Surfer's lawyer: Instead of being prosecuted, she should have received mental treatment earlier

Surfer’s lawyer: Instead of being prosecuted, she should have received mental treatment earlier

HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - The lawyer for a mentally ill surfer charged with attempted murder said she should have been given treatment, not faced prosecution for more than a dozen crimes, all of which have been dismissed.

The prosecutor said Jill Hansen's defense lawyer only claimed mental illness when she faced the serious attempted murder charge, which carried a life prison term.

This case raises larger questions about how the state deals with the mentally ill who commit crimes.

In May 2014, Hansen, a well-known local surfer, was charged with attempted murder after she allegedly rammed the car of an elderly woman outside a Waikiki apartment in an apparent case of road rage.

On August 27, a judge found she was not mentally competent at the time of the crime, so she was determined to be not guilty by reason of insanity. Hansen was sent to the Hawaii State Hospital -- where she remains -- as her lawyer makes arrangements for her release into community mental treatment.

"The prosecutor had the ability from day one to say this is a mental health case and let's treat it as such.  Instead they treated it as a criminal case and over a year and a half, I was able to prove them wrong," said Hansen's attorney, Victor Bakke.

Deputy city Prosecutor Scott Bell, who handled the Hansen case, said, "We want to dispel any suggestion that we were knowingly prosecuting somebody who was mentally ill. We were prosecuting cases where the facts demonstrated that it was sufficient to prove the allegations beyond a reasonable doubt."

Bakke said Hansen spent about five months at the women's prison in Kailua while she awaited trial-- much of that time in "maximum custody," meaning she was in her cell most of the day and only was allowed out to shower, for brief recreation or to attend prison programs.

"She finally got so bad over there that she refused to speak to me, her family. She refused all hygiene, she refused to eat. She looked like a prisoner of war in there," Bakke said.

Bakke said Hansen only stabilized when she was sent to the State Hospital.

"That's when everything changed," Bakke said. "And that's when we could get her in a safe environment, that's where she could get treated, that's where she was finally medicated."

Bell, the deputy prosecutor, said his office prosecutes crimes and it's up to the courts – and the psychiatric experts it appoints – to decide whether someone is mentally fit to stand trial or be found guilty of a crime.

"We do not decide who in fact has reached the level of mental illness such they should be acquitted of criminal conduct and then committed to the Hawaii State Hospital," Bell said.

An advocate for the mentally ill said this case is not unique.

Marya Grambs, executive director of Mental Health America of Hawaii, said, "It's representative of a larger problem of a whole population of people with mental illness who are falling through the cracks and some of them are homeless and some of them are in jail."

"We arrest so many people for crimes who have mental illness and sometimes they are misdemeanors but they still end up at the State Hospital so that means there's no room for anybody else. So we have a psychiatric judicial system that just doesn't work right," Grambs said.

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