A Redlands man has filed a writ of habeas corpus concerning release from confinement ordered under a conservatorship that may not even exist.
When Charles Castle was grabbed off the street by San Bernardino mental health court workers Bob Habel and Wayne Henkelman, almost nobody realized he was missing. Charlie was homeless and while a virtual fixture on the street scene in Redlands, California, he lacked family and social support networks. Some folks, such as Ken Stein with the YMCA, where Charlie went to shower, thought that he was possibly deceased.
Not deceased, but certainly disappeared, Charlie was taken to Arrowhead Regional Center hospital and held in a mental health unit while powerful parties determined his fate. He reports that he was not present at his mandated court hearing and only found out several months later that he had been placed under a mental health conservatorship.
His conservatorship proceedings were steeped in fraud. Charlie was represented by the same law firm, the law offices of Bryan Hartnell, which also represented the conservator, Melodie Scott. Initially, the Public Guardian was appointed as conservator and Scott quickly petitioned to take over this function.
According to Charlie, his attorney “terrorized” him out of his right to a jury trial. He recalls being told by attorney Ryan Sheehan (who has since left the law firm) that his best recourse was to waive his right to a jury trial. Castle recalls Sheehan saying “It will get real bad for you if you lose the trial. They can put you wherever they want to and you will never get out. Better to go along.”
After being conserved, Charlie Castle was subsequently moved out of San Bernardino County and transferred from facility to facility. He has been on lockdown in Chino Valley Health Care Facility and most recently has been placed into a locked ward at Ramona Valley Nursing and Rehabilitation in El Monte. Neither of these skilled nursing facilities offers a mental health treatment program, which raises questions as to conservator neglect. Since Charlie was deemed by the court to need a mental health conservatorship, one would question why the conservator has persisted in placing him in facilities which do not offer mental health treatment. Charlie has described the facilities as “warehouses for human refuse.”
Charles Castle was first approached by conservator Melodie Scott a few months before he was grabbed in front of the library by mental health workers Wayne and Bob. According to Castle, she asked him if he would like her to be his conservator and “take care” of him. He responded with an emphatic, "No ma’am."
According to a number of people who knew Charlie Castle, including a local schoolteacher and the pastor at the Blessing Center, he is considered to be eccentric but competent to handle his own affairs.
Police cover up
Reports about Charlie Castle’s plight have been lodged with Adult Protective Services in both Los Angeles and San Bernardino Counties. One of those reports was forwarded to the Pomona Police Department for investigation and this reporter was shocked to discover that the report had been altered and did not reflect in any manner the report tendered to APS.
The original report focused on two issues: 1) the fraud inherent in court proceedings where the same lawyer represents both sides and 2) concerns as to why the conservator has repeatedly placed Charlie Castle into facilities which do not have programs to address his alleged mental health problems.
According to Lt. McDonald, watch commander with the Pomona PD, the report that was being investigated by Pomona alleged that the conservator Melodie Scott had misappropriated Charlie’s Social Security check back in July of 2011. As conservator, Scott would by law be the recipient of Castle’s social security checks. The report had been altered so as to make the original complaint into a non-issue, which would then result in a quick closure of the case, while at the same time making the complainant look foolish and ignorant.
An appeal was made to the Pomona PD Chief’s office questioning the genesis of the altered report and an angry Captain Michael Olivieri declined to further discuss the Charlie Castle report. This reporter has learned that the Pomona Police subsequently determined they lacked jurisdiction and sent the altered report back to Redlands Police Department for investigation. The report was then closed by Detective Andy Capps of the Redlands PD, who stated no action would be taken.
Deaf, Dumb and Blind
Other agencies were quick to follow in vacating their mandated responsibility to address Charlie’s plight. A supervisor at the Long Term Care Ombudsman in Los Angeles County opined that the Ombudsman was prohibited from investigating without the consent of the conservator. When asked for the legal authority (statute) prohibiting her from launching an investigation, she provided an irrelevant Welfare and Institutions code. Follow up phone calls to her were ignored until the agency’s Vice President was contacted and a complaint was lodged.
A similar fate met a report lodged with Rashied Gibri, who is with the Los Angeles County Patients’ rights office. After the initial report went uninvestigated, Gibri was recontacted. He then hunkered down and refused to take the report. Asked again for the legal authority governing his refusal, Gibri became combative and hung up.
On more than one occasion, a Redlands man, Keith Phillips, addressed the San Bernardino County Board of Supervisors on Charles Castle’s behalf. An initial strong response by Supervisor Josie Gonzales quickly reversed, as the County began to allege that it had no jurisdiction to act. SB County public information officer David Wert has repeatedly stated that the San Bernardino County Public Guardian also lacks jurisdiction to step up and petition to take the conservatorship back from Melodie Scott, as Charlie Castle is now being held in Los Angeles County.
Who is Melodie Scott?
Melodie Scott was the subject of a Los Angeles Times expose back in 2005 and the public outcry as to the revelations of conservator abuse prompted the California legislature to pass the Omnibus Conservatorship reform act of 2006. After Governor Schwarzenegger repeatedly stalled the funding for the nascent organization, the Professional Fiduciaries Bureau finally opened its doors for business in 2008. When Scott applied for her Professional Fiduciaries License with the newly formed Bureau, her license was initially denied on grounds that she lied on her application. A protracted legal battle ensued and Scott finally achieved licensure in 2010 on a legal technicality.
Scott was also the subject of a San Bernardino county Grand Jury investigation a few years back. Five separate county District Attorneys have received criminal complaints against Scott but her Teflon protection has endured each and every attempt to have her indicted. A recent federal lawsuit against Scott was dismissed when the lawyer promoting the suit, Jim Reiss, suddenly had his license to practice law suspended.
In an effort to determine his legal standing, Castle also contacted the law firm of Bryan Hartnell, requesting a copy of his legal file. After leaving several voice messages, he did speak with a woman at the firm who told him it would be a “felony” for the firm to give him his file. At that point, several concerned individuals contacted Bryan Hartnell to request that Charlie’s file be given to him. All these calls were ignored. As mental health conservatorships are governed by privacy laws, the court is prohibited from releasing information about this case. Calls to San Bernardino Superior Court Presiding Judge Ronald Christianson were not returned.
Writ alleges legal abuse
On August 27, after determining that his conservatorship, which must be reviewed and renewed by the court every year, had apparently never come up for renewal, Castle filed a writ of habeas corpus. His writ seeks relief on two grounds—inadequate representation by counsel and the failure of the court to review and renew the conservatorship. A report was subsequently made to El Monte police department, alleging that Charlie’s current situation constitutes kidnaping. A belligerent police dispatcher Mr. Pool was more interested in finding out about the person making the report and angrily hung up the phone without listening to the substance of the complaint. An officer who subsequently went out to Ramona to do a welfare check was satisfied that Charlie was not in danger at the facility.
From his genteel prison in Ramona nursing home, Castle ponders the motive for his detention. He receives a social security check each month in the neighborhood of $900, hardly a financial carrot for such a concentrated effort to strip him of his rights and detain him.
During a period when mental health detentions are becoming more and more common for dissidents and activists, one might wonder if the homeless are the next to be sent off to the gulag.
Read other articles by Janet Phelan
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