistant Metro Editor
4 Photos
Angela Daniels looks at a photo of her son, Damian Daniel Rodriguez, 23, from a mud race they ran together a few months before his schizophrenia diagnosis, at her Vancouver home.
Angela Daniels looks at a photo of her son, Damian Daniel Rodriguez, 23, from a mud race they ran together a few months before his schizophrenia diagnosis, at her Vancouver home. (Nathan Howard/The Columbian) Photo Gallery

A sob escaped Angela Daniels’ throat as she walked away from the Clark County Courthouse. It was days after Thanksgiving, and she had just learned her son, who’s been in jail since June, would undergo a third, and likely final, court-ordered competency restoration process.

The news was an early Christmas present for Daniels, whose 23-year-old son, Damian Daniel Rodriguez, was diagnosed with schizophrenia at age 20.

His attorney had requested that his case — two counts of third-degree assault — be dismissed. Daniels, 40, feared her son would be released, just as sick as he was when he was arrested, and would have nowhere to go. But he surprised her when he turned to his attorney and asked for more treatment.

“To actually acknowledge him needing or wanting more treatment …” Daniels started to say, before dissolving into tears. “Maybe he’s scared, because it’s cold, and he has no place to stay. I don’t care; the fact is he asked for (help).”

Rodriguez was arrested June 1 after prompting a lockdown at Clark College; he called 911 to report he was armed and killed two police officers on campus. Rodriguez was not armed, however, and no officers or civilians were injured, according to court records.

Daniels said she believes her son wished to die by suicide by cop.

Vancouver police had contacted Rodriguez the night before. Daniels called 911, she said, and asked for officers trained in crisis intervention to do a mental health check on him. He was at Esther Short Park screaming that he was going to die. Police located Rodriguez, but they couldn’t intervene, because he refused to speak with them, Daniels said.

Daniels had also called the county’s crisis line three or four times in the days leading up to the Clark College incident but was told there was no staff available to help.

“Fighting with my son is difficult, but fighting the system was by far 10 times harder,” Daniels said.

On Feb. 1, 2018, Daniels was taking her son to a grocery store when they got into an argument over money. He threatened to kill her, and punched her in the face. Rodriguez was charged with domestic violence harassment and fourth-degree domestic violence assault. He pleaded guilty to the latter charge and was given credit for time served.

Despite being granted another go at competency restoration — during which defendants are taught about the criminal justice system in an attempt for them to be found mentally fit to stand trial — Rodriguez waited more than a month in the jail for a spot to open up at Western State Hospital. He was transferred there Jan. 4, his mother said.

Rodriguez is just one of thousands of people with mental illness in Washington who wait weeks or months to get into a treatment facility. Meanwhile, their case is put on hold and their condition deteriorates.

For years, the state has failed to follow a federal court order in a class-action lawsuit, known as Trueblood, that enforces a person’s constitutional right to timely competency evaluation and restoration services. The court in 2015 ordered the Department of Social and Health Services to provide in-jail competency evaluations within 14 days and inpatient competency evaluation and restoration services within seven days. Since then, the court has found DSHS in contempt and imposed millions in monetary sanctions.

In December, a federal judge gave final approval to a settlement agreement between DSHS and Disability Rights Washington to overhaul the state’s mental health system: hiring more evaluators, increasing the number of beds available in state mental hospitals and providing more community-based services to keep mentally ill people out of the criminal justice system.

Daniels described her son’s struggles as “the new normal.”

“It’s hard to look to the future when you’re living day to day. I want him to be happy. I want him to be stable. I want to hang out with him — go to the movies or dog park. I want him to have a somewhat normal life,” she said. “The fact he asked (for help) gives me hope.”

Mental Health Statistics

• In 2016, there were an estimated 10.4 million adults age 18 or older in the United States with serious mental illness, according to statistics from the National Institute on Mental Health. This number represented 4.2 percent of all U.S. adults.

• Only about half of those with serious mental illness ages 18 to 25 received treatment in 2016, according to statistics from the National Institute on Mental Health.

• People with serious mental illnesses have a  10 to 25-year life expectancy reduction, according to stats from the World Health Organization. A vast majority of those deaths are from cardiovascular, respiratory and infectious diseases, diabetes and hypertension, as well as suicide. People with serious mental illnesses are less likely to receive good health and social care, according to WHO.

• Mortality rates among people with schizophrenia is 2 to 2.5 times higher than the general population, according to WHO. People with bipolar mood disorders have high mortality rates ranging from 35 percent higher to twice as high as the general population.

• According to a 2014 report from the Treatment Advocacy Center, about 20% of inmates in jails and 15% of inmates in state prisons have a serious mental illness.

• That would have meant there were about 356,000 inmates with serious mental illness in jails and state prisons. The number is expected to have risen since, according to the Advocacy Center.

• The average bed rate at Western State Hospital is $790 a day, while enhanced service facilities cost $425 per day and adult family homes just $95, according to the Seattle Times.

• 190,078 people in Washington have serious bipolar disorder and/or schizophrenia. That number places Washington 13th highest in the U.S., according to 2017 stats from the Treatment Advocacy Center.

• 90,223 Washingtonians have serious untreated bipolar disorder and/or schizophrenia, according to 2017 stats from the Treatment Advocacy Center.

• 70 percent  of youth in state and local juvenile justice systems have a mental illness, according to statistics from the National Institute on Mental Health.

How to get Help

• Behavioral health crisis services are available 24 hours a day, seven days a week by calling the Southwest Washington Crisis Line at 800-626-8137 or text at 866-835-2755

• NAMI SW WA can be reached at 360-695-2823

• The National Suicide Prevention line can be reached at 1-800-273-8255