Mentally Ill Boxer Files Suit After Spending Months In Solitary Without Mental Health Care

By Victoria Kim 01/04/16

Retired boxer’s plight highlights Washington State’s huge backlog of mental health care for inmates.

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Retired boxer Jonte “Rock Steady” Willis is suing the state of Washington for a massive delay in providing a mental health evaluation that should have taken seven days. Instead, he languished in jail, including time in solitary confinement, for 91 days.

The former US amateur super heavyweight champion filed a lawsuit in Pierce County Superior Court in December, in which he claimed his due process rights were violated. Willis, who has since received the evaluation and treatment, and has been restored to competence, pleaded guilty in August to one gross misdemeanor count of fourth-degree assault. The News Tribune, which has been tracking Willis’ story in detail, reported a judge sentenced him to 364 days in jail, gave him credit for 227 days and suspended the remaining time.

The now 32-year-old was locked up since July 2014 after a domestic dispute with his girlfriend. Those who knew Willis said he exhibited strange behavior since losing three fights in four months, taking multiple blows to the head. According to court records, he was later diagnosed with mild neurocognitive disorder due to traumatic brain injury, with behavioral disturbance. He’d had no prior criminal convictions.

About a month after his arrest, a judge called for a mental health evaluation and that he enter treatment for the purpose of restoring his competency. By law, an “incompetent” individual cannot receive a fair trial without first being “restored” by mental health experts.

However, what should have taken seven days to occur turned into 91 days, during which Willis’ condition “rapidly deteriorated” while he waited in Pierce County Jail, his attorney said. Even worse, he was held in solitary confinement because of his mental condition. 

Willis’ case highlights an institutional problem that affects criminal defendants statewide. Jail inmates like Willis have waited on average 60 days for court-ordered mental health care. The problem has gotten so bad it has forced a confrontation between Pierce County Superior Court judges and Washington State.

The state, on its end, cites budget cuts for the delays, resulting in a backlog of inmates waiting on mental health evaluations.

Willis is seeking unspecified damages for negligence, false imprisonment, and constitutional violations.

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Victoria is interested in anything that has to do with how mind-altering substances impact society. Find Victoria on LinkedIn or Tumblr

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