How California Failed Kevin Evans

Joe Domanick is the author of "To Protect and to Serve: The LAPD's Century of War in the City of Dreams." His next book, "The Victims," is about the evolution of California's three strikes law, and will be published by University of California Press next summer

It's approaching midnight as Kevin Lamar Evans is maneuvered in an L.A. County wheelchair into the forensic inpatient unit of the mammoth Twin Towers jail--a banal brown behemoth of postmodern prison architecture that stands like an unwelcoming sentinel on the eastern fringes of downtown Los Angeles. Just 4 years old, Twin Towers is a vast improvement over the old, dungeon-like Men's Central Jail. Nevertheless, its medical-green hallways and Plexiglas-fronted cells are already acquiring that embedded mixture of dirt, sweat, urine and chemical cleaners that greets your entrance to most jails, hospitals and retirement homes, and dares you to take a deep breath.

At 33, Evans, a 5-foot-6 African American with cerebral palsy, is more than familiar with Twin Towers. He's been incarcerated there at least four times before this late October night in 1999. Homeless and schizophrenic, he'd been cited or arrested at least 13 times during the past two years while roaming the streets of the John Ford high-desert towns of Lancaster and Palmdale, engrossed in deep conversations with himself.

Dressed in jailhouse blues, wrists shackled to a gray-metal waist chain, head angled down as if in supplication, Evans is sitting meekly in the wheelchair, conversing with no one. Just minutes earlier, he'd been wheeled out of the jail's receiving center as a sheriff's video camera recorded every move. A beefy deputy had then casually propelled him across a rear parking lot into the jail's medical building and up an elevator into the inpatient unit. All the time, like a 2-year-old clutching her baby doll, Evans has been holding tight to his only possession--a standard jail-house baloney sandwich on white, wrapped in plastic.

The Medical Services Building is Twin Towers' hospital. It's smaller and less jail-like than the receiving center, which, like Twin Towers in general, is the high-tech embodiment of the latest in utterly soulless incarceration--an automated conveyor belt that processes every one of the roughly 20,000 inmates L.A. County holds in custody on any given day, and the 165,000 that flow in and out every year. Typically, about 2,300 are actively mentally ill, making Twin Towers the largest mental-health housing facility in the nation. In Los Angeles, the cops who work the streets and the deputies who process the jailed have become the county's social workers of last resort.

Evans wound up in Twin Towers this time after being stopped by sheriff's deputies in Lancaster for unlawful possession of a Food 4 Less shopping cart, an offense taken seriously in the law-and-order Antelope Valley. He'd been rolling the cart down Palmdale Boulevard about 5 p.m. the afternoon of Oct. 20, 1999. Deputies who spotted him checked records and discovered he was wanted on a dubious 1998 charge of being under the influence of cocaine, a charge they had no way of knowing was likely without merit. After being arrested on the outstanding warrant, Evans became "verbally argumentative with the judge and disruptive" at his arraignment, according to Sheriff's Department records, and was ordered held by the judge for observation. On the 75-mile ride to Twin Towers, a deputy noticed Evans acting strangely on the bus.

At the jail's receiving center, a medical doctor and a psychiatrist deemed Evans "a danger to both inmates and deputies." The doctor ordered him placed in three-point restraints. The psychiatrist later upped that to four points, which meant Evans was to be laid supine on his back as all four limbs were strapped with leather binds to a bed. He was also to be given two milligrams of the tranquilizer Ativan every four to six hours.

Although not yet medicated, Evans is nonetheless docile as he's pushed down a gleaming hallway to the strap-down room--a sterile, white-walled, 9-by-13-foot space fronted by Plexiglas to allow a full view from the outside. Inside, two deputies in sheriff's khaki are busy untangling leather straps on a bed bolted to the floor. Outside, three other deputies, wearing latex gloves, pace the hall. They seem tense. Three "high-risk restraints" have already taken place on this night.

