Prosecutors will drop charges against a mentally retarded teen-ager who allegedly broke into a neighbor's toy-filled van if a psychologist's examination confirms that he is seriously mentally disabled, the Ventura County district attorney's office said Friday.
Eric Schimmel, 19, whose family says he has the mental capacity of a 5-year-old, was arrested Aug. 7 as he tried to get into the van, authorities said. He was taken to Ventura County Jail and released two days later without his parents having been notified.
His family launched a frenzied search for the missing young man, who turned up Wednesday at a supermarket in Fillmore, about 20 miles from Ventura. A clerk had given him money, a home-cooked meal and a shower, and called authorities.
The search had been widely publicized. So had a statement that the district attorney planned to pursue charges.
But at a brief arraignment hearing Friday, Deputy Dist. Atty. Brenda C. Andrade said her office would like to see Schimmel examined by a court-appointed mental health professional to determine his intelligence.
After the hearing, Andrade said the district attorney's office would "like to see him taken out of the criminal justice system completely. We're not out for blood.
"We don't want to put him in jail. We just want to get help for him."
Defense attorney Mark S. Armijo of Santa Ana asked for a continuance of the arraignment. He later said that defense attorneys need time to examine law enforcement reports about Schimmel's arrest in the mountain community of Frazier Park on the Ventura-Kern county line.
Municipal Court Judge Art Gutierrez continued the hearing until Wednesday, when defense attorneys will have an opportunity to agree to a mental evaluation of their client rather than face prosecution.
Schimmel's parents, Linda and Jeff Smith of Frazier Park, could not be reached for comment.
The prosecution decision followed meetings between Andrade, Ventura County Dist. Atty. Michael D. Bradbury and his assistant chief deputy, Kevin McGee.
"We have no interest in taking this case to a jury trial assuming his disability is as severe as reported," McGee said.
Complicating the issue, McGee said, was that it was virtually impossible to determine from the sheriff's arrest report whether Schimmel had any mental problems. "We would have liked to have had that kind of information," McGee said.
Schimmel was arrested by sheriff's deputies on suspicion of auto burglary, a felony, and prowling, a misdemeanor.
The seemingly routine arrest suddenly gained notoriety when Schimmel was released from the Ventura County Jail on his own recognizance late last Friday.
After Friday's hearing, Andrade said that if the defense agrees, a court-designated psychologist will examine Schimmel. Then, she said, a report would be made to the court as to what type of counseling he needs.
Schimmel's lawyers say state tests have shown that at age 16 he had the cognitive skills of a child between 4 and 7. If those results are substantiated, Andrade said, the charges pending against him will be dismissed.