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News / Health / Clark County Health

Vancouver mother wants to know: What has happened to my mentally ill son?

62-year-old homeless man with schizoaffective, bipolar disorders was sent to Western State Hospital 15 months ago; family hasn't heard from him since

By Alexis Weisend, Columbian staff reporter
Published: May 3, 2024, 6:07am
5 Photos
Rev. Joyce Smith, clockwise from left, Cindi Fisher, Bettie Le&rsquo;Sueur and Balinda Olive-Beltran talk about the disappearance of LeSueur&rsquo;s son Jacques at Bettie Le&rsquo;Sueur&rsquo;s house in east Vancouver. Bettie has not heard from him since he was transported to Western State, a psychiatric hospital, more than a year ago.
Rev. Joyce Smith, clockwise from left, Cindi Fisher, Bettie Le’Sueur and Balinda Olive-Beltran talk about the disappearance of LeSueur’s son Jacques at Bettie Le’Sueur’s house in east Vancouver. Bettie has not heard from him since he was transported to Western State, a psychiatric hospital, more than a year ago. (Taylor Balkom/The Columbian) Photo Gallery

Jacques Le’Sueur’s phone calls to his family stopped a year ago when Clark County sent him to Western State Hospital, a psychiatric facility 130 miles away. Now, he’s a missing person.

It’s likely the 62-year-old man with schizoaffective and bipolar disorders was civilly committed — that is, court ordered to receive in-patient treatment for mental illness. But it’s nearly impossible for his family to know.

Le’Sueur was facing criminal charges that were dropped after a judge found he wasn’t competent to stand trial and ordered him to be evaluated for civil commitment.

Civil commitment cases are sealed and some of the most difficult records in Washington to uncover. Even the police looking for Le’Sueur cannot access the court records that may show he was committed to a facility and for how long.

Washington’s law sealing civil commitment records is not an unusual one. It’s meant to protect people’s privacy and their sensitive information, such as medical diagnoses or details of unusual behavior that could be evidence for committal. However, this also means, unless the defendant explicitly allows someone to know their whereabouts, people like Le’Sueur can get lost within the mental health system the way they would not in the prison system.

It’s a corner of the law where an individual’s right to privacy and the public’s right to access information from public institutions clash.

Le’Sueur’s family members believe their access to his possible civil commitment records is a matter of transparency, and sealing them limits accountability and creates opportunities for misconduct in the civil commitment process.

“I would rather he was in jail,” said his mother, Bettie Le’Sueur, with whom Jacques lived in Vancouver.

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It’s been 15 months since Bettie Le’Sueur, 85, has heard her son’s voice. If he was civilly committed and released somewhere without the support of his family, she fears him dead. But if he’s not — if he was and still is civilly committed — all she wants is to know he’s alive and send him the message that his younger brother died while he was gone, she said.

“I cannot stop stressing,” she said. “I lost my baby child. And this one? I don’t know whether he’s living or dead.”

‘Like a different person’

Jacques Le’Sueur’s family knew how grave his mental illness could be. Throughout his life, he was in and out of mental hospitals and frequently in trouble with the law, especially in Portland, where he’s faced more than 30 criminal trespassing charges. But when he was with his mother in Vancouver and on his medication, he was like a different person, his friends and family said. So he often lived with her.

Bettie Le’Sueur took classes on how to care for people with schizophrenia and gave him his medication each night, watching him swallow his pills. But one night in September 2022, he didn’t return home. A few days after he returned to his mother’s, an officer arrested Jacques Le’Sueur.

Media outlets soon reported that Jacques Le’Sueur had offered children at a bus stop near Vancouver’s Hearthwood Elementary School candy to come to the house where he lived with his mother down the street.

A child told police Jacques Le’Sueur put his mouth on his ear and said something like, “I’m going to eat you.” Then, a neighbor reported Jacques Le’Sueur was “playing with himself” as children were being dropped off at Hearthwood. Police noted he had previous convictions for indecent exposure and third-degree sex abuse of a minor, according to the probable cause affidavit.

His mother acknowledges her son’s behavior that day was inappropriate but believes his mental illness contributed. While in jail, Jacques Le’Sueur, nicknamed Jimmy by his family, called his mother frequently, she said. On their last phone call, she told him she hoped he would be home for Christmas.

“One time he told me, ‘Mama, come down in here and get me,’ ” Bettie Le’Sueur said. “I said, ‘I can’t, Jimmy.’ … I don’t think he could understand anything.”

Jacques Le’Sueur faced charges of luring, stalking and fourth-degree assault with sexual motivation. However, a judge deemed him to lack the mental competency required to participate in his defense based on an assessment he underwent on Western State Hospital’s campus. (Judges often send mentally ill defendants to competency restoration programs before the case continues.) The court ordered Jacques Le’Sueur to undergo a 72-hour civil commitment evaluation at Western State Hospital. That’s the last evidence his family has of his location.

No disclosure signed

Three women surrounded Bettie Le’Sueur at her dining room table. She wiped away her tears with a tissue while poring over Jacques Le’Sueur’s available court documents. A loud clock reciting Bible scripture occasionally interrupted their conversation.