Grant Ward is among the five deputies responsible for the strapping down of inmates causing trouble. A boyish 20-year-old, Ward is a devout Mormon from a large family--a slender, crew-cut teetotaler with a guileless smile and earnest manner who thinks it's an honor to be part of a team he regards as skilled in verbal communication and restrained in the use of force. Ward's heart always beats faster during these encounters, which are usually more difficult if they involve "drug-related straps" of hard-core, out-of-control alcoholics or addicts who are often experiencing severe shaking and hallucinations. The mentally ill, on the other hand, usually go along. Some do resist, though, and Ward knows from experience that those who do "just never went calm, never went calm at all." Once Evans is wheeled through the door, a deputy helps him from his wheelchair. "Are you all right? Can you stand up?" he asks solicitously as Evans is carefully led to the bed and laid on his back, his left hand holding his baloney sandwich high in the air, as if shielding it from harm.

"Food is everything to a homeless person," L.A. County Sheriff Lee Baca would later point out. For Evans, this seemed especially true. His first mental breakdown had occurred, in fact, over the issue of food, at the age of 18, according to his sister Anntanaea Lambey, then 16. She had been about to exit their apartment to give a hot dog to her boyfriend waiting downstairs when Evans suddenly coiled and hissed, "Dont be giving any food away." Then he hit her in the face. His behavior was unprecedented, and she later complained to their mother and godmother, who responded by grabbing Evans and confronting him. "Let me go! Let me go," Lambey remembers he wailed in reply. The two women, convinced he had been possessed by Satan, lapsed into fervent prayer. "From that day on, my brother was never the same."

The strapping deputies, unfortunately, know nothing about all this. When one attempts to take away his sandwich, Evans reacts with preternatural swiftness and strength, punching at Ward and violently kicking at the other startled deputies. Instantly, other deputies flood into the room, until a total of nine people are swarming Evans as he tries to rise from the bed. One deputy leaps on him, pressing his right knee down hard in or near Evans' groin area, his right hand appearing to clutch Evans' neck. "Calm down," a deputy urges. "Stop fighting."

Another deputy plunges his knee toward the bed, landing on or near Evans' chest. "Get off!" Evans growls in the first of four hoarse, low, throaty gags of desperation. The deputies ignore it. As a team they are engrossed in immobilizing Evans. No one addresses, acknowledges, or seems to even notice his frantic growls.

"We got a spit bag here?" asks Joanne Hollis, the slender young African American sergeant in charge. A crew-cut officer on top of Evans pulls one out of his rear pocket, pressing the porous mask, designed to prevent inmates from spitting at jailers, down hard over Evans' mouth.

"This is the one who was supposed to be mellow?" someone asks.

"Oh, he was mellow all the way up here, then we started the points and he went nuts." "Urrrahhh!" The sound from Evans now is an ungodly roar.

"Was he under the influence?" someone asks.

"He's got to be with his pain tolerance."

Six minutes and 31 seconds into the strapping, it's over as a deputy pulls off Evans' waist chain and leaps off his body. Evans is strapped, and utterly still. Suddenly, there's a command: "Everybody except for Gonzalez and Cooper, out."

As both the spit bag and a bib-like plastic sheet that had been tightly secured over it are removed, a deputy checks Evans' pulse and mumbles something.

"Get the nurse in here!" Hollis orders. Then she adds: "Kill the camera, kill the camera." Eight minutes and 15 seconds have elapsed since the struggle began. Fifteen minutes after the camera shuts down, paramedics and a doctor arrive and attempt resuscitation. But it doesn't matter. Evans is dead.

According to his autopsy, Evans, who had had severe heart disease, died of cardiac arrest. But the coroner also noted additional factors.

One was a fresh, "distinct and dark red-blue" bruising and "clear evidence of recent throat trauma," which might have contributed to asphyxiation, and which, the report said, "could have been caused during the process of holding the anti-spit mask tightly to the neck region during the struggle."

