Failure to address mental health proves costly Cabral Reflects on Mental Illness

by Leslie Layton

Five months after his arrest in connection with the choking of his girlfriend, an Orland man said that psychosis drove him to ram his head into the wall of a Glenn County Jail cell.

photo by Leslie LaytonReny and Torrie at Enloe Rehabilitation Center

photo by Leslie Layton

Reny and Torrie at Enloe Rehabilitation Center

Reynaldo “Reny” Cabral, 23, described himself as disoriented and desperate when he rammed his head in his isolation cell Jan. 8, breaking his neck and becoming paralyzed from the chest down. He is now a quadriplegic, and both Glenn County and MediCal have been billed hundreds of thousands of dollars in medical costs.

In addition, attorney Richard Molin of Chico said he will file a claim against Glenn County next week, a first step toward a lawsuit, that if successful, could help Cabral cover the enormous medical and other costs he will face during his life as a quadriplegic. Molin said jail officials are obliged under both federal law and state “provisions” to provide psychiatric treatment to inmates as needed.

“In this case there was a failure to give [Cabral] adequate psychiatric and medical care,” said Molin. “It’s unfortunate that in this day and age you have to file a lawsuit to ensure humane treatment of people who are mentally ill.”

Glenn County Sheriff Larry Jones has said his officers followed department policy in their treatment of Cabral. He said the jail requested that a county mental-health staffer assess the obviously troubled inmate, and on Jan. 8 moved Cabral to a safety cell where he was checked every 15 minutes.

But the mental-health worker never came, and the breakdown in services has not been explained. Molin points out that a Glenn County Mental Health document says the jail later withdrew the request.

In a report obtained by the family, mental-health staffer Richard Gordon says he was first told that Cabral was “very depressed” and jail staff was worried about his “suicide potential.” Gordon subsequently made several calls to confirm he could meet with Cabral, but was later told by a jail officer that the inmate was “doing better” and “not in crisis” and “attempting to contact his Butte Co. case worker.”

In an interview with the Valley Mirror, Cabral denied he was given any of the anti-psychotic medication that had been prescribed for him by the Butte County mental health clinic and delivered to the jail. A Butte County mental health worker would probably have been unable to help him while he was in Glenn County’s custody.

Cabral described the delusions that drove him to ram his head into a wall lightly coated with a hard, rubberized material. He has been under psychiatric care since his Jan. 8 hospitalization at Enloe Medical Center in Chico. His words are sometimes muffled, perhaps because of the anti-psychotic medication he takes or perhaps because of the tracheotomy he underwent, said his older brother, Arturo Cabral, Jr.

But Cabral was thoughtful and articulate.

Cabral said the jail should have made sure he was visited by a psychiatrist. “They should have someone there to evaluate [inmates] when it’s needed,” he said. “I definitely feel they could have done more.”

He said he hoped that newspaper stories on his case help prevent another tragedy. His case has attracted the attention of the Los Angeles Times, which recently dispatched a reporter who covers mental-health issues to Chico.

“I never thought I’d be in the newspapers,” Cabral said in the Enloe Rehabilitation Center room he occupied until recently. “I hope this never happens again. Nobody should have to go through this.”

Cabral’s journey through the mental-health system began Jan. 3 when Chico police detained him near Bidwell Park, his nude body wrapped in cellophane and doused in kerosene, according to his family. He was taken to the Butte County mental health clinic on a 72-hour hold.

The Chico clinic released him less than 10 hours later with a prescription for an anti-psychotic medication that would take several weeks to be effective. Shortly after his release, he confessed that he had received orders to “sacrifice” a loved one on his birthday in order to save mankind. He stewed that the family home in Orland needed to be emptied so that it could be “blessed,” according to his family.

On his 23rd birthday – Jan. 6 — Cabral was arrested on suspicion of strangling his then-girlfriend, Victoria “Torrie” Gonzales, and slicing at her neck with a small paring knife. He declined to discuss those allegations on advice from his criminal defense attorney. He has been charged with several felony counts of attempted murder and his preliminary hearing is set for June 20 in Glenn County Superior Court.

