Idaho mother claims broken system is failing her disabled daughter

Posted at 8:23 PM, Feb 16, 2017
and last updated 2017-02-17 12:11:02-05

A 26-year-old Canyon County woman diagnosed with a variety of mental illnesses and developmental disabilities has spent the last ten years in state custody. But for months at a time, she’s spent her nights in county jails and state prisons, mostly because the state of Idaho has no where else to safely house her.

“It's sad as can be,” Canyon County Sheriff Kieran Donahue said. “This is one of the saddest cases I’ve ever seen.”

In early February, Katelyn Hodges was transferred from the state prison in Pocatello to the Southwest Idaho Treatment Center in Nampa, but she still faces 12 charges. They’re charges Sheriff Donahue says need to be dropped since a judge has ruled Katelyn incompetent to stand trial.

“She has lots of disabilities,” Katelyn’s mom Renee Williams said. “She has schizo-affective bipolar disorder, she's also autistic, and then she is developmentally disabled and her functioning level is about eight years old.”

With those disorders comes the inability to calmly communicate at times. Renee says Katelyn was three years old when their family began seeing the rage.

“When she gets angry and flustered she breaks things,” Renee said.

Things like business windows, especially when left alone even for a short time, which is exactly what landed Katelyn behind bars most recently, now facing charges for malicious injury to property.

“She was upset because she was alone and she went storming down the street and broke these windows out and so they arrested her,” Renne said.

But even in custody, more issues with aggressive fits of anger and Katie’s incredible strength has put Canyon County deputies and healthcare workers in harms way, landing Katie with additional charges.

“Over and over and over,” Renee said. “We just keep repeating this cycle and I just want the cycle to stop.”

According to Sheriff Kieran Donahue, Katie has battered numerous officers, and some to the point where they're out on disability. Nine officers have been injured in the last year, but they’re officers Sheriff Donahue says shouldn’t even be in the situation, because in 2016, a judge ruled Katelyn incompetent to stand trial.

“Why is she in the legal system?” Donahue questions. “Why is she in the judicial system? She's not competent to stand trial.”

“My attorney has brought in psychiatrists and doctors, multiple doctors, to testify that she is not competent enough for these charges and that she's functioning at an 8 year old level,” Renee said.

“What should happen is, in my opinion, the cases need to be dismissed,” Donahue said.

Sheriff Donahue says, for the developmentally disabled, deputy supervision in a county jail just isn’t the solution, stressing the need for a state-funded facility for Idaho citizens deemed dangerously mentally ill, but during Katelyn’s stays in county custody, deputies try their best to keep her calm.

“They'll sing to her, they're singing childhood songs to her,” Sheriff Donahue said.

“These officers are human beings too, right, this is sad for them, this is not something that they take lightly and when you have to control a person like that. I've seen my officers break down emotionally in terms of how sad they think it is; their hearts go out to her, their hearts go out to the family because what if it's their sister? What if it's their daughter?”

Renee says Katie refers to some of those officers as her “other Dads”. “I mean they have brought her in personal coloring books and crayons, they have brought in a movie called Frozen that they play for her,” Renee said.

But it’s not always that easy. Officers have to keep Katie regularly sedated, often restrained, and even sometimes in a protective helmet.

“She's difficult to work with and she's a big girl,” Renee said. “So it does take multiple of them and when they're raging they're very strong so it's like dealing with a big man.”

Similar restraints have also been sued at state facilities, according to Renee, even resulting in serious bruising, a split forehead, and in one occasion a broken front tooth.

“I feel like they've used excessive force on multiple occasions which has resulted in a lot of injuries for her,” Renee said.

Renee says the last several years have been filled with countless tears, stress and weekly trips to the courthouse, recently only seeing her daughter in person while in the presence of a judge.

“We're not allowed to hug or touch when she's in court she's not allowed to touch us,” Renee said. “She's right there as far away as we are and I can't give her a hug, so that's been really really challenging.”

But the problem remains. No safe place exists in the state of Idaho to safely house someone like Katie.

“There's nothing in the state of Idaho we haven't tried,” Renee said.
But there’s no denying there are other people out there just like her.

“Then the challenge for Health and Welfare is, where do you house her? Well, we don't have a place in the state of Idaho to house somebody like this,” Sheriff Donahue said.

“What we really need is a therapeutic environment where Katelyn can live and there is nothing in this state!” Renee said.

The State Department of Health and Welfare does have legislation in the works this session, proposing a new secure facility designed to fill this void in the mental health system, but that will take years if passed.

Friday night, tune in to 6 On Your Side at 10:00 for part 2 of this On Your Side investigation, while we sit down with state officials to discuss their plans to address the mental health needs in the state, both short and longterm.