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He lingered for months in jail. Long waits for Texas mental health beds mean he’s not alone

A photo of a Black woman's hands, folded over her lap. She has manicured blue fingernails. She's wearing all black and sitting on a bench outdoors on a sunny day.
David Moreno
/
Fort Worth Report
Shantel Taylor, pictured here, poses for a portrait on May 13, 2024. Her son Kai'Yere Campbell spent six months in the Tarrant County Jail, and she advocated to get him transferred to a facility where he could get the right treatment for his disabilities and mental health challenges.

During his six months in the Tarrant County Jail, Kai’Yere Campbell kept asking his mom, “Am I going home?”

For a long time, Shantel Taylor didn’t have an answer for him.

Campbell is intellectually and developmentally disabled, according to Taylor, and a schizophrenia diagnosis in 2021 added another challenge. At 21, he can't remember phone numbers, addresses or the year he graduated high school.

“He’s functioning on a childlike level,” Taylor said.

A court declared Campbell incompetent to stand trial, meaning he could not understand the charges against him or participate in his own defense. A judge ordered him to a state mental health facility.

The wait times for a bed in a state mental health facility can stretch months or even years. After being ordered to one, people have to wait behind bars, and their cases can’t move forward.

People with disabilities like Campbell’s have a long road ahead of them, said Beth Mitchell, an attorney and litigation coordinator for Disability Rights Texas.

"They’re the most vulnerable population of individuals found incompetent to stand trial,” she said. “And they're the ones who will remain on the list the longest.”

Campbell behind bars

Campbell was living at a group home when he was arrested in December. He allegedly assaulted a group home worker, according to the Tarrant County Sheriff's Office, and he's been charged with injury to an elderly person.

A selfie of a young Black man with a huge smile. He's buckled into a car sear and wearing a blue beanie.
Courtesy
/
Shantel Taylor
Kai'Yere Campbell, pictured here, is "very outspoken and very outgoing," his mother Shantel Taylor said. "The life of the party, always cracking jokes, saying funny things."

Taylor said her son was having an "episode" and group home staff wanted him taken to the hospital, not jail.

KERA reached out to the Fort Worth Police Department (FWPD), asking for their account of the arrest and for an interview about when they decide to make arrests at group homes.

Officer Daniel Segura, a FWPD spokesperson, did not respond to the request for an interview. He confirmed Campbell was picked up for injury to an elderly person but did not give details about the circumstances of his arrest.

Two months later, the court declared Campbell incompetent to stand trial. That kicked off the competency restoration process — a court-ordered course of treatment designed to make sure someone can be prosecuted while understanding the charges against them.

People often have to complete the competency restoration process at a state psychiatric hospital. Some can also go to a state supported living center, a state-run facility for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities (IDD) who have behavioral issues.

Her son’s involvement in the competency restoration process seemed futile to Taylor, who couldn't imagine Campbell ever being able to participate in his own defense.

"What is the point in putting him on a waitlist to restore competency when he's not going to retain any information?” she said. “He's going to sit there and hallucinate the entire time.”

In May, the fifth month of his incarceration, Taylor said Campbell was suffering. On visits, she noticed he'd lost a significant amount of weight. Campbell was digging into his skin, leaving sores on his back, arm and head, she said.

“I don't know what's causing him to dig, but he's digging down to the white meat,” she said.

In an email, Tarrant County Sheriff’s Office spokesperson Robbie Hoy said Campbell refused to eat when he first came into custody, so jail staff bought chicken patties especially for him, because that's all he would accept.

A photo of two men, blurry in the foreground, below a big sign that says MEDICAL.
Yfat Yossifor
/
KERA
People wait for a medical screening in the intake area Thursday, March 7, 2024, at the Tarrant County jail in Fort Worth.

“He also likes to color. Our employees have gone out to buy him coloring books and crayons that he can use. No other inmate receives that kind of elevated treatment,” Hoy wrote.

Sheriff Bill Waybourn and other jail officials also visited Campbell regularly and advocated for him to be moved up on the waitlist, Hoy said. They did not notice sores on Campbell's body, he added.

Taylor has seen Campbell’s condition improve, she said, noting by late May, it looked like he’d regained some of the weight he lost.

Pamela Young is the executive director of United Fort Worth, the local activist group that’s organized a letter writing campaign on Campbell’s behalf.

Campbell only started to get better treatment once people started making noise, Young said.

“He was definitely being neglected until community stepped in,” she said.

Six months into Campbell’s incarceration, Taylor learned he would be transferred to a state supported living center, she said.

Taylor had been pushing for that transfer from the beginning. Campbell needs a structured, healthy environment, not a jail cell, she said in May.

“Kai'Yere should not be punished for his disability,” she said. “As his mother, I'm part of his inner circle of care, and I'm asking for all of those in authority to please step up."

People with IDD who are on the forensic waitlist can go to a state supported living center if Texas Health and Human Services Commission (HHSC) decides they don’t need a maximum-security bed at a psychiatric hospital, Mitchell explained.

The state’s placement decision also depends on what they decide is a patient’s primary need — care for mental health or a disability — and which one has available beds sooner, said Mitchell.

In a written statement sent out Monday, Sheriff Bill Waybourn said he's grateful Campbell "can now receive the level of care and treatment his condition requires."