“I was making eggs sunny side up,” recalled Gonzales, who suffered minor injuries. “I couldn’t flip the eggs and we were laughing about it. Then, in a split second, I felt his arm on my shoulder and the knife on my neck.”

Gonzales said that after the first choking, he revived her with CPR. After choking her a second time, Cabral stopped and “threw his hands up, kind of surrendered.”

“He was trying to battle the voice in his head telling him to sacrifice me,” she said. “He totally could have killed me, he was so big and so strong.”

Cabral has pled innocent to the charges of attempted murder.

Gonzales visited Cabral at Enloe Rehabilitation in mid-May. During the past five months, she has become more firm – or perhaps more outspoken – about her belief that the charges against her former boyfriend should be dropped.

“He’s been punished enough,” Gonzales, 25, said after traveling to from her parents’ home in Riverside. “In a way he’s in his own prison now. I never wanted charges put against him. I told the DA that, but he didn’t seem to care. It doesn’t make sense. He has enough movement to barely tap me.”

Cabral said he went into the Willows jail hallucinating and “kind of not knowing what was going on.” Tests after his arrest confirmed that he hadn’t used psychotropic drugs that would cause hallucination; and by then, there was mounting evidence he was suffering psychotic episodes that cause visual or auditory hallucination.

Cabral recalled that during his tumultuous, almost three-day jail stay, he’d pick up magazines and newspapers available to the inmates. Sometimes, he said, he saw “patterns” in the typeface, and indicated he perceived the patterns as special messages. “I remember reading a newspaper and thinking it was saying, ‘You are a descendant of God,'” he said.

He recalled taking a Bible into his cell and reading what he thinks were the Psalms. He believed he knew the people who had written them, or believed he might even have written them himself. “I felt like somebody important,” Cabral said.

Cabral said he thought he was in imminent danger from the jail correctional officers – that they would hurt or rape him — and he needed to be rescued.

He said he doused his cell with water and then drank enormous quantities in the belief that he could “liquefy” himself and travel through the drain.

In fact, the officers who placed Cabral in a jail holding cell soon noticed bizarre behavior. According to the sheriff’s department, they saw what they thought was urine seeping from under the door. Officers said that when they approached him to move him to the safety cell, he assumed a combative stance and tossed feces at them.

The correctional officers called in a Willows police officer who fired Taser darts at Cabral, using two cartridges that have seven shots each, said attorney Molin. Each Taser barb applies a five-second electrical shock, temporarily paralyzing muscle groups. Officers also applied electrical shock by pressing what they call the Ultron Shield against him.

Cabral recalled that the Taser strikes caused “excruciating pain.” But he said he was thinking that “hopefully they would kill me in some way,” that if he died his body would turn into water and he would finally be able to escape through the drain.

When the Tasering failed to win Cabral’s cooperation, the Willows officer used pepper spray, emptying a 4-ounce can. That was even more painful than the Tasering, Cabral said, and at that point he moved from behind the toilet where he had wedged himself.

After he was showered and moved to the safety cell, he said he was given a jacket to wear that he tossed aside. “They threw something on me… I thought it was a straightjacket,” Cabral said. “But my body was burning – everything stung — and I couldn’t stand anything on it.”

During his stay in the safety cell, he said he became increasingly desperate for help to escape the danger he believed he was in. A former Orland High football player, Cabral said he got into “sprinter’s position” to ram himself into the wall.

He said he recalls asking for help after he broke his neck, but lay there “throughout the night” or for “a long time.”

 “I had kind of a numb sensation,” he said. “I knew I was paralyzed. I remember someone saying something like, ‘Get up, Cabral.”

His family believes he was immobilized for more than eight hours before he received medical attention.

Sheriff Larry Jones said correctional officers requested medical help when they became aware of his problem at 11:10 a.m. The safety cell, a tiny room about 5-foot by 8-foot, has since been equipped with camera surveillance that it didn’t have then.

Attorney Molin is skeptical that the jail log accurately reflects the checks that were made on Cabral, pointing out that two entries appear to have undergone revision. An officer had noted that Cabral was on his back at 7:44 a.m. and 7:54 a.m., but in both cases the word “back” was crossed out and changed to “stomach.”

