ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (KRQE) – When someone’s arrested, there’s a question often brought up in court that helps determine what happens next. It can lead to a long and winding road through the justice system, or their case falling through the cracks.
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KRQE Investigates explored what it means for the community and the person arrested when “competency” is in question. There are calls for help in Albuquerque where police hear from victims, and a common question comes up: Is this person in their right mind?
“She’s insane man,” a smoke shop worker told a responding officer about the woman he said was shouting at his customers and waving an apparent knife around. “I’m a volunteer for Parks and Recreation,” the woman, later identified as Loyola Volpert, told the officer.
“They told me that she has a knife, so that’s why I didn’t step outside,” the store worker told an APD officer. Lapel video from Albuquerque Police shows officers responding to a call about a woman shouting at customers at a smoke shop in 2021 and waving a knife around.
“I got this to landscape with, you know, between the cracks, but I don’t got a knife,” Volpert told an officer. Volpert is known to the police and has a long criminal record in Albuquerque.
Court records show she has a history of charges that include battery, disorderly conduct, assault, and criminal damage to property. In this case, she’s asked to leave the store. But she sticks around, ranting at officers, who at this point, only have the authority to ask her to “move along.”
“Don’t pick up another rock!” An officer told Volpert. “I’m gonna hit you with this rock, b***!” She shouted at the officer.
“Stop it!” The officer told her. “You stop it!” Volpert replied. A few moments later, police video shows Volpert picking up a large rock and throwing it at the officer. That’s when the cuffs can and do go on.
“You’re under arrest for assault,” the officer told Volpert. “Oh, here we go again!” She replied.
What happens after someone with apparent mental health issues is arrested?
Attorneys can raise the issue of ‘competency,’ meaning the defendant is evaluated to determine if they understand what’s going on, and can participate in their own defense. However, the process is not so cut and dry.
“In metro court here in Bernalillo County, they see some of the same people over, and over, and over again,” explained Sam Bregman, District Attorney for Bernalillo County. “Why? Because they are found incompetent. The case gets dismissed. It’s a misdemeanor,” he added.
And that’s been the case for Volpert. Despite her lengthy arrest record, her cases often get dismissed because she’s found “incompetent” to stand trial, and beyond that – not a danger to the community by the court’s standard.
Bernalillo County District Attorney, Sam Bregman explained his office is acutely aware of the problem. “We as a state, as a community here in Bernalillo County, need to do everything we can to provide those kinds of resources so that these folks can get help,” said Bregman. “Because oftentimes when we see it here at the DA’s office, something bad has already happened.”
The ‘nightmare neighbor’
“You don’t work here, I’ve never seen your dirty f****** n***** a**!” Home surveillance footage shows Kathleen Marsh shouting expletives at a grocery delivery driver on her block. Neighbors alerted KRQE Investigates to what they called their ‘nightmare neighbor, a year ago.
“We can’t go outside, we can’t do anything,” Bette Kogut, the neighborhood Block Captain, explained. “We’re afraid to ride our bikes, take our kids out.”
She and other neighbors said Marsh terrorized everyone on her block for months, throwing rocks at women walking their dogs, lighting fires, and spraying neighbors with a hose. But, Marsh would hide inside her home when police would arrive.
It took an escalation in behavior, and surveillance video capturing Marsh allegedly attempting to run her neighbor over with a car for police to have enough for an arrest. Marsh was arrested after a SWAT standoff in front of her home in June.
“What I urge the court to do is sort of take note of the trajectory of escalating violence that this case presents,” Chief Deputy District Attorney Jason Greenlee told a judge at a preventative detention hearing for Marsh that same month.
District Court Judge Bruce Fox granted the state’s detention motion at the time and agreed to keep Marsh in jail pending trial. Four months later, Marsh had another virtual hearing in her case where attorneys gave Judge Stan Whitaker a status update.
KRQE learned during that October hearing that Marsh’s case will move forward. Judge Whitaker also heard arguments that Marsh’s mental state had improved while in jail.
“It looks like that report is indicating that she is competent to proceed,” said Judge Whitaker. The Judge released Marsh to transitional housing pending trial on the grounds that she continue mental health treatment and not return to her old neighborhood.
“Ms. Marsh, you need to make sure that you comply fully with the conditions of your release,” Judge Whitaker told her during that October hearing. “Make sure you don’t have any contact with these alleged victims in this case for any reason at this point,” Whitaker added. “Just make sure you maintain that. That certainly would be the quickest way to get back in custody.”
What happens after release?
