How the Mental Health Staff Shortage Is Holding Back Justice in Utah Courts

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SALT LAKE CITY – Because the leaves turned and fell final month, Matt Gwyther sat in a park surrounded by the proof of time passing.

“I’ve this open sore that I simply need to shut,” he mentioned.

As fall turned to winter, Matt Gwyther confronted yet one more vacation season with out his husband, the late Dennis Rowley Gwyther.

“Being with Dennis was the primary time I felt like my life was 100% proper,” mentioned Matt Gwyther.

Her husband has been gone since Might 2019. He was shot and killed whereas driving from Salt Lake Metropolis to Idaho on I-84.

Field Elder County prosecutors charged Jonathan Mendoza Llana, 48, with homicide and filed a discover of intent to hunt the demise penalty.

However Matt Gwyther says the case has slowed down as a result of uncertainty surrounding Llana’s frame of mind. Llana was discovered incompetent to face trial and ordered to endure remedy at Utah State Hospital in an effort to revive his competence.

Over time, as Matt Gwyther anticipated and attended the competency evaluate hearings, usually scheduled six months aside, his understanding of the time period “speedy justice” has modified.

“Swift is a matter of years,” he mentioned, “not a matter of months or weeks.”

This 12 months, three jurisdiction hearings within the case have been canceled or continued as a consequence of delays in analysis reviews. The reviews weren’t but completed or submitted to the courts in time for evaluate earlier than the hearings.

Whereas delays are regular within the prison justice system, Matt Gwyther defined that for victims and their households, a courtroom listening to shouldn’t be a one-day occasion.

β€œYou end up, roughly the week earlier than the listening to, constructing, constructing, for what you will anticipate in that listening to,” he defined. “After which only for it to not occur as a result of somebody did not end their homework, it will get irritating.”

Staffing is the primary problem dealing with Utah State Hospital in Provo, in accordance with Superintendent Dallas Earnshaw.

Matt Gwyther is waiting for justice after the murder of his husband, Dennis Gwyther, in 2019. Matt Gwyther says staffing issues at Utah State Hospital have contributed to months of court delays.
Matt Gwyther is ready for justice after the homicide of his husband, Dennis Gwyther, in 2019. Matt Gwyther says staffing points at Utah State Hospital have contributed to months of courtroom delays. (Photograph: Photograph: Josh Szymanik)

“Not solely are they not turning of their homework,” he mentioned of the hospital’s forensic evaluators. “They’re delivering additional work, continually. So being behind shouldn’t be an indication that they do not care.”

Based on information offered by Earnshaw, whereas staffing shortages are a difficulty, the hospital’s workload has concurrently elevated. They’ve seen a 22% enhance in courtroom referrals for psychological well being evaluations since FY 2020.

The hospital has had issue recruiting, hiring, and retaining certified evaluators.

“We’re not alone on this,” Earnshaw mentioned. “That is one thing that has affected healthcare throughout the nation.”

KSL researchers realized that about 33% of preliminary psychological well being evaluations for courts are submitted late, after a 30-day deadline. Whereas Earnshaw famous, “Over 60% of reviews meet all schedule necessities.”

On the subject of ongoing case reviews, like Llana’s, Earnshaw mentioned backlogs are much less widespread. When reviews are delayed, it’s typically as a result of complexities of the case and the evaluators’ want to be as thorough as attainable, he mentioned, she mentioned.

What’s the answer?

“That is a problem,” Earnshaw mentioned. β€œAs a result of, as a group, we’ve to search out out what is occurring, why we’re on this state of affairs. What prompted this nice resignation?

In a case with gun violence and psychological well being on the middle, Matt Gwyther needs to see change.

β€œIf we’re not going to deal with the gun points, that is tremendous. Let’s handle psychological well being points,” she mentioned. “In case you pay somebody sufficient cash, they will be prepared to work on the state hospital. So the hospital is not getting the funds it wants to rent workers? Hasn’t it requested for the funds?”

Regardless of a number of inquiries, officers with the state Division of Well being and Human Providers have been unable to substantiate whether or not a request for added funding to deal with staffing points on the state hospital reached Utah Gov. Spencer Cox.

Earnshaw wrote in an e mail to KSL-TV: “(Utah State Hospital) is working with state leaders to deal with labor scarcity points.”

Box Elder County prosecutors charged Jonathan Mendoza Llana, 48, with murder and filed a notice of intent to seek the death penalty.
Field Elder County prosecutors charged Jonathan Mendoza Llana, 48, with homicide and filed a discover of intent to hunt the demise penalty. (Photograph: Cassia County Sheriff)

These options, he mentioned, embrace compensation, recruiting and retention methods.

After months of courtroom delays, Matt Gwyther simply needs the state to take a position what it takes to correctly workers his hospital, for the sufferers, and for these ready for justice.

β€œHe’s revictimizing the household by making us wait as soon as once more,” he mentioned. “We must always do higher.”

Matt and Dennis Gwyther have been collectively for nearly 10 years. The 2 mentioned “I do” the primary day their marriage turned authorized in Utah, a Friday in December 2013.

“We have been the second or third of the final couple to get married within the Salt Lake County Clerk’s Workplace,” Matt Gwyther mentioned, recalling the joy of that day with a smile.

Dennis Gwyther’s family members describe him as a boy inside a person’s physique, a technological genius and a beloved pillar of Utah’s LGBTQ group.

“He was all the time the man who by no means wished glory, however he all the time made it occur,” Matt Gwyther mentioned.

You end up, within the week or so main as much as the listening to, constructing, constructing for what you are going to anticipate at that listening to, after which just for it to not occur as a result of any individual did not end their homework, it will get irritating.

–Matt Gwyther

On Thursday, nevertheless, she felt just a little nearer to getting justice for her love, Dennis Gwyther. He mentioned he obtained phrase that Llana’s protection attorneys is not going to problem the hospital’s newest analysis that discovered Llana competent to face trial.

Nonetheless, a competency evaluate listening to scheduled for subsequent week has now been postponed to January.

“Disillusioned with the delay,” he wrote in a textual content message to KSL-TV Thursday morning, “however I perceive it is a lengthy course of to get justice for Dennis. I am glad the defendant stays off the streets and might’t have an effect on different households.” .”

Llana’s lawyer didn’t present any touch upon her behalf for this report.


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Daniela Rivera

Daniella Rivera joined the KSL crew in September 2021. She is an investigative journalist with a ardour for serving the general public by way of discovering and reporting the reality.

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