The log’s entries continue to show that he was seen on his stomach, and he was yelling at 10:11 a.m., Molin noted.

Molin says jailers had received information regarding Cabral’s mental state from a Chico police report, the family, and family friend Dr. Tony Nasr of Chico. “They take somebody who they know is psychotic, put him in a cell with minimum padding… he’s obviously self destructive and they do nothing about the mental health [problem],” Molin said.

Even the jail nurse had asked for a mental-health assessment, Molin noted.

Gonzales said the family was led to believe that Cabral would be put on suicide watch immediately after booking. “All of this could have been preventable,” she said, adding that she’s “mad at the prison for not having him on suicide watch when they said he was on suicide watch and for Tasering him more than necessary.”

Sheriff Jones said he wasn’t aware of “anomalies” related to the keeping of the jail safety log. He defended his department’s use of the Taser gun, pointing to it as a non-lethal means of dealing with out-of-control and violent inmates that usually works. And he defends his staff’s efforts to deal with a growing number of inmates suffering mental problems.

The sheriff said it’s difficult to find more appropriate places for mentally ill inmates, noting that Glenn Medical Center closed its psychiatric ward about 15 years ago. “Every hospital I call is full,” Sheriff Jones said. “We’re manufacturing a whole sub-society that lives in the penal system. It’s a great strain on staff.”

But Molin wonders why officers didn’t try to move Cabral to the bed in a Yuba City mental-health facility that is contracted to Glenn County.

Mental health advocates say that mentally ill people are ending up in the criminal justice system because services nationwide are overwhelmed and inadequate. But the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) says law enforcement officers should prepare by taking courses that train them to deal with the mentally ill.

Larry Phipps, chair of Butte County’s NAMI chapter, said several Chico police officers have taken the accredited courses in Redding.

Sheriff Jones said his officers haven’t taken the NAMI courses, but have received standard crisis training.

The use of Tasers on mentally ill suspects has been controversial in many cities. The Houston Chronicle recently found police were using Tasers to control “troubled suspects in the grip of a mental crisis,” and the article has ignited a firestorm in Texas.

The American Civil Liberties Union of Northern California says it supports the use of Tasersin “life-threatening” situations, but their use in other cases should “at the very least be regulated with regard to multiple applications, vulnerable populations…. .” (Click here to read the ACLU-NC’s statement.)

Gonzales, meanwhile, said Cabral represented “everything I wanted in someone,” but suffered a “really quick decline” between November and January. She’s been subpoenaed as a prosecution witness, and said she hopes the “truth will prevail” at trial.

 She said she sometimes wonders if the county might be pressing charges because it’s “trying to cover their mistakes in the prison.”

District Attorney Robert Holzapfel has declined to comment on the case.

Cabral has been moved to a convalescent home in Chico where most patients are elderly, many are in wheelchairs and some are suffering dementia. At Enloe Rehabilitation Center , his care was costing about $22,000 a week, said family friend Julie Nasr, who is assisting the family with medical matters. MediCal will likely cover a small part of that.

Cabral said the convalescent home care is excellent, but he wants to go home to Orland. He had his first visit home in five months Wednesday when his parents hired a medical transportation service so that he could attend his younger brother’s junior-high graduation. His father, Arturo Cabral, was moved to tears.

There are still many obstacles to getting him home permanently. The Cabrals must remodel their home to accommodate his new lifestyle, and they need money to hire home-care workers and purchase expensive equipment.

Cabral said he has a new empathy for people struggling with mental illness, and is grateful that he’s no longer haunted by hallucinations. “I wish none of this had happened, but it’s hard to control what you can’t control,” he said.

Ask him what’s hardest, and the answer is quick. He misses the satisfaction of productive work, and he misses the simple pleasures of his previous life, like making what he called his Everything-but-the-Kitchen-Sink omelets.

“The realization that I don’t have my legs anymore – it’s hard,” Cabral said. “Seeing people walk… and I’m just lying around. I want to be a member of society – productive, really. I took so much for granted.”

This story was also published in the Sacramento Valley Mirror.

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