A MOTHER'S REQUEST IN COURT - by Kate Shultz

Here is the statement Kate made to the judge at her son's sentencing:

I have to begin by expressing how profoundly sorry I am for the severe trauma and loss that Melissa, John, Evan and the rest of their family and friends, have suffered, but words don’t even exist to express it adequately. It is only on the advice of attorneys, concerned with both the criminal and civil cases filed, that I have not reached out to you, which goes against every fiber of my being. So many people were catastrophically affected by this tragedy and not a single day goes by that I don’t think about the agony it’s caused for you and pray for your healing.

There never was any “good” outcome to this trial. Nothing decided here will take away the suffering we’ve had to endure, the pain that we all continue to feel or the resulting hardships we must now face. This can never be undone for our families. It would have been difficult enough for my son to accept having a serious brain illness had he gotten the treatment we were so desperately seeking, but the remorse over what he’s done to a family he loves, because of his illness, will haunt him forever. However, just maybe, by shattering the silence, indifference, and lack of understanding surrounding serious mental illness and our failing mental health industry, we can effect change that will help the next families in crisis. This is the only way to bring about justice now.

The human brain is like any other organ in the body — able to benefit from healthy habits while still susceptible to injury, disease and illness. Yet we don’t treat people with brain illness like we treat those with serious illness in other parts of the body. Imagine your child comes home with a severely broken arm, calling the doctor and being told you’ll have to wait 3 months for an appointment. Or being sent home from the emergency room without treatment or medication and having doctors tell you that you’ll have to set it yourself!

Whereas a broken bone is evidenced by pain, swelling, maybe even bent or protruding bones, the brain controls (among all other bodily functions) our thoughts, reasoning and behaviors. Serious brain illnesses, such as schizophrenia spectrum disorders, manifest themselves through strange, unpredictable and often violent or criminal behaviors. The sufferer is shunned, denied treatment, and very often ends up incarcerated. Everyone who cares about or is victimized by them suffers. This has to change and none of us is safe until it does. 

When this horrible tragedy first happened, Chief Public Defender, Robin Lipetzky, went in front of the television cameras and said she had no doubt that this was a case of serious mental illness and she was absolutely right. The prosecuting attorney, Simon O’Connell, also went before the cameras saying how we aren’t even safe in our own homes anymore, and he was also right — though I don’t believe he fully understood or appreciates why. During my son’s trial, we heard 5 different doctors, experts in the field of forensic psychology and psychiatry, who spent about 60 hours evaluating him, come up with closely related diagnoses all within the schizophrenia family of illnesses. They referred to my son'ś as a “textbook case," and no other motive whatsoever was presented for his crime because there is none. This tragedy was caused by the inaction of our police officers and county mental health emergency services and could have been prevented.

Two fallacies are most frequently offered as excuses for this inaction. The first is the pretentious claim that it'ś out of respect for my son'ś civil rights. When the responding officer refused to arrest him on an involuntary 51/50 hold, and I told him that I thought his trying to walk to South America barefoot did constitute “a danger to himself,” the officer callously responded (and I quote),“If your 18-year-old son wants to walk to South America barefoot and live in the jungle that’s his right!” When any sane person considers what has become of Jordy'ś or my son'ś civil rights now by denying him treatment before tragedy, this argument shows itself to be blatantly irrational.

The second false excuse is that there aren't enough resources, in terms of staff and facilities, to properly treat those with serious mental illness, and that to do so would be too costly. All research shows that not providing these services leads to much greater costs to the communities at large. You don't need to read the research (as I have done) to know this. Just consider the ridiculous cost of this trial. The expert witness fees for the 5 doctors alone amounted to an excess of $50,000 or $60,000. There are so many other unseen costs as well resulting from the lack of treatment and incarceration of the mentally ill, not the least of which are the human costs in loss of life, loss of productivity and suffering.