Another factor was perhaps even more troubling. Despite the presence of several nurses on the floor and deputies trained in CPR, "paramedics and the first medical doctor on the scene both stated there was no cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) ongoing when they arrived," the report said. "This is in contrast to the medical records. . . . "

Although Taylor Moorehead, chief of the department's custody division, says that he's "comfortable" that resuscitation was attempted before the arrival of the doctor and paramedics, he could offer no proof that it had, other than a falsified nurse's report, which he readily concedes has "no credibility at all." However, Principal Deputy County Counsel Kevin Brazile, who represents the Sheriff's Department, says that the doctor and paramedics arrived at about the same time, and that until they did so, there was a delay of 5 to 15 minutes before any resuscitation was attempted. Moorehead says that if such a delay occurred, it is "unconscionable."

Equally unconscionable, in Moorehead's view, is the action of a nurse who entered the room following the strapping and shot Evans full of his two milligrams of prescribed Ativan, after he was dead. "How can you give a shot to a person who's in cardiac arrest and not even check his vitals?" Moorehead asks. "That's criminal." In any case, Evans' body never absorbed the medication, and no drugs of any kind were found in his system.

Much of the immediate fault for Evans' death might be laid at the feet of Eulalia Cristobal, the registered nurse in charge that night, who, under jail regulations, was supposed to ensure that a nurse was in the strapping room monitoring the prisoner's condition. Her failure to do so, for reasons that aren't clear, and her subsequent falsification of Evans' medical records led to her forced resignation. She also pleaded no contest to a misdemeanor charge of filing a false report. A second nurse is under investigation.

But the questions enveloping Evans' death don't stop at the nurses. None of the deputies or Department of Mental Health professionals involved knew of Evans' medical, psychiatric or arrest history. As the struggle occurred, Hollis, the sergeant in charge of the strapping, was far from assertive. Instead, deputies were giving orders to each other. It was a tough, ugly thing they had to do, and as they did it, there was no obvious angry or gratuitous brutality, no "give him one to remember you by," as New York cops used to say. Yet there was something deeply troubling about the robotic manner in which the deputies went about their jobs, as if the by-the-numbers completion of the task was the mission, as opposed to an end result that was safe not only for themselves, but for Evans as well. They were professional as they understood it. But professional at what?

They failed to tell Evans, for example, what was about to happen, or to reassure him that he shouldn't be afraid. They focused on getting the restraint done, and overlooked his dying gasps. Moorehead later summed up the attitude. "The gasps and the moans from somebody who puts up that kind of resistance [is] not uncommon" and "shouldn't be characterized as a last gasp." He himself, he said, "had heard those sounds as a young deputy doing restraints."

Maybe trained mental-health professionals or medical personnel would have recognized the difference--and that, ultimately, is the point. To blame Evans' death solely on his treatment at the jail is to miss the profoundly larger issue: Why was a homeless, schizophrenic man--one with lifelong physical troubles and one who had been arrested or cited 13 times essentially for trying to exist on the streets of the Antelope Valley--taken to county jail instead of a medical or mental-health facility?

From the moment he was born with cerebral palsy, Kevin Evans' life had been full of trouble. He'd stopped breathing several times during birth, and, according to Lambey, emerged weighing a sickly 3 pounds. He was so small, in fact, that his grandmother could place him on a miniature pillow and hold him in the palm of one hand. A series of surgeries left his legs twisted, huge scars on the backs of knees and calves, his toes pointed inward, and Evans unable to walk in a straight line.

Following the incident with the hot dog, Evans left his mother, three sisters and their crowded two-bedroom South-Central apartment. Lambey says he never spoke again with their mother, who has since died. After a stint living in a windowless, bug-infested abandoned car, he was taken in by the family of a neighbor who was a licensed vocational nurse. Despite her care, Evans grew worse. He stopped talking to people and engaged instead in long, mumbling, frequently unintelligible conversations with himself. He'd become enraged if he saw someone wearing the color purple, and, as his sister recalls, forgot such simple facts as his age.

