Insane system? Arlington man bounces between jail, state hospital

Arlington man bounces between jail, state hospital
Arlington man bounces between jail, state hospital Star-Telegram

Jason Edge is trapped by his mental illness and a justice system that wants him to regain sanity so he can stand trial, family members say.

Since slashing his roommate in October 2014, Edge has bounced between the Tarrant County Jail and the Vernon state hospital, where he is now undergoing his second round of treatment as part of a state program to restore his competency.

His mother, Betty Edge, said when he was returned to the Tarrant County Jail after his first stay in the state hospital, her son’s mental illness resurfaced.

So instead of going to trial in February — after a long wait — he was sent back to the North Texas State Mental Hospital in Vernon for another ride on the state’s merry-go-round for the criminally insane.

“It’s horrible,” Betty Edge said. “It’s a broken, broken system.”

The state’s shortage of state hospital beds has been well documented. And despite lawsuits and court orders aimed at expediting the transfer of criminally insane inmates to the state’s competency restoration program, the waiting list continues to grow.

As of Thursday, there were 392 inmates — 13 in Tarrant County — locked up in county jails while waiting for beds in the state’s mental hospitals. Of those, 231 are maximum-security patients who will be transferred to one of the state’s two maximum-security mental health hospitals, in Vernon and Rusk, according to Christine Mann, Department of State Health Services spokeswoman.

The wait time for those inmates can be as short as two weeks or as long as five months, depending on their criminal offense and to which hospital they are assigned, Mann said. For Tarrant County patients, the average wait for maximum-security patients is 59 days.

While Edge spent months awaiting transfers to Vernon, his case also illustrates the second half of the waiting game; the slow burn back to insanity after competency is restored and the inmate is returned to a county jail.

“We entrust people with power over the mentally ill, and some of those people think punishment is a form of therapy,” said Elizabeth Valderas of the Tarrant County National Alliance on Mental Illness. “It’s violence, and it’s proven not to work.”

When Edge was released the first time from Vernon, his mental health evaluators cautioned court officials that he should not be kept in jail for too long.

“Despite his current stabilization and adequate functioning, he may deteriorate with regard to these abilities if a substantial amount of time elapses between his return to county jail and the initiation of legal proceedings,” evaluators warned in their report.

“Therefore, it is recommended that Mr. Edge return to court and proceedings be initiated expeditiously, in order to minimize the adverse impact that jail time may have on his overall mental status.”

‘There was a lot of blood’

On the morning of Oct. 22, 2014, Todd Quinton was watching TV in the south Arlington apartment he shared with Edge, who was asleep in a nearby bedroom. They had been roommates for nine years.

When Edge woke up, something was not right. He thought he was being attacked by an imaginary monster and grabbed a knife, his mother said.

Edge is schizophrenic and had been in trouble before, but never anything like this, Betty Edge said.

Edge attacked the 48-year-old Quinton, slicing his nose and hands.

“Jason just woke up with the idea, got the knife and started waving it around,” Betty Edge said. “There was a lot of blood. Thank God [Quinton] ran outside. That’s what saved him.”

Quinton was rushed to a hospital and required 30 stitches to close his wounds.

Edge was arrested and charged with aggravated assault with a deadly weapon.

Because he could not talk rationally to his attorney and the courts about his defense, a judge declared Edge incompetent on Nov. 24, 2014, and ordered him into a competency restoration program.

As he waited to be sent to Vernon, Edge struggled as an inmate. He was combative, confused.

On March 12, 2015, Edge attacked a jailer.

A week later, Edge was admitted into the Vernon state hospital.

In August, mental health evaluators at Vernon found Edge competent to stand trial and returned him to the Tarrant County Jail, even though they described him as “a less-than-perfect defendant,” according to their report.

He was returned to the general population area of the Tarrant County Corrections Center, or jail, on Aug. 31.

With no trial date in sight, the time clock on Edge’s sanity began to slip away, his parents said.

‘Shut up, shut up’

In October 2015, after being indicted on the charge of assault on the jailer, Edge was relocated to the Lon Evans Unit of the Tarrant County Corrections Center, where he was housed in a cell by himself.