Joyce Smith is Jacques Le’Sueur’s pastor. Bettie Le’Sueur’s friend from church, Balinda Olive-Beltran, spent nine months in Western State Hospital in 1987. Cindi Fisher lost track of her son when he went to Western State Hospital. The three have been helping Bettie Le’Sueur try to find her son. But this is the first time they’ve seen his competency assessment, which is public record despite containing similar sensitive information to a civil commitment evaluation.

Jacques Le’Sueur’s report detailed the medications doctors prescribed him and how they weren’t improving his condition. He was likely experiencing cognitive decline, the report stated, and would be at risk of future dangerous behavior and re-offending if he stopped medication or lived in an unmonitored environment with access to illicit drugs.

According to the documents, Jacques Le’Sueur told doctors he had “PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder) from the service,” was a trained defense attorney, had been selling and designing cars for Volvo and Dodge, and is famous for producing Michael Jackson’s “Thriller” album. He said he paid his mother $1 million to be his public defender.

If he’s civilly committed, Bettie Le’Sueur wonders whether his mental state has declined even further, she said. Perhaps that’s the reason he hasn’t called as he so often did before. Patients have to sign paperwork for a state psychiatric facility to disclose their location, according to a spokesman for the state Department of Social and Health Services’ Behavioral Health Administration.

Olive-Beltran said her heart breaks for Bettie Le’Sueur and her son. Her family helped her through her time spent at Western State Hospital for schizophrenia, but she doesn’t remember whether she signed paperwork allowing people to know where she was. She doesn’t believe she would have been capable.

“I believe it should be more transparent. Why would you not at least let the immediate family members know where their family members are?” she said. “People, when they’re sick, they need to see their family. That was important to me, to be able to see my loved ones when I was locked up.”

Smith said it upsets her that a system exists where someone could be taken away from their supportive network and disappear.

“They could just waste away there. They die there without anybody knowing,” Smith said.

No longer there

In December, Jacques Le’Sueur’s older brother sent him a card that was returned. His family made several calls to Western State Hospital and found out he was no longer a patient. They feared the worst.

Bettie Le’Sueur had stayed in communication with Jacques when he was civilly committed for a year in 2013 at Western State Hospital. One day she got a call from staff saying he would be dropped off in downtown Vancouver, but she insisted he be dropped off at her house. Jacques Le’Sueur arrived on her doorstep with a long beard and hair to his shoulders.

She fears that, without her insistence that staff bring him home, he could have been dropped off somewhere without assistance.

In 2023, Western State Hospital dropped off a man with schizoaffective disorder in downtown Seattle outside a homeless shelter after a year of treatment, despite his mother’s efforts to dissuade the agency from doing so, according to a Seattle Times investigation. He was dead less than a month later.

Tyler Hemstreet, a spokesman for the state’s Behavioral Health Administration, said hospital staff work with patients to create a plan for where they’ll go after discharge — whether an apartment, an adult family home, another facility or to the home of a family member. (The patient has to consent to family involvement.)

It’s also possible Jacques Le’Sueur was transferred somewhere else, like Fisher’s son was.

Fisher said she was never informed when her civilly committed son was moved from Western State Hospital to an adult family home years ago.

Patients can also be transferred to other state psychiatric facilities, Hemstreet said, so it’s possible Jacques Le’Sueur, if civilly committed, was never released — only transferred.

Fisher said she understands the importance of medical privacy, but she believes the civil commitment system requires more transparency because patients are often referred by the criminal justice system and the treatment can be involuntary.

“The state hospitals — they’re the hidden prison system,” Fisher said.

She also points to news stories of runaway patients, patient-on-patient assaults, and a lack of trained or qualified staff. In 2018, Western State Hospital lost its federal certification and $53 million in federal funds after an unannounced inspection uncovered health and safety violations, according to the Associated Press.

“The community that’s allowing this to happen should be able to track what happens to their community members,” Fisher said. “There should be no legal piece that can hide him — that can disappear him.”

Missing person

Bettie Le’Sueur finally accepted she could not find her son on her own and reported him to the Vancouver Police Department as a missing person a month ago. A department spokeswoman said Jacques is now on a national missing person’s database.

The police may not be able to help. The law, which not every state has, is strict on who can access civil commitment court records, specifically giving only Washington State Patrol access for background checks for processing and purchasing firearms.

Until Jacques Le’Sueur is released or found, it’s likely he’ll remain a missing person. But his family is not giving up hope.

“If he was free, he would have been home,” Bettie Le’Sueur said. “I just … want to hear his voice.”

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This story was made possible by Community Funded Journalism, a project from The Columbian and the Local Media Foundation. Top donors include the Ed and Dollie Lynch Fund, Patricia, David and Jacob Nierenberg, Connie and Lee Kearney, Steve and Jan Oliva, The Cowlitz Tribal Foundation and the Mason E. Nolan Charitable Fund. The Columbian controls all content. For more information, visit columbian.com/cfj.