In 1989, when the neighbor moved to Palmdale, Evans, then 23, went with her. Following a dispute with the woman's new husband, he left and began spending his nights at a homeless shelter in Lancaster. During his days, when the shelter's policy forced him to leave the premises, he wandered the city's streets, where he was as out of place as he was unwelcome. During this time, Evans would occasionally pop up on the porch of Lambey's South-Central home. "Howd you get here?" she would ask.

"Well the cops be tripping on me again," he'd say, or, "You know, you can't walk the streets out there. I'm not doing nothin', but they just pick me up." "How long you been in jail?"

"Oh, a day," or "three days," or "six days," came the answers. This happened eight to 10 times, she says. "Every time he came to my house, I'd ask him, 'Don't you want to come stay with me? I'll get your SSI check transferred here, it'll be no problem." And he'd say, 'No, I like the weather out there in Lancaster.' "

When Evans unexpectedly appeared at Lambey's house for the last time in September 1999, it was clear that he was worse than ever. One indication was his steady stream of mumbling about Elvis Presley--broken only by his flashing of a yellow card with Presley's picture, which he declared was the King's official ID. He was going to take it to a collectibles dealer, he said, and get some big money.

Set off in rural isolation, Lancaster and nearby Palmdale have long been populated by conservative law-and-order ranchers and farmers, and equally conservative military and aerospace employees from nearby Edwards Air Force Base. In recent years, they have been joined by legions of homeowners seeking affordable housing far away from the combustible urban travails of Los Angeles.

Evans was the symbol of big-city troubles: a disturbing looking homeless black man wandering the streets and despoiling their shopping areas. In the heavily policed suburbs of Los Angeles, tight enforcement of the most minor crimes is a security blanket turned way of life. As Charles Klum, the head deputy public defender in Lancaster, explains: "The bread and butter of law enforcement here in Lancaster [is] petty theft, driving under a suspended or revoked licens--they're all like capital cases here."

In Lancaster, the city pays for a six-deputy unit whose purpose is "to deal with loitering, prostitution and other quality-of-life issues," says Richard Ellis, a deputy on the team. Arresting the homeless for possessing a shopping cart is just "doing the bidding of the community," he points out.

"This is still a law-and-order community," says Tom Pigott, the captain in charge of the Lancaster sheriff's station. "I have over 100 volunteers--out on patrol, in Neighborhood Watch--all just looking for that suspicious person and calling it in."

One of the first reported indications that Evans was unwelcome in Lancaster came at about 11 on a June night in 1998. Deputies Eugene Roy and Anthony Gunn were on patrol when they spotted Evans at a Mobil station. He was wearing black jeans, a green T-shirt under his blue shirt and socks with no shoes. As the deputies later wrote in their arrest report, Evans was pacing nervously back and forth in front of the gas station, shaking his hands up and down and stumbling as he walked.

The stumbling was a lingering symptom of Evans' cerebral palsy, as was the lack of shoes. "When Kevin was a child, he never had shoes on because he was always in casts," Lambey says. His large toenails, moreover, had become deformed and diseased as a result of a chronic, painful fungal infection, and the soles of his feet were thickly calloused from walking barefoot.

When deputies approached Evans, he greeted them with curses by way of asking them what they wanted. His speech, as the deputies later wrote in standard cop-ese, was "rapid and rambling," his pupils "dilated to approximately 8.0 mm." They arrested him for being under the influence of cocaine and hauled him off to jail. At the Lancaster station, Evans was asked to give a urine sample, but refused. (It's unclear whether Evans even understood their request. Lambey claims her brother never used drugs, and at no other time was he arrested on illegal drug charges, according to available court records.)

From 1997 to 1999, Evans was arrested or cited 12 other times. The citations were tantamount to arrests because he almost always failed to appear in court, triggering warrants for his arrest. Yet his underlying problems were never addressed in other than cursory fashion. The message was inescapable: Either no one in the criminal justice system cared about him and his illnesses, or they were too overwhelmed and resigned to a dysfunctional system. The focus instead was to sweep him off the streets and pass him on to the next cog in the machine. In May of 1998, for example, Evans was cited for loitering in a Lancaster shopping center. Two weeks later, he was arrested on an outstanding warrant and brought before a judge. That appearance was one of at least four in which judges declared him mentally "incompetent to stand trial." The result of those findings, however, was not to then help Evans with his serious problems. Rather, it was to medicate him enough to declare him "competent," even if that competence was limited and temporary.