Things began to deteriorate quickly, Betty Edge said.

“After they moved him into solitary he lasted one month and then he couldn’t take it,” she said. “He never sees daylight, he never exercises. He won’t eat, he won’t sit down.”

Barry Norman, one of the clinical psychologists who had interviewed Edge while in solitary, described him as a psychotic, irrational, paranoid and confused 36-year-old man who responded to voices from people who were not there and who saw things that did not exist.

On New Year’s Eve, Edge stood naked in his closet-sized cell and peered through a small window, shouting at a man that no one else could hear. His actions were viewed on a closed-circuit camera by a Star-Telegram reporter.

“Shut up, shut up, shut up, shut up,” he screamed.

He became increasingly aggressive toward guards and on New Year’s Day was transferred to John Peter Smith Hospital’s unit for assaultive mentally ill inmates, where he was chained to the bed, according to friends and relatives.

“They call it four points,” Betty Edge said. “There are two handcuffs on each foot and two handcuffs on each hand and an officer positioned at the door. He’s been rolled over and that’s about it.”

Terry Grisham, Tarrant County Sheriff’s Department spokesman, said jail officials have no choice but to restrain someone who is violent.

“If they are assaultive on top of being incompetent to stand trial, you might see someone handcuffed to a bed,” Grisham said. “We can’t restore someone to mental health. We don’t have the facilities, and MHMR is not equipped to do that inside our jail. As for JPS, they are probably going to err on the side of keeping their staff safe.”

On Jan. 7, while still at JPS, Edge was again accused of assault, this time for punching E. Black, another Tarrant County jailer, according to a complaint.

The following day he was ordered by a judge to repeat the competency restoration program.

On Feb. 4, Edge was returned to the Vernon state hospital. He remains there today.

‘He’s getting better’

Carolyn Apodaca, former president of the Tarrant County National Alliance on Mental Illness, said isolation cells are the worst possible place for a person who is mentally ill.

“It reinforces the voices,” Apodaca said.

Apodaca said Edge has a long history of mental illness and was a presenter with NAMI at the group’s national convention in 2012.

“When I visited him at the hospital I saw someone who had given up hope,” Apodaca said. “He was saying he did not see any reason to keep on living. He was saying that he had read the Bible and look where that got him. And he had given up on that.”

Lin Morrisett, a Tarrant County associate probate judge, said that in cases where an inmate is sent back for a second time, that person’s case should be fast-tracked.

“It has been my position that the second they make a determination of competency, we should hold the hearing right then,” Morrisett said.

Morrisett also said the system is a drain on taxpayer dollars.

It costs at least $560 a day to provide an adult with a psychiatric bed at a state hospital, and depending on treatment, the cost can rise to more than $900 a day, according to the Department of State Health Services. It costs about $78 per day to stay in the Tarrant County Jail, according to a Tarrant County official.

State Rep. Toni Rose, D-Dallas, who spent 11 years as a mental health liaison for Parkland Memorial Hospital, has worked to end the long jail stays that mentally ill people receive before they stand trial.

During the last legislative session, Rose authored House Bill 211, which sets deadlines the Texas courts would have to follow once a mentally ill person is declared competent.

The law, which went into effect in July, has not been in place long enough to measure its impact, Rose said.

Betty Edge said that since being transferred back to Vernon, Jason Edge has shown improvement. Because he has an aversion to male guards, he has worked almost exclusively with women in Vernon, she said.

“He’s getting better,” Betty Edge said. “He’s asking to eat. He’s a lot calmer. I think he’s going to be OK.”

But she still wonders what will happen when he is returned to Tarrant County.

Will he stand trial?

Could he possibly end up in prison?

“We are certainly hoping that does not happen,” Betty Edge said. “There is always a chance that he will end up in solitary confinement again, but there is no guarantee.

“He could face losing his mind again. It’s horrible. He went through such a bad breakdown the last time, I was told he may not ever get back to where he was.”

Mitch Mitchell: 817-390-7752, @mitchmitchel3