Fulton County stuck with big mental health bill

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JOHNSTOWN — Since December, Fulton County taxpayers have been billed a combined $282,338 for a court-ordered mental health restoration treatment for a Gloversville man deemed too mentally incapacitated to stand trial on manslaughter charges alleging he was responsible for the death of a 5-month-old child.

Caroga Supervisor Scott Horton, who chairs the county’s Human Services Committee, said the total cost of the mental health confinement could be close to $500,000 before the county’s obligation to pay for 12 months of such care is over, which would effectively wipe out the county’s entire contingency fund budget for 2022.

“We have an individual who was brought up on a homicide charge and the courts determined the individual was not mentally fit to assist in their own defense,” Horton said. “Article 41 of the New York State Mental Hygiene Law states that the counties [must pay 100% of the cost of] the treatment of an individual, up to 12 months in duration, and that’s consecutive duration, to get them better, so they can participate in their own defense.”

Fulton County Administrator Jon Stead said prior to the 2020 state budget, it had been the state’s policy to split the costs 50/50 with county governments for mental health confinements for criminal defendants the court system determined to be mentally incapable of standing trial; now the state requires counties to pay the entire bill for the first 12 months of treatment.

“If it runs beyond 12 months, there’s a different program of funding and then he would become the state’s responsibility,” Stead said. “Usually we budget about $500,000 for our entire contingent fund for the entire year, so that tells you the dramatic impact that is having. We are hoping that the officials that are in charge of his care [can resolve his mental competency issues], but we have no control over that. We have not found any way to intervene or expedite his release back into regular custody.”

The man receiving the mental health restoration treatment is Isiah L. Lockett who was indicted by a Fulton County Grand Jury on March 18, 2021, on 13 different charges, among them first-degree manslaughter of a 5-month-old child who died on Aug. 7, 2020.

The charges against Lockett stem from an investigation that started on Aug. 4, 2020 when Gloversville Police learned of injuries to three children living at 17 First Ave., Gloversville. The children were then age 6, 8 months and 5 months. Three days after the investigation began, the 5-month-old child passed away. An autopsy was conducted and the investigation continued with the assistance of the New York State Police Major Crimes Unit, which then presented its findings to the grand jury which indicted Lockett.

The charges he faces in relation to the death of the 5-month-old child include both first- and second-degree manslaughter, two counts of second-degree assault, one count of first-degree reckless endangerment, all felonies, and one misdemeanor count of endangering the welfare of a child. The other charges against him relate to assault and reckless endangerment of the other two children.

At arraignment, Lockett’s defense attorney Kyle Davis asked that his client’s mental health be evaluated under New York state’s Criminal Procedure Law 730, which sets forth a process to determine whether a criminal defendant is an incapacitated person who lacks the ability to understand the proceedings against him as a result of a mental disease.

As per state law, Lockett was evaluated by two psychiatrists and the results of those evaluations were presented during a court hearing at which time Fulton County Family Court Judge Michael Smrtic ordered that Lockett receive mental health restoration treatment for up to one year with the goal of helping to make him competent to stand trial.

Fulton County Acting District Attorney Amanda Nellis said in cases like these, it is typical that the individual will receive, at least, the full 12-months of restoration treatment before being reevaluated to determine if the person can stand trial. Nellis said the only thing the district attorney’s office can do now is wait.

“That’s essentially all we can do at this point,” she said.

The Fulton County Board of Supervisors on Monday is set to vote on the latest monthly cost of the court ordered mental health restoration treatment, $42,729 for the month of June.

These are the other monthly mental health restoration treatment charges the county board of supervisors has already approved paying for Lockett:

• May: $44,153

• April: $42,729

• March: $44,153

• February: $39,880

• January: $44,153

• Dec. 2021: $24,538

Horton said he thinks its wrong that New York state requires counties to foot 100% of the bill for court ordered mental restoration treatments, and he wonders how much the mandate costs counties in total throughout New York state.

“This is completely unfunded,” Horton said. “The county has written letters to our representatives with no response, and I think it’s a real travesty.”

Stead said he can’t remember another instance of a mental health confinement that ever cost Fulton County as much as the restoration treatment for Lockett, but that’s mainly because in the past the county’s share was only 50% for such treatments.

“We may have had a couple of these over the past few decades, but never this many months in a row, and because it was a 50/50 share it was never as dramatic a monetary impact,” he said. “Right now we’ve got one person in this category, but there’s no guarantee in the future we’ll have only one at a time. There could be three different cases with three different defendants ordered into this kind of commitment. Think of how much that would be.”

While Stead knows the New York State Association of Counties has advocated for the state to bring back at least the 50 percent split for the costs of these mental health commitments, so far the organization hasn’t had any luck in getting the state to restore the pre-2020 funding formula.

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