New Details: Robert Eaton's Mental Health Past

April 30, 2008 8:27:38 PM PDT
Sheriff's deputies shot and killed Robert Eaton after he ran into a Merced County courtroom carrying two large knives.Now, there are new questions about the systems in place to monitor people with mental health problems. The courtroom where deputies killed Robert Eaton re-opened Wednesday as the investigation into the shooting continues. We now know Robert Eaton was ordered to get counseling multiple times, but that did not stop him from making a deadly decision.

Police records and court documents paint a troubling picture of Robert Eaton's past. After a 2006 arrest for vandalism, an Atwater police officer described the 40 year old as "disturbed" and said he had tried to commit suicide just months earlier. During court hearings for that case, Eaton was ordered to wear an electronic monitoring device. One week later he was told he could take it off as long as the prosecutor was notified if Eaton was released from the county's Marie Green Psychiatric Center.

But nearly one year later when Merced Police arrested Eaton for driving his car into the courthouse, he told officers he was upset because he had been refused treatment at the facility. Following both arrests, Eaton was placed on probation and ordered to undergo mental counseling.

Katie Albertson: "It's part of the state health and welfare code."

County spokesperson Katie Albertson says she cannot comment on Eaton's case because of privacy laws. But she acknowledges those same restrictions can also prevent the mental health department from sharing information the probation department.

Katie Albertson, Merced Co. Spokesperson: "That information cannot even be shared with the person's probation officer without their permission."

Sheriff Mark Pazin says those constraints can also create challenges for law enforcement.

Mark Pazin, Merced Co. Sheriff: "An individual was known to have problems, but one agency can't talk to the other to confirm that this person is fulfilling their obligation as dictated by the court."

And Albertson says the county, and the state, are also strapped by a shortage of probation officers.

Katie Albertson: "There are probation officers who do have up to 200 probationers they're responsible for supervising."

Court records also confirm that Eaton did have past interaction with the judge who's courtroom he targeted on Monday.

Judge Brian McCabe sentenced Eaton to probation for vandalism in 2006 and presided over some of the hearings after Eaton ran his car into the courthouse.


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