D.A.’s office aims to increase commitments with new mental health prosecutor

Willamette Week, Oct. 19, 2012

A dedicated mental health prosecutor is now a full-time part of the Multnomah County District Attorney’s Office.

As the findings of last month’s scathing report by the Department of Justice about the Portland Police Bureau’s unconstitutional treatment of the mentally ill ripple outward, the district attorney’s office decided to assign Laura Maurer as Mental Health Deputy D.A., says Rod Underhill, Chief Deputy District Attorney.

Maurer will handle all the agency’s involuntary commitment hearings, helping increasing the odds that someone who needs to be committed will be—and not released back onto the streets for the police to deal with, he says. She will also help with training and outreach to other attorneys, possibly statewide, Underhill says. Finally, she’ll be a presence in the county’s weekly Mental Health Court, aimed at treatment for those in crisis.

“We did it before, but not as well as we would have liked to,” says Underhill (who is also the incoming District Attorney). “Consistent resources in that area will benefit everybody.”

Last month, the DOJ released findings that the police have a “pattern and practice” of using excessive force against the mentally ill. In the report, the justice department offered recommendations to the bureau on training, policy and other areas.

Originally due Oct. 12, Portland leaders got an extension on their legally-mandated homework. The city’s plan is now expected to be released on Monday.

However, Chief Mike Reese this week announced the bureau would be bringing back its specialized Crisis Intervention Team and released updated policies for public feedback.