"If it's determined by the court that you are legally incompetent to handle your case and are unable to understand the charges, you can be hospitalized, medicated and treated," says Deputy Public Defender Marlon Lewis, who defended Evans in one of his proceedings. "But once that treatment stabilizes a defendant to the point of understanding the role of judges and lawyers and the charges and penalties involved, the case can proceed." When Evans was medicated, "he was fine to go to trial--pleasant and easy and almost childlike."

"For me to then find out how he died was just not that surprising," Lewis continues. "Seeing the shocking number of probations he had trailing him, it was clear that the system was not making any attempt to address his problem, and that its only answer was incarceration, which everyone knew was going to do nothing for this man. You know that the public defenders office certainly wasnt carrying the ball. In a place like Dade County, Fla., on the other hand, the public defenders office has aggressive counselors looking for programs for guys like Kevin."

So while the Sheriff's Department's interest was in getting Evans off the street, Klum says the purpose of the public defender's office was to "minimize the amount of custody time" given to Evans and others like him. "We're not psychologists, and we dont have the duty to wear a social worker's hat," he says. "Sometimes our people will call a regional center if [a defendant] is under 18, or call the Department of Health if it looks like they have alcohol, drug or mental-health problems. But that's only if [the public defender] wants to go the extra mile."

The view from the bench was also obscured. Recently, Antelope Municipal Court Judge Richard E. Spann said that he could not remember Evans, even though on three separate occasions, Spann declared him incompetent to stand trial, and in September 1998, even ordered a psychiatric evaluation.

"I have no idea" who Evans is, Spann says when asked by a reporter. "By the end of May of this year alone, I did 3,000 custody cases. I hate to sound this way, but I simply have no independent recollection of him." After Spann ordered the mental evaluation, Evans was scheduled for a competency hearing. But Deputy Public Defender Norman Kava says the case was immediately referred back to Antelope Municipal Court on a procedural technicality. The hearing never occurred. "And that is the last we ever saw of his case," Kava says.

Jailers, nurses, mental-health professionals, deputies, prosecutors, public defenders, judges, family, friends--none of them saved the pathetic figure of Kevin Evans. Yet to blame them is still to beg the question. Evans' fate was left in their hands because of decisions made by another generation of officials, back in the 1960s and 1970s, when Ronald Reagan and Jerry Brown were governors. In the name of patients' rights, a political groundswell developed against dealing with the mentally ill by locking them away in large, often poorly run state mental hospitals.

The state Legislature essentially outlawed the forced commitment of anyone who was of no danger to themselves or others, and the doors of mental hospitals were flung open. The nonviolent mentally ill flowed out. Many of the institutions were closed. In their stead, the state mental-health department was to pay for new, community-based clinics providing housing and services. But few were funded.

The recession of the late '80s and early '90s exacerbated matters, says Bob Erlenbusch, executive director of the Los Angeles Coalition to End Hunger and Homelessness. L.A. County's mental-health-care system nearly collapsed after the Board of Supervisors eliminated funding for 50,000 to 60,000 outpatient visits to community-based mental-health clinics each year. The system has suffered ever since.

L.A. County Supervisor Gloria Molina says the Department of Mental Health has aggravated the problem by not only being unwilling to serve as a safety net, but also by resisting what it was supposed to be doing in the jails. I'm not satisfied with the Department of Mental Health," Molina says. "They should have been supervising this poor man. There's plenty of money for the department to do the job. You can't just throw [mental patients] into these detention facilities and throw them into four-point restraints."

Evans was one of those who paid the price. Of the county's estimated homeless population of 50,000 to 85,000 on any given night, an estimated 40% are chronically mentally ill and falling through the cracks, according to a study conducted by the Shelter Partnership, an organization for the homeless, and updated by the Institute for the Study of Homelessness and Poverty in July 2000. "Today, there are just no facilities for the mentally ill homeless," Molina says. "You can go up and down skid row and you'll see that 95% of the people there need mental-health counseling right away."

