News Article Details

A mentally ill man who was arrested after his mother sought help will get treatment -- not jail

Virginian-Pilot - 11/27/2018

Nov. 27--CHESAPEAKE -- Last year, Antonia Banks got a temporary detention order so police could take her 19-year-old son, who was in a mental health crisis, to a hospital.

But there, the situation escalated, and Antwon Banks head-butted an officer in the nose and put his hands around an ER technician's neck, court documents say. Police ended up criminally charging him.

At the time of Banks' arrest, the executive director of the National Alliance on Mental Illness in Virginia said his case illustrated a common Catch-22: In a mental health crisis, families seek the help of police, who are increasingly receiving more training in how to interact with the mentally ill. But those interactions still can escalate, causing conflicts that lead to charges. Instead of treatment, the person who needed help may instead face jail or prison time.

On Monday, Banks' case moved toward conclusion when he pleaded not guilty by reason of insanity to the charges against him: attempted strangulation, assault and battery of a law enforcement officer and misdemeanor assault.

The plea was accepted by a judge, which means Banks, now 21, has been acquitted of the charges. He will not be convicted of a felony or serve time behind bars.

"I felt it was in his best interest," Antonia Banks said of the plea. She noted that her son, who has been out on bond, is receiving mental health treatment and has a job. "Now he still has a chance."

At a hearing Monday in Circuit Court, prosecutor Mara Kane noted two different mental health evaluations had been done to assess Banks' sanity at the time of the offense -- one at the request of his public defender, Rachel Wentworth, and another at the prosecutor's request.

Kane said the commonwealth was "in agreement" with Banks' plea.

Judge Rufus Banks Jr., who is not related, authorized a commissioner with the state Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Services to complete an outpatient evaluation to determine whether Antwon Banks needs to be hospitalized or can remain free.

In February 2017, Antonia Banks got a temporary detention order from a magistrate after she noticed her son was exhibiting symptoms of his mental illness but refused to go to the hospital for treatment, she told The Virginian-Pilot last year. The order allowed police to take him to the hospital from his grandmother's home, where he was staying.

At Chesapeake Regional Medical Center, Antwon Banks wouldn't change into a hospital gown or comply with testing. A Chesapeake police officer who has training in dealing with mental health responded and spoke with Banks, according to a summary of prosecutors' evidence filed in court.

Banks was then allowed to keep his own clothes on, but when an ER technician reached for his pockets to make sure he didn't have anything in them, Banks put his hands on the man's neck and "started squeezing," the summary says.

The officer and a security guard moved toward him, and he released his grip.

The guard held him from behind, and the officer held his arm. Banks started rocking his head forward, lunging to the side and swinging his head back -- ultimately hitting the officer in the nose with his head, the court document says.

According to the state behavioral health department, the insanity defense is not used frequently, and when it is, it's rarely successful. It's raised in about 1 percent of criminal cases nationally and successful in only a quarter of those cases, according to data on the department's website.

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(c)2018 The Virginian-Pilot (Norfolk, Va.)

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