"Mr. Campbell is in need of constant care and attention, something we strived to provide during his time in our facility," Waybourn said.

Disability and punishment

People with intellectual and developmental disabilities are more likely to be victims of crimes than people without disabilities, according to The Arc, a national disability rights organization.

They’re also more likely to be arrested and charged with crimes, and to serve longer prison sentences.

In Texas, it's unclear how many people with only an IDD diagnosis are on the waitlist for competency restoration. The state does not have that data, HHSC spokesperson Jennifer Ruffcorn wrote in an email.

HHSC does track how many people have an intellectual disability alongside a mental health diagnosis, like Campbell. Across the state, 192 were on the forensic waitlist as of May, out of a total of 1,852.

Mitchell, the attorney with Disability Rights Texas, questioned the point of punishing a person for an expression of their disability — like if someone lashes out and hurts another person during an episode.

"They sit in jail forever doing nothing, potentially becoming worse because there's no likelihood that they're going to become competent either,” Mitchell said. “They rarely ever will end up getting tried, especially when they have an intellectual disability.”

What happens when someone can't be restored?

Some people cannot be restored to competency. When that happens, depending on their diagnosis, they can be civilly committed to a state psychiatric hospital or a state supported living center, Mitchell said. If they don’t meet the criteria for civil commitment, they must be released to the community.

Their charges may not go away, though. Should a person ever become competent, they could get sent back to court, according to Mitchell.

People with IDD are not incompetent to stand trial by default, said Ashley Ford, director of public policy and advocacy for The Arc of Texas.

In some cases, an incompetency declaration can help a defendant, she said.

“A finding of incompetency can lead to the suppression of a false confession that wrongfully incriminated the defendant," she said.

Ford advocated for increased capacity of state psychiatric hospitals, to move people through the competency restoration process faster.

The waitlist has shrunk somewhat, according to HHSC spokesperson Tiffany Young. As of May 29, more than 1,800 people were waiting for a bed in a state hospital — a 23% reduction from the same time last year.

A salary increase for hospital workers has helped fill some persistent staff vacancies in state psychiatric hospitals, and the state is expanding its hospital capacity.

Still, according to Young, the average wait time for a non-maximum-security psychiatric bed is about seven months. For a maximum-security bed, the wait is about 15 months.

Compare that to 2012, when a state district judge ruled the maximum time someone should wait in jail for a psychiatric bed was three weeks.

What’s next for Kai’Yere Campbell

Campbell’s case is getting attention from Tarrant County’s elected officials, including U.S. Rep. Marc Veasey, D-Fort Worth.

He mentioned Campbell’s case in a letter calling for a federal investigation into the Tarrant County Jail, following the death in custody of Anthony Johnson Jr.

Johnson died in April after jailers pepper sprayed him, and one knelt on his back while he was restrained.

On Friday, Tarrant County Commissioner Alisa Simmons celebrated Campbell's transfer in a statement, where she also addressed the county DA directly.

"I am repeating my call for Tarrant County District Attorney Phil Sorrells to use the power he has, known as prosecutorial discretion, to dismiss the charges against Kai’Yere,” Simmons wrote. “Sorrells has used prosecutorial discretion previously.”

Simmons' statement linked to a previous KERA story about Tarrant County prosecutors’ decision to drop charges against three jailers charged in the beating of a prisoner with mental illness.

Democrat Alisa Simmons, the longtime Arlington NAACP president, speaks to reporters in 2022.
Matthew Sgroi
/
Fort Worth Report
Democrat Alisa Simmons, the longtime Arlington NAACP president, speaks to reporters in 2022.

Advocates like Pamela Young say they want to see people with IDD avoid any contact with the criminal system.

Tarrant County should have teams of mental health professionals, not police, to respond to mental and behavioral health crises, Young said. She pointed to programs like CAHOOTS in Eugene, Ore. that have inspired others around the country.

“When they call 911 for help with a loved one, they can get a mental health first responder out to the call, instead of a man or woman with a gun who only knows how to throw people in a cage," Young said.

According to Mitchell, there’s a lack of community services in Texas, especially for people in crisis. That leaves one place for people with IDD.

"They end up going to jail,” she said.

Campbell’s case isn’t over.

He still faces criminal charges. Young said United Fort Worth will continue to push the DA's office to drop the case.

“Kai'Yere is not a criminal. He is a person who needs a particular level of care so that he can live the life that he's supposed to live,” Young said.

Taylor believes her son will get that level of care that the state supported living center, she said. She plans to visit him often.

“My hopes for Kai'Yere's future couldn't be any more than for him to just be happy and healthy,” Taylor said. “Happy and healthy and in a stable state of mind.”

Got a tip? Email Miranda Suarez at msuarez@kera.org. You can follow Miranda on Twitter @MirandaRSuarez.

KERA News is made possible through the generosity of our members. If you find this reporting valuable, consider making a tax-deductible gift today. Thank you.

Miranda Suarez is KERA’s Tarrant County accountability reporter. Before coming to North Texas, she was the Lee Ester News Fellow at Wisconsin Public Radio, where she covered statewide news from the capital city of Madison. Miranda is originally from Massachusetts and started her public radio career at WBUR in Boston.