Evans was among those needing help, and he had no business in jail. On that point, everyone involved agrees--from Molina, a tenacious critic of the Sheriff's Department, to Moorehead, to Merrick Bobb, an attorney who monitors the department for the Board of Supervisors and whose report on Evans' death is due out within weeks. "Twin Towers is not an appropriate place for the mentally ill homeless to be," Molina says. "Sheriff Baca has inherited this problem, and he's dealing with it. The Justice Department has come in and forced him to do so. And forced the Board of Supervisors to do so too. And he's sympathetic to this issue. But I don't know if his sub-commanders and others down the line are equally as sympathetic. The Sheriff's Department is full of people who are ill trained and lack basic common sense."

The problem, of course, is not peculiar to this county or its Sheriff's Department. According to the California Alliance for the Mentally Ill, the leading cause of violent death of the mentally ill is suicide. No. 2? Being shot by law enforcement. "Police academies throughout California devote only four hours of their entire training curriculum to mental-health issues," Erlenbusch says. "They devote two hours for developmental disabilities and two hours for mental-health issues." L.A. County Sheriff's deputies receive eight hours of basic instruction plus continuing in-service training, Moorehead says. Deputies assigned to strapping teams receive additional training from the mental health department.

Even so, Moorehead says, "Evans needed to be taken someplace where there were mental-health professionals with years of training to help him. If this man had a prior history of mental illness and a prior hospital record, and if the charges against him were [not serious], he should have been delivered into the hands of the Department of Mental Health at an appropriate institution."

Unfortunately, he adds, no such institution exists in L.A. County, whose population of 9.5 million makes it the nation's largest.

Bobb has reached the same conclusion. "These aren't criminal law problems. We are treating as a custody problem what are really mental-health problems, medical problems and social problems. But the absence of a safety net and of people to deal with them means that the homeless and the mentally ill homeless, at least for the present, are the responsibility of the sheriff."

Every day the doors to Twin Towers jail slide open and disgorge groups of men and women--about 500 in all. Those with no place to go join the skid row shadow world of crazed kinetic crack-heads, washed-out winos and the untreated mentally ill with their dazed, dreamy looks of incomprehension. There they sit, week after week, like freaks in a Fellini movie. Since late 1999, a state-funded county program has given support and housing to 1,000 mentally ill homeless a year. But given the magnitude of the problem, says Mollie Lowery, founding director of Lamp, a skid row agency assisting the mentally ill, "that's just a drop in the bucket."

Many elected officials and government workers believe that these people don't want to come in from the cold, even if L.A. County could add thousands of beds to the 13,000 it already has for those more than 50,000 homeless people.

Baca is not one of the believers. Sitting in his large, stately Monterey Park office, the thin, quietly intense sheriff looks more like a mid-rank corporate executive than the 30-year veteran of the department he leads. He grew up in a poor, troubled family in East L.A., living in cramped quarters with a severely retarded uncle. When he talks about the homeless and the mentally ill, he does so with unusual passion.

Yet what has that passion brought? Why, critics ask, is it taking so long to make improvements? Why did Evans' death happen on his watch? Why is the county still paying $22 million a year to settle police abuse lawsuits, such as the $600,000 awarded to Evans' sisters in settlement of their wrongful death claim?

In fairness, Baca--who, in line with his pledge of complete openness, ordered his department's full cooperation for this article--inherited a long-simmering cesspool of a jail system when he took office in late 1998. In 1997, for example, a Justice Department inspection of the Men's Central Jail had found that many mentally ill inmates were locked almost around the clock in dank, tiny cells, let out to exercise just once a week and rarely permitted to shower. Often they were given improperly prescribed medications.

