BY Joseph P. Charney
Mental health diversion has been touted as a vehicle by which incarcerated LA County inmates can be released from jail and supervised out of custody. The LA County Board of Supervisors cites a 2020 Rand Report that concluded that 60 percent of the thousands of mentally ill inmates now housed in County jails can be safely released through diversion. This, the Supervisors and anti-jail advocates claim, will permit the closure of Men’s Central Jail.
Predicting the suitability of diversion is one thing, the consequences of being wrong is another. That reality was brought home recently when mental health diversion provided the opportunity for two violent felons to kill innocent Angelenos. Past violent behavior of each of the murderers should have revealed to any competent prosecutor that each was not an acceptable candidate for diversion. LADA George Gascon, through his policies, made filing decisions and diversion recommendations that led to the violent outcomes.
This past April, Jade Simone Brookfield, 23, fatally stabbed 40 yr-old Dennis Banner, a father of two young girls. Brookfield was on mental health diversion at the time. She was arrested in 2020 for attempted murder after she stabbed a woman in the chest with a knife, puncturing her lung. Gascon made the decision to reduce the attempted murder charge to an “assault with a deadly weapon”, which permitted his office to pursue mental health diversion in lieu of jail time. In 2021 she was arrested for battery on a police officer and given mental health diversion again. Although three months later she pulled out knives and threatened to kill another individual, Brookfield remained on mental health diversion. In March of this year, she was arrested for a fourth time for another felony assault with a knife — attacking a bus driver “for missing her exit”. Although in violation of her diversion agreement, she was released with an ankle monitor. Weeks later she murdered Mr. Banner. Ankle monitors don’t protect us from the violently prone mentally ill.
In May of this year, Stephen Sutherland shot and killed Jennifer Gomez while on mental health diversion. DA Gascon had secured that diversion two years earlier for Sutherland after he had slashed a construction worker’s neck. Again, Gascon’s decision to reduce the attempted murder charge to an assault enabled the diversion placement.
There is a place for diversion for those who will not pose a threat to the community. But while competent and adequate treatment of the violently mentally ill is guaranteed by the Constitution, that treatment must be rendered safely in custodial jail or hospital facilities. How many more examples of violence by those recklessly diverted are there? Instead of a conjectural Rand Report, why isn’t there a study made of the outcomes of those placed on mental health diversion after committing violent acts? Would such a study reveal other flawed filing decisions that demonstrate how DA Gascon continues to sacrifice the welfare and safety of Angelenos to ideology? In the above cases the policy concerned diversion, and as a result two innocents were brutally murdered. His flawed policies and decision making also extend to his unwillingness to charge penal code enhancements including gun possession.
But Gascon is not the only elected official who is undermining public safety. LA’s elected Board of Supervisors have proven unwilling and incapable of providing the necessary locked facilities to appropriately and constitutionally house the violently mentally ill. Without adequate and appropriate prosecutions and sufficient jail and prison space, County residents continue to suffer fear of crime and the consequences of it. Rhetoric obscures tragic reality. LA Board members scream about equity and racism, while ignoring the disproportionate casualties of crime. Black women make up 4 percent of LA City’s population, while accounting for 25 to 33 percent of its victims of violence. During the past 12 months 206 African-Americans were killed in LA County. This constitutes 35 percent of homicide victims from a group that constitutes 8 percent of the County population.
LA County’s elected officials are more concerned about playing to the vocal demands of unelected anti-police and anti-jail advocates than protecting constituents who are one mental health diversion away from suffering the fate of Ms Gomez and Mr. Bonner.