Broward County

Judge orders psychiatric help for kid stuck in juvenile justice purgatory

Keishan Ross sits through a hearing before Judge Michael Orlando on Feb.17, 2017, to determine where he will end up next. The intellectually disabled youth is currently being housed at the Broward Regional Juvenile Detention Center, where he isn’t treated for his conditions and where he rages inside his cell.
Keishan Ross sits through a hearing before Judge Michael Orlando on Feb.17, 2017, to determine where he will end up next. The intellectually disabled youth is currently being housed at the Broward Regional Juvenile Detention Center, where he isn’t treated for his conditions and where he rages inside his cell. emichot@miamiherald.com

Keishan Ross, a Broward County teen who has spent years ping-ponging between the Fort Lauderdale lockup, where psychologists say he is not competent to stand trial, and a Panhandle mental health facility, which says he is, will be released — for now — from the cycle that has claimed much of his childhood.

A judge ordered that the 17-year-old be sent to a psychiatric facility in Broward for treatment and a battery of tests.

The Broward County lockup couldn’t hold Keishan indefinitely, because court-appointed psychologists say his poor intellect and mental illnesses render him incompetent to stand trial. A mental health facility in the Panhandle, the Apalachicola Forest Youth Camp, has repeatedly sent him back to the lockup anyway, because it’s psychologists say he is more competent than he lets on. And the leaders of two state agencies had for years declined to do anything but allow the cycle to persist.

So Keishan spent most of his adolescence bouncing from Broward to Liberty County, and back again.

His lawyer, Assistant Public Defender Christine Glennen, said Keishan is expected to be moved from the detention center to the Citrus Health Network treatment center in Pembroke Pines Wednesday.

“He was happy. He was hopeful. He talked about freedom,” Glennen said. “I said maybe I’ll get you a pair of slides [shower shoes]. He said he didn’t want slides. He wanted freedom. I told him he’d have to work for it.”

“Hopefully, they can get him stabilized there,” Glennen said. “Ultimately, it is his dream to be out. But they have to get him to where he’s stable.”

Leaving the lockup represents a partial victory for Keishan, who was the subject of a story in the Miami Herald after reporters heard him yowling and banging on the doors of his cell during a tour of the facility. Juvenile justice administrators said he frequently did that, and his lawyers said his outbursts sprang from a deep well of frustration at a world he scarcely understood.

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Vincent Vurro, acting chief of the Department of Juvenile Justice’s South Region Detention Services, and DJJ Secretary Christy Daly listen to Jonathan Hackley, superintendent of the Broward Regional Juvenile Detention Center, speak over the screaming of a detainee. The agency did not identify him, but the Herald learned his identity independently: 17-year-old Keishan Ross. Emily Michot emichot@miamiherald.com

In an order Thursday, Broward Circuit Judge Michael Orlando denied a request from Keishan’s lawyers to toss out several felony charges against him. His lawyers say his intellectual disability, together with several mental illnesses, render him unable to understand a court proceeding and cooperate with his defense. After a lengthy hearing over two days, Orlando disagreed, saying there remained slight hope for his improvement.

“This court recognizes that the Legislature seemingly grants this court the authority to dismiss these delinquency petitions at any time if it is determined that the youth will never attain competency. To do so however, at this time, would disregard the experts’ prognosis for restorability, albeit small, and leave this youth without the essential psychiatric services or residential treatment he so desperately needs,” Orlando wrote in his eight-page order.

He was happy. He was hopeful. He talked about freedom. I said maybe I’ll get you a pair of slides [shower shoes]. He said he didn’t want slides. He wanted freedom. I told him he’d have to work for it.

Christine Glennen, Keishan Ross’ lawyer

Assistant State Attorney Lisa Lewis had requested that Keishan’s charges remain in effect, saying the judge could retain jurisdiction for two years, during which time Keishan might be better able to stand trial. Without such jurisdiction, Lewis said, Orlando would be unable to secure therapeutic services for the youth, who would be unlikely to get any such help elsewhere.

Two psychologists were asked at a hearing Wednesday if Keishan could ever be competent to stand trial. Michael G. Simonds, who had evaluated the youth four times — most recently in November — said it was “unlikely” Keishan could ever be made competent, adding that his intellectual disability made it nearly impossible.

“It is my opinion that he is not restorable in the foreseeable future,” Simonds said.

When asked the same question, psychologist Jeffrey Musgrove replied: “Never is a strong word.”

Both psychologists cited Keishan’s intellectual disability; his intelligence score was tested at 58 last year, and at 55 in 2012 — both in the moderate range of retardation. A person with such an IQ, Simonds said, would have half the intellectual ability of an average person.

Simonds testified that Keishan’s mental health could improve with medication and intensive psychiatric care, though he acknowledged he thought the youth had not yet been adequately diagnosed. But, he added: “Medication will improve a number of these. You can’t medicate intellectual deficiency.”

Psychologists at the Panhandle youth camp dismissed the findings of their own intelligence tests, saying it is their belief that Keishan has chosen to make himself appear less capable than he is. Based on that belief, the state Agency for Persons with Disabilities declined to offer any services to Keishan, or find him a place to live at a facility that could help him cope with his disabilities.

For its part, the Department of Children & Families had refused to send Keishan anywhere but the North Florida youth camp — the one that kept sending him back to the juvenile jail. And, under Florida law, Orlando has no authority to determine where Keishan ends up after he’s placed him under DCF’s care.

In his order Thursday, Orlando expressed frustration that DCF had refused to consider a new strategy, noting that he had appointed an attorney to act as the youth’s guardian “in hopes of compelling DCF to fund some alternative placement for the child or secure funding from any other sources for placement in a community mental health program, thus far to no avail.”

Musgrove said Keishan can reach an “optimal baseline” while he’s at the Panhandle facility, which has become like a home to him after several years. But when he’s released, “he doesn’t hold it. It’s like a house of cards, and he collapses.”

When asked whether he agreed that Keishan Ross might never be competent to stand trial, psychologist Jeffrey Musgrove replied: ‘Never is a strong word.’

Musgrove challenged the AFYC reports that accuse the youth of “malingering” — or faking his developmental disability. “I’ve worked with kids for 25 years,” he said. “People who don’t do well at a task often show apathy, show anger, show fatigue,” he said, referring to the many evaluations Keishan has undergone. “If people don’t do well on a task, they don’t like to do them, and they don’t like to be reminded that they don’t do them well.”

Said Simonds: “It is not volitional. It’s not his choice.”

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