Sacramento, Calif.- by Robert J Hansen
Laura Byrd got a Mother's Day gift she has been waiting eight years for when a jury ruled last week that her son, Duran Byrd, who has been a “not guilty by reason of insanity” (NGRI) patient at Department of State Hospital (DSH) Napa since 2016, be released from custody.
Duran’s mother with the help of the Justice Reform Coalition (JRC), the Sonoma County and Sacramento NAACP, and other advocates have been pushing for Duran’s release since 2018 who were met with a “disturbing level of resistance,” from DSH they say.
Executive Director of JRC, Reverend Ashiya Odeye, said he was very happy for Laura and Duran but this is also a win for everyone else in DHS Napa that are still being held longer than necessary.
“This is going to help everybody,” Odeye said. “We have their practices and behavior on record. They’ve never been pushed there before.”
Odeye said this exposed that DHS sends people to county jails that do not have the proper medical treatment necessary to care for mentally ill patients and that DHS retaliates against patients when they legally petition for their release.
Duran was transferred from DHS Napa and has been in the Sacramento County Jail for the past several weeks while going to court.
Sacramento County and its jails are under a consent decree from a 2020 settlement that orders the County to address the dangerous and unconstitutional conditions of the County’s jails.
The lawsuit alleged that Sacramento County failed to provide constitutionally required mental health and medical care to people in the jail, employed harsh and extreme forms of solitary confinement, failed to implement essential suicide prevention measures, and discriminated against people with disabilities.
“It was a long time coming but it’s far from over,” Odeye said.
Laura and her team of advocates say that Napa engaged in not disclosing records, manufacturing fiction suggesting patients are not taking medications or are decompensating six months before hearings or court-ordered release dates.
“This shameful behavior needs to go. Those who need to be there in Napa need to stay there but those who have done exactly what they were told to do and how they're supposed to do it need the opportunity to be let go,” Laura said.
Second Vice President of the Santa Rosa-Sonoma County NAACP Dmitra Smith said it’s a victory for Byrd in the sense that he’s going home but his case exposed deeply systemic issues within the State Hospital system.
“I’m hoping his case can lead to justice for more individuals who are trapped in that system and shouldn’t be,” Smith said. “There’s a lot more work to do.”
Smith is concerned with the weaponizing of advocacy that DHS and the deputy district attorney attempted on Laura and the others pushing for Duran’s release.
“There are folks that depend on advocacy outside the system,” Smith said. “His mother was focused on understanding what Duran’s rights were and those were followed and that was weaponized and translated as her turning him against a system that was keeping him there beyond the time they were legally allowed to.”
Smith said that was deeply troubling.
Sacramento NAACP President Betty Williams said the news of Duran’s release is incredible for a mother's heart and passion to continue fighting for her son is remarkable.
“Laura has been fighting for a long long time for this,” Williams said. “It’s an example of what can be done even though the system, for years, fought against her.”
Williams said Duran’s release shows that the system can be undone.
Keisha Mellon Hall, Duran’s attorney, said it was the DA's burden to prove Duran poses a substantial physical danger to the community due to a mental defect and an inability to willingly take medications.
The DA's strategy was to argue that Duran's progress was remarkable but recently was decompensating evident by clear signs of paranoia triggered by a sudden loss of trust in DSH.
The DA argued that Duran distrusts his team because his mom distrusts the team and this distrust is causing him to decompensate.
The DA also argued that Laura did not believe her son is mentally ill and had no support in the community therefore he will decompensate and become dangerous.
However, Hall successfully argued that Duran remained in medication compliance and was actively consistent in participating in treatment including working on-site and earning the lowest possible risk clearance and zero physical bad behavior since 2014 despite three assaults and harassment by fellow patients.
“We need to do a better job with mental illness and mental health but holding people and not really providing proper treatment or care isn’t helping,” Laura said.
Byrd is to be released from Sacramento County jail sometime this week into the custody of his mother and family.