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Accused murderer faced months-long wait for mental health transfer

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A Morro Bay man accused of killing his father spent months waiting to be transferred to state psychiatric hospital after being declared mentally incompetent to stand trial.

According to court records, 22-year-old William Joel Schonberger spent more than 60 days in SLO County Jail awaiting a transfer to Atascadero State Hospital.

“He languished for several months before he had a bed [at ASH],” said Kenneth Cirisan, Schonberger’s attorney. “It’s a travesty.”

Schonberger was arrested Dec. 9, 2016, and charged with the murder of his father, 59-year-old William John Schonberger, who was discovered dead in his Morro Bay home. According to a criminal complaint filed by the SLO County District Attorney’s Office, Schonberger allegedly used a machete to kill his father.

In early January, Schonberger was found not competent to stand trial after a psychiatric evaluation and subsequent court hearing. On Feb. 1, the court ordered that Schonberger be placed in Atascadero State Hospital, where he could receive psychiatric treatment until his mental competency was restored and he was able to stand trial.

But court records showed that Schonberger remained in the jail awaiting transfer to ASH until at least April 3, more than 60 days later. At a May 2 hearing, the court confirmed that Schonberger had finally been transferred.

Cirisan indicated that a lack of available beds at ASH caused the delay, and he raised concerns about the length of time inmates like Schonberger spend in the jail while awaiting transfer for court-ordered placement in a mental health facility.

“While they are sitting in the rubber room, they are not getting treatment, and that makes it all the more difficult to get them to competency without that treatment,” he said.

The treatment of mentally ill inmates in the SLO County Jail came to light following the Jan. 22 death of another inmate, 36-year-old Andrew Chaylon Holland. Holland died of a blood clot in his lung after spending nearly two days in a restraint chair. Like Schonberger, Holland had been found mentally incompetent to stand trial in court, and had been waiting for a transfer to SLO County’s inpatient psychiatric facility for 12 days at the time of his death, according to court records.

SLO County Sheriff Ian Parkinson elaborated on the jail’s struggles to address the needs of mentally ill inmates awaiting transfer to ASH or the county’s mental health facility at an April 13 press conference, where he described the jail as the county’s “de facto” mental health unit.

Parkinson added that the jail does not have the ability to forcibly medicate inmates, which means mentally ill inmates could further deteriorate while awaiting transfer if they refuse treatment in the jail.

“The jail is the last stop, and we are the only stop that cannot refuse them,” Parkinson said. “And at the end of the day, we are forced to deal with a situation where they don’t belong in the facility and we don’t have the capabilities to treat them the way they should be treated.”

During the press conference, Parkinson also noted that one half of the homicides committed in SLO County between 2010 and 2015 were committed by individuals suffering from mental illness.

Now that Schonberger has been placed in ASH for treatment, he will remain there until his competency has been restored. According to California law, a report on his progress in treatment is due within 90 days of his transfer.

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