In order to move forward, I've had to struggle with so much anger over the fact that, when I suspected that my son was suffering from a serious brain illness and I called for help, I was dismissed as a “hysterical mom.” Even though I'd explained, as calmly and respectfully as possible to the responding officer, that I'd lost my oldest child to suicide just two years earlier and my son had already had a serious psychotic episode just six weeks prior. No one who knew my son could ever have imagined him capable of what he did. He'd only been known to be a kind and highly respectful young man, who'ś never even been in a fight in school. My greatest fear, at that time, was that he’d end up among our countless homeless on the streets and I’d never see him again. To add insult to injury, I come to find out that this officer has been off work receiving worker’s compensation (factor that into the cost of all this) because of this incident, while all the rest of us have had to find a way to pick up the pieces and go to back to work. 

As wrong as he was, I have already forgiven this officer because I have a great appreciation for what our officers are being forced to deal with on a daily basis. My own father is a retired San Diego County Sheriff's homicide detective who retired with severe job-related depression, and my grandfather is a retired Riverside County Sheriff, who also taught criminology in San Francisco. They were two of the first people I called when my son was arrested. It was my grandfather, now in his 80’s, who told me that when he was a Riverside Sheriff in the 50’s and 60’s, they had a squad they unofficially referred to as the “psycho” squad. However un-P.C. that name may be today, they were specially trained to deal with people suffering from mental illness, de-escalate situations to apprehend them peacefully, and once they did they had a place to take them to get help. And this happened often enough that they had an entire squad for it! That kind of training and those treatment facilities don’t exist anymore.

As I was researching our current state of affairs, I got hold of the catalog of offerings for the American Correctional Association's 2015 Annual Summer Conference in hopes of finding something encouraging. When I turned to the section related to mental illness all I found was a session titled, ¨How to Bullet-proof Yourself Against Litigation.¨

While too many news stories these days point to the obvious need for better officer education and training around responding to people with mental illness, placing all of the responsibility on them is unfair and unwise. Having voluntarily gone to Contra Costa Regional Medical Center for an evaluation, my son was not taken seriously, even though he was clearly delusional. And even though he signed the paperwork in the ambulance before he left, putting me under the HIPPA umbrella, I was not contacted in order to give them a more complete psychiatric history until they had already put him in a taxi.

After I found out he had been discharged after such a brief time, I asked to speak to a psychiatrist in charge. I explained the situation and once again was treated with disdain. When I asked for advice or possibly medications, I was offered absolutely nothing. When I asked if I could come pick him up I was told he had already been sent home in a cab. Our treatment facilities must start including families when making diagnoses and stop relying solely on those whose brains aren’t functioning right to provide critical information and make decisions regarding their own well-being. 

I've been teaching since 1991 and have worked with thousands of students and their families. Serious mental illnesses like schizophrenia affect, at the very least, 5% of the population, meaning hundreds of those families have faced the same difficulties and I can’t help but imagine what horrors they went through or where they are now. Today, I cannot go into my 4th grade classroom and look at my young students without wondering who’s next? Justice for Jordy requires that we acknowledge the failures that led to his horrific death and do whatever we can to fix things before more and more tragedies like this occur.

The keys to overcoming any great tragedy or challenge are forgiveness and gratitude — forgiveness because it unblocks the path to understanding and change, and gratitude because it gives us the strength to carry on. Sometimes the only gratitude to be found is for the opportunity to grow stronger and bring about change for having been through the ordeal. I am so grateful for the huge amount of support, compassion, and understanding we’ve received from our local community, and from the rapidly growing community of families going through similar experiences around the country. Since this happened, I’ve been welcomed into a number of private, secret groups. Some of these groups have been established to provide comfort and assistance while others are focused on political action to bring about policy changes. These groups are secret for many reasons, probably the greatest of which is the fear of public perception of the mentally ill.

As far as my son'ś sentencing, I would like to respectfully request just one thing from the court. I've already lost one child to suicide and my son, Billy, has attempted it twice within this detention facility. All research shows that the risk of suicide increases dramatically with both lack of treatment and incarceration. I ask that Your Honor order that all the doctors’ notes, evaluations, and test results be included as part of my son'ś permanent psychiatric record to follow him wherever he is sent, and that he may receive appropriate care in order to prevent further suffering and death in our family. 

Thank you, Your Honor, for allowing me this time and listening to me.

The judge found Kate's son, who suffers from serious mental illness, guilty of murder and sentenced him to prison for 30 years to life.

 Kate and Billy days before the tragedy.

Kate and Billy days before the tragedy.