KC Quirk, Social Work Unit Director with the New Mexico Law Offices of the Public Defender (LOPD) spoke about some of the challenges for cases like Marsh. “That individual is typically released back into the community without any kind of wraparound services to support them,” said Quirk. “And to me, that’s, you know, that’s unethical and inhumane actually.”
Quirk argues resources outside of jail – are key. “Will anything significantly have changed so that that person doesn’t recidivate back into jail?” Quirk said.
“From a social work perspective, when we think about competency, we’re usually considering issues related to mental health,” said Quirk. “That is less related to whether or not they can participate in their own defense in the courtroom, and more related to – are they able to take care of activities of daily living?”
But Quirk contends that’s often hard to determine. Part of the reason for that is because evaluators working with the court are mainly trying to determine whether or not someone can participate in their own defense, Quirk explained.
“They’re hired specifically to do this task, that’s what they do,” said Quirk. “That’s what the courts get. And then there’s nothing that follows beyond that.”
If a defendant has multiple pending cases pending, that person could also face more than one competency evaluation. And in some cases, the results may vary. “Those evaluations aren’t leading that individual to anything greater to help support them in moving forward with their lives.”
New Mexico lacks behavioral health resources
One thing both the Public Defender’s Office and the District Attorney’s Office agree on is that New Mexico lacks behavioral health resources in communities. When someone is in custody or hospitalized, medications and treatment are accessible and monitored, for example.
In cases like Volpert’s and Marsh’s, keeping up with medical appointments, counseling, and medication, is mainly voluntary and left up to the defendant. Unless someone is committed or ordered into custody, it’s up to the individual to comply with the conditions of release.
However, there are people going through the justice system that the courts agree pose a danger to themselves or the community. Attorneys can raise the issue of ‘dangerousness’ to a judge.
What if someone is dangerous?
“If someone is dangerous and is found incompetent, then they will – the courts oftentimes order them to Las Vegas for treatment, and that’s for the safety of the community,” said Bregman.
But for some victims, it’s too late.
“Let me see your hands!” An Albuquerque Police Officer is heard on lapel video during a chaotic scene in March of last year. Security Guard Heath Mora was working his rounds at the Ambassador Hotel when police say Donovan Bookout approached and shot him point blank.
Eleven rounds are heard on surveillance before police say Bookout walked outside and carjacked a man at gunpoint. “Show us your hands!” An officer shouted at Bookout during a moment the truck had come to a stop.
Video shows Bookout revving the truck’s engine as police, guns drawn, shouted at him to show officers his hands. Bookout led police on a chaotic and dangerous pursuit that ended in a shootout, where somehow no one was hit.
Lapel video captured the first APD officer to arrive jumping out of his patrol car as he dodged bullets and returned fire. After the shooting, a second officer asked his fellow officer, “Are you okay? Let’s check you,” the officer said as he walked backward from where other officers were approaching Bookout.
When police finally got Bookout in cuffs, he told them he was a “CIA Operative.” Bookout gave them a different name and said, “I’m undercover right now.”
Charged with murder, Bookout was court-ordered last year to the Behavioral Health Institute in Las Vegas for treatment to “attain competency to stand trial.”
“How bad was it over there?” An officer asked, referring to the Ambassador Hotel. “He’s gone. gone,” another officer replied.
On February 26, 2022, a month before that murder, staff at Motel 6 near Carlisle and I-40 accused Bookout of shooting at someone inside the hotel. No one was hit in that case and a warrant was issued for his arrest on charges of shooting at a dwelling or occupied building, criminal damage to property, and tampering with evidence.
On March 29th, 14 days after a warrant was issued for Bookout’s arrest, Heath Mora was murdered at the Ambassador Hotel.
Six years earlier, Bookout had an aggravated assault case against him dismissed, citing he was ‘incompetent.’ A judge at the time said he wasn’t ‘dangerous’ by the court’s standards.
According to court records, another stipulated order was filed again this April for Bookout to stay committed at the Behavioral Health Institute in Las Vegas for nine months to “attain competency to stand trial.” During that time, clinical and forensic psychologists from the BHI will update the courts on his mental state.
The issue of competency has state agencies and lawmakers working on ways to better serve people with mental health and substance abuse issues. As part of KRQE’s investigation into this issue, Gabrielle Burkhart traveled to the state’s biggest behavioral health treatment center in Las Vegas to see how the process works.
KRQE Investigates will have a first-hand look at how that state hospital operates and who it serves, next Thursday at 5:30 p.m. on KRQE News 13.