Oregon Senate bills seek to expand and lengthen civil commitments

A plea from the Eugene Police Department (EPD) was heard on the floor of the Oregon Senate Tuesday.

The department asks for changes in the legal system governing the criminally accused with mental illness nearly two years after the death of Eugene Police Officer Chris Kilcullen.

Eugene Police, the Kilcullen family, the Oregon District Attorney’s Association and the City of Eugene are all advocating to change the length of time in which mentally ill patients can be committed in state hospitals in certain situations.

Current Oregon law allows mentally ill patients who commit crimes to be held in the Oregon State Hospital for up to three years. After that three year period, if the person accused of the crime is still deemed mentally unfit to stand trial, the charges are dropped. Those charges can be filed by the state again, if the accused mentally ill patient recovers.

After charges are dropped, a mentally ill patient who has been accused of a crime can ask to be released from involuntary mental hospitalization. If the person is still deemed to be a safety risk, to avoid release, the state has to request a civil commitment order hearing. Currently a commitment order can only last up to six months.

The two bills in front of the Oregon Legislature, Senate Bill 421 and Senate Bill 426, would change that. Both bills were drafted by Senator Floyd Prozanski in response to the death of Eugene Police Officer Chris Kilcullen. Cheryl Kidd is accused of shooting Officer Kilcullen during a traffic stop in April 2011. Shortly after the crime, Kidd was deemed mentally unfit to stand trial. By 2014, the charges against Kidd may be dropped if she is still deemed unfit to stand trial.

Senate Bill 421 would allow the state to ask for a civil commitment order of up to five years for mentally ill individuals who are accused of Measure 11 crimes. Bill 426 would allow the state to ask for up to two years under a civil commitment order for non-Measure 11 crime offenders.

Chief Pete Kerns spoke in favor of the two bills in front of the Oregon Legislature on Tuesday, February 19. Chief Kerns say the bills would help victims of the crimes by making it so they do not have to relive the crime every six months that a civil commitment order currently has to be reviewed. He says the bills are also about community safety.

“It’s also concerning when to those of us . . . responsible for the safety of our community when an individual who still may suffer from a mental health condition that lead to the commission of a very serious crime that caused the death isn’t detained and they continue to be a danger to the community,” says Chief Kerns.

Under the current language of the bill, if a civil commitment order is signed for more than two years, a mentally ill person could only request a hearing every two years.

The bill would also force the committed person accused of a crime to stay in the same mental health facility for treatment.

Both bills have to go through a legislative committee the Oregon Senate, the Oregon House and the Governor’s Office before they can become law. Through that process, the language of the bills may change.