Monday, February 8, 2010

Chicago Criminal lawyer comments on the mentally ill and crime

Words fail this Chicago Criminal lawyer when discussing the intersection of criminal law and mental illness. I’ll admit I’ve had my share of mentally ill clients. If you think it’s difficult to protect the public from the mentally ill, imagine representing them.

I’m not even talking about those times where the mentally ill physically harm someone like the homeless woman who killed a Chicago Police Officer a few years ago; the mentally ill man who was killed by the police in the middle of the day at Randolph and State last summer because he was holding an elderly person at gun point; or even the mentally ill gentleman who had his license revoked for multiple DUI’s and ended up being gunned down by the police while driving. What do we do, as a society, with the mentally ill who frighten and yes taunt others, but the nature of their crime is generally viewed, including by those they accost, as a mere nuisance?

February 8, Chicago, Il
A man who has been arrested almost 180 times -- and whose presence on the CTA's Green Line has instilled fear among riders -- has been arrested again.

Clarence Ervin, 52, of the 900 block of North Waller Avenue in Chicago, was arrested Saturday and charged with battery, criminal trespass and obstructing identification - all misdemeanors -- stemming from two recent incidents, according to Oak Park police Cmdr. Len Jorgensen.

Last week, Ervin was panhandling at Mancini's Pizza, 1038 Lake St. in Oak Park, Jorgensen said. He was asked to leave, but did not do so immediately and made a scene, he said. After he did leave, the business filed a police report.

Ervin was spotted by police Saturday in the 800 block of Oak Park Avenue and taken into custody. He was charged with criminal trespass for the incident at the pizza restaurant and obstructing identification because he provided police with an incorrect name and date of birth, Jorgensen said.
Somehow, I wouldn’t be surprised to learn that the folks at Mancini’s Pizza finally had a name for their public nuisance tormenter after Mr. Ervin was the subject of a feature story in the Chicago Tribune on Friday, February 5, 2010.

From the Chicago Tribune:

Clarence Ervin had panhandled on CTA trains all night, and he looked like it.

Cold and bleary-eyed, he said he was afraid of getting caught — a surprising sentiment for a man who has been arrested 178 times, according to police and court records.

Ervin, 52, has amassed charges ranging from panhandling on trains and disorderly conduct to drug possession and assault and battery, the records show.

He is a source of widespread fear among riders on the Green Line between the Loop and Oak Park.

"Clarence is not a bad guy,'' Ervin said, speaking sympathetically in the third person, as he exited a Green Line train at Laramie on Wednesday and boarded another going in the opposite direction to continue begging for — and demanding — money. "He got a raw deal. He's homeless. He's a United States Marine disabled veteran, and he needs help. He don't want to get in more trouble.''

In truth, the law has not given Ervin much trouble. After arresting him on misdemeanor offenses, Chicago police immediately released Ervin on his own recognizance more than 100 times, instead of holding him over for a bail hearing, according to court records. The practice comes as the Police Department expands and pushes efforts to train officers in crisis intervention, including mental health and veterans issues.

Ervin rarely shows up for his court dates. Officials dropped charges against him in more than 130 cases. When cases are not dismissed Ervin has been convicted, often in absentia, about 25 percent of the time.
Currently, Mr. Ervin is in custody because of the allegation that occurred at Mancini’s Pizza. Bond has been set at $17,500. Seriously, what are your thoughts for how we help the mentally ill and keep the community safe? It just doesn’t seem like locking Mr. Ervin up in Cook County Jail is the best use of my taxpaying dollars.

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