A report by Bobb that same year described how guards encouraged inmates to beat other prisoners. In 1998, a vigilante group was accused of "punishing" mentally ill inmates in the newly opened Twin Towers because their new cells were too nice. Danny Smith, a mentally ill inmate, died after allegedly being choked or beaten by deputies while handcuffed. A year later, Bobb wrote that it was "dispiriting to find that acute problems persist." He credited the department with making progress but "at a wearying pace."

Baca's reply is that he's worked hard to devise a sweeping solution. He tried and failed to get USC Medical Center and other hospitals to take over the running of the entire jail medical services system. Now, Baca says, he's banking on a long-awaited $26-million automated computer system that is just coming online. It will allow jail personnel to keep track of inmate medical records and make the kind of identifications and link-ups to prior records that might have helped provide a fuller picture of Evans.

Baca, moreover, has been in office just 33 months. Turning around an organization filled with rigid police mentalities is no easy thing, particularly if, like Baca, you sound more like an ACLU board member than a hard-nosed cop. "I think that some people believe that there are homeless who don't want to be helped; that there are 20%-30% you can never help," Baca says. "To me that's a cop-out attitude. Some take longer than others to reach. But if we don't have outreach, then all we're doing is neglecting our most basic human responsibility. Why can't we muster the same concern for someone who's raggedy looking as we can for a wounded animal? There's something drastically wrong here."

Baca has three immediate goals.

First, to complete a mobile medical clinic within six to eight months. It will go straight into areas frequented by the homeless and provide medical and psychological services.

Second, to secure state and federal money to build a Public Safety Center for the Homeless, a place where they can stay in custody and get treatment, services and medication. "The goal is to not have the Kevin Evanses of the world cycled into the jail environment for their treatment," Baca says.

Goal three is to create a Community Transition Unit to evaluate the homeless when they first enter Twin Towers, prepare them for release and find a place for them to stay. Baca notes that the Veterans Administration is already working in jails to give mentally ill or homeless veterans places to get help when they get out. Veterans account for about one-third of the homeless--about one-third of whom are mentally ill. The other two-thirds could be helped by a new Public Safety Center for the Homeless, or by the Community Transition Unit.

In Sacramento, a bill sponsored by Assemblywoman Helen Thomson (D-Davis) that has passed the Assembly would return the state to a system of involuntary commitment by establishing an Assisted Outpatient Treatment program for severely mentally ill people who refuse treatment. They would be under the supervision of medical personnel trained in areas such as psychiatry and social work. Funding under the bill, however, has been scaled back from $35 million to $10 million. Currently it's stalled in the Senate.

"Right now we have no ability to place these people into housing and mandate that they stay there," Molina says. "They want to sleep outside every day. Currently, there's not anything we can do because it's against the law to force them into housing."

"There's [also] an increasing new trend toward mental health courts," says Erlenbusch. In those courts, people with mental-health problems could "go before a judge who has both a law degree and some expertise in mental-health issues. Their function is not to put people into jail, but to get them into treatment and housing. It's shown some great results in the few places around the country where it's being tried."

As Bobb's investigation of Evans' death winds down, the Sheriff's Department is still placing mentally ill inmates in restraints. Baca has ordered a review of this policy. Although none of the deputies on Grant Ward's strapping team were disciplined, they've been assigned to other jobs.

Following Evans' death, Ward says he was shocked to read in a newspaper that he and his colleagues were "rogue deputies [who] think they can get away with anything." "I was so offended and saddened that anyone would ever think that of myself or my partners. Many of my prayers went out to the family of Kevin Evans--many. However, I also understand that I was just doing my job.

For the Record Los Angeles Times Sunday September 23, 2001 Home Edition Los Angeles Times Magazine Page 6 Times Magazine Desk 2 inches; 39 words Type of Material: Correction In "How California Failed Kevin Evans" (by Joe Domanick, Aug. 26), it was incorrectly reported that Evans died in the forensic inpatient unit of the county jail's Medical Services Building. The death occurred in a strap-down room of the building, one floor below the forensic unit.
Copyright © 2019, Los Angeles Times
EDITION: California | U.S. & World
62°