Voters took a chance with County Attorney Bill Montgomery as he was being endorsed to run for the office by Sheriff Joe Arpaio, a man who knows what controversy is and has been under a lot of scrutiny for the past twelve months. Thinking that Montgomery was just another whipping boy for Sheriff Joe, it is refreshing to see he has turned out just the opposite and showed the world he has a pair to stand up for what is right in Maricopa County. Feeling that he used the Sheriff to get elected, it doesn’t matter because the man has walked his own beat and taking care of business like a county attorney should thus there is a breath of fresh air in politics since the November elections.
Somewhat low key but with command presence, he is doing his job. Keeping tabs on this man, I am glad to report to the Maricopa citizens that he has stepped up to the plate and showed a will to change the “business as usual” method in Maricopa County. One of our most important issues to date is the constant violations of mental health patient laws and the void of treatment for mentally ill persons and incarcerated persons. These persons need assistance with their mental treatment or medication as they are often lost in the case load shuffle of criminal cases before the judges for pre-trial dispositions. He must continue to seek improvements in how these persons are assisted and perhaps eligible for alternative sentencing as incarceration for some, especially non-violent crimes, is a death sentence for them as their needs will not be addressed once inside our prison.
We have asked Mr. Montgomery to look into this matter and it appears he has begun to open that chapter of his job. Protecting prisoners with a mental illness is a priority in Maricopa County detention centers. When the county faces frequent lawsuits, whether civil or criminal or even those that are federal, you know there must be a reason why these things are being brought to the surface. It is not my place to make accusations but on the other hand, somebody needs to pay attention to the trend in Maricopa County regarding civil rights litigations. Nobody wants mentally disabled pre-trial abused while they are in the custody of the county and under the supervision of those detention officers working for the jail.
These types of incidents are increasing when confined by the Maricopa Sheriff’s office. There is no reason for such an acts of cowardice. Under state statute, ARS 13-3623 mentally ill people have the protection and are “vulnerable adults” (which treats assaulting the seriously mentally ill, developmentally disabled, etc. the same as child or elder abuse). This is not about Joe Arpaio and his [political] fight with others; this is about enforcing state laws that protect the mentally ill who cannot protect themselves. During a recent meeting of the Arizona Mental Health and Criminal Justice Coalition where both State Rep. Cecil Ash and Maricopa County Attorney Bill Montgomery participated in expanding community discussion about the criminalization of the seriously mentally ill, a friend of mine wrote a beautiful letter describing Bill Montgomery’s contribution to this meeting. Peggy Plews wrote “The discussion you facilitated today about how our community responds to mental health crises among the most vulnerable citizens at potentially volatile moments in their lives was a vital contribution to this dialogue. Your strong stance that many of the SMI in the system should have been diverted before being criminalized – and your willingness to play what role you can in seeing that happens more often – was greatly appreciated. I’ve seen too many county attorneys over the years wipe their hands of the problem, locating not only the solutions but the leadership to find them elsewhere, even though the bodies were piling up at their own doorsteps.”
The letter goes on to read “You are a far more thoughtful and open-minded man that I gave you credit for. This is not an easy conversation to have, and the crowd you faced had not only law enforcement in it, but recovering individuals and family members of the criminalized among them as well – ready for a fight, if you came poised for one. You identified and navigated many of the complexities of the matter quite skillfully, though, posing the important questions we need to be asking ourselves and each other without shying away from your own opinion on the matter – which you managed to assert based on sound argument, rather than just the authority of your office. You also cultivated an atmosphere where more critical discussion could occur – encouraging some give and take, rather than dominating the room. You were gracious abut allowing dissent without conceding the positions you maintain, as well.”
2005 Arizona Code – Revised Statutes ‘§13-3623 – Child or vulnerable adult abuse; emotional abuse; classification; exceptions; A. Under circumstances likely to produce death or serious physical injury, any person who causes a child or vulnerable adult to suffer physical injury or, having the care or custody of a child or vulnerable adult, who causes or permits the person or health of the child or vulnerable adult to be injured or who causes or permits a child or vulnerable. “Vulnerable adult” means an individual who is eighteen years of age or older and who is unable to protect himself from abuse, neglect or exploitation by others because of a mental or physical impairment