A mental health system facing a critical shortage of beds, riddled with breakdowns in communication, and hamstrung by Washington state’s commitment laws helped create the conditions that led to the killing of a Sierra Club worker outside her apartment last New Year’s Eve, says a task force report quoted by the Seattle Post-Intelligencer. James Williams, a repeat violent offender with severe schizophrenia, is charged with first-degree murder in Shanon Harps’ death. Williams, who was under community supervision at the time of the murder, wasn’t complying with court-ordered treatment and had been off the medications that helped control his violent hallucinations when he allegedly stabbed Harps to death.
Community corrections officers supervising Williams used every tool the system provided to try to keep Williams in treatment and out of trouble, said King County Prosecutor Dan Satterberg, who convened the task force to examine the case. “The bottom line — they ran out of tools, Mr. Williams was let out and 10 days later he was charged in Harps’ death,” Satterberg said. The task force will call for changing the state’s involuntary commitment laws to mandate treatment for those with a significant history of violence. Other major changes include providing more tools for enforcing outpatient treatment in the community, reducing privacy barriers so police can know the mental health histories of people they deal with in “real time,” and allowing those who make involuntary treatment decisions more leeway to consider past history of violence.