SOUTH BEND — Gerald Bartlett, the man who attacked his wife with a knife in September, has been civilly committed to a state psychiatric hospital.
At a Sept. 28 hearing in Pacific County Superior Court, Judge Doug Goelz signed an order dismissing the first-degree attempted murder charge against the 80-year-old Ocean Park resident, after reviewing a mental health evaluation that said Bartlett was not fit to stand trial and likely never would be.
Bartlett was arrested on Sept. 2, shortly after apparent delusions drove him to attack his wife. The 72-year-old woman was able to escape to her bathroom and call 911. She was treated in Portland for a head injury and stab wounds to her neck, then released about a week later.
Attorneys called for a mental health evaluation for Bartlett, who suffers from numerous health conditions, including advanced dementia.
Bartlett was admitted to Western State Hospital, the state-run psychiatric facility where mentally ill criminal defendants in Western Washington are evaluated and treated.
In a Sept. 20 report, Psychologist Johnathan Sharrette said Bartlett lacks the capacity to understand court proceedings or participate in his defense.
Under Washington law, a person who is deemed “incompetent” cannot be prosecuted unless their competency can be “restored” through treatment.
According to the report, Bartlett spoke willingly with his interviewers, but appeared to be confused about his surroundings, had difficulty retaining information and frequently “confabulated,” meaning that he unintentionally filled in gaps in his memory with imaginary experiences. While he knew that he was accused of a serious crime, he could not recall what he was charged with, and believed the charge was the result of a conspiracy against him.
Sharette concluded that Bartlett was at “moderate risk for future serious dangerous behavior.” He recommended further evaluation, saying “It is highly unlikely that, due to the symptoms of his mental illness, Mr. Bartlett would be able to provide for his basic needs of health and safety.”
At the Friday hearing, Chief Deputy Prosecutor Don Richter asked the court to dismiss the charges against Bartlett “without prejudice,” meaning that he could face charges if his mental status markedly improves. Richter, and Bartlett’s attorney, David Hatch, said Bartlett should return to Western for a “10.77 evaluation.”
Goelz signed an order for Bartlett to be evaluated for civil commitment.
RCW 10.77 is a provision in state law that allows courts to involuntarily commit “criminally insane” people to psychiatric facilities. The law says people committed under 10.77 must be evaluated quickly, and placed in a facility that meets their security, medical and mental health needs.
Although the law includes guidelines for how long a person can be kept involuntarily, Bartlett is unlikely to ever be released. In the report, Pacific County Jail officials noted that during the roughly two weeks Bartlett spent in jail before being sent to Western, corrections officers twice had to take him to the emergency room.
“Mr. Bartlett’s condition is degrading day by day,” the jail staff wrote.
Bartlett’s wife is not under any obligation to care for him or have contact with him at Western, Prosecutor Mark McClain said.