How should society deal with someone with mental illness or injury who is threatening or bothering others? The criminal justice system? Mental health providers? WMRA’s Randi B. Hagi has the story of one man in Lexington.
Chris Fasching Maphis is used to taking up for her friend Charlie Davis. She's been his advocate in medical and criminal justice settings for almost 20 years.
CHRIS FASCHING MAPHIS: I actually enjoy introducing him. Usually I say hi, this is my friend Charlie, he's a tall, good-looking dude who may look like he's impaired, like he's drunk … but he is not.
Fasching Maphis is a psychiatric and mental health nurse, family nurse practitioner, and a professor at James Madison University. Charlie, who is white, lives in Lexington. Now 64 years old, he was in a horrific car accident in his mid-20s. A traumatic brain injury left him in a coma for six weeks. He still has a significant speech impairment and unsteady gait. Fasching Maphis says the injury also kept his maturity level in late adolescence.
FASCHING MAPHIS: He sustained a pretty terrible head injury years ago, and came out of the coma and was able to teach himself to walk and talk again, and he's a pretty kind and compassionate guy who's also quite smart.
These challenges create the perfect storm for Davis to get caught in the revolving door of the criminal justice system. He speaks to strangers – often women – who don't want to talk to him. He wanders into places he isn't supposed to be. The Lexington Police Department has received more than 70 calls about him in the last two years – which he primarily ascribes to people feeling uncomfortable because of his speech impairment.
CHARLIE DAVIS: The cops in Lexington and Buena Vista … [fade down]
Because of Davis’s difficulty speaking, we asked WMRA’s Scott Lowe to repeat what he said, for clarity…
DAVIS, voiced by SCOTT LOWE: … all of them have it out for me …because they can't possibly understand what I've been put through in my life … I was supposed to be the next Marlboro Man back in 1982.
Early in September, Davis once again sat in the Lexington-Rockbridge General District Court, listening to police corporal Aaron Britton describing the many incidents he's responded to involving Davis. The laundry list of encounters didn't include Davis ever laying his hands on anyone, but most of them involved Davis speaking to women and teen girls in parking lots who felt threatened by him. Three of those 70-plus calls resulted in charges, Britton said.
On August 1st, Davis allegedly entered the unlocked back door of a home near where he was living in Lexington. The homeowner, Deborah Halasz, said he wasn't holding anything, and didn't say anything to her. She yelled at him to get out. He did.
About 28 hours later, Davis was arrested at his home. He had several condoms in his possession. He was charged with a class three felony – breaking and entering with intent to commit rape. In the hearing, though, General District Court Judge Bill Cleaveland said he wasn't "comfortable making the jump" to that intent. The Commonwealth agreed to reduce the charge to a misdemeanor trespassing, to which Davis pled guilty. He was relieved with that outcome.
DAVIS: I feel like it went good for me today because … I'm used to being persecuted by the police … and everyone in the court system.
He was sentenced to 12 months in jail, with 11 months suspended – he already served that remaining month. The suspended sentence comes with conditions: that Fasching Maphis become his legal guardian, move him to Harrisonburg, and get him enrolled in psychiatric and therapeutic services such as those at the local Community Services Board.
FASCHING MAPHIS: I'm feeling relieved that he's not back in jail. And relieved that we had a judge that would listen this time … I have mixed feelings about … kind of playing into the hands of, the ultimate objective was to go ahead and clear him of this city. And so I have done that for them, essentially.
This case, like many others having to do with mental health, poses a difficult question for the justice system. How does society keep people like Halasz safe, without warehousing people like Davis, who need a number of mental and physical healthcare services? And most people in his situation don't have an expert friend like Fasching Maphis.
Halasz declined a recorded interview, but she did offer this statement: quote, I'm just pleased that the judge saw that Mr. Davis needed help and made it possible to get him that help, end quote. It does give her some peace of mind, though, that he'll no longer be living down the street.
Davis is currently staying in a hotel in Harrisonburg, in quarantine to make sure he didn't contract COVID-19 while in jail. Fasching Maphis is trying to get him into a supportive living community.
DAVIS: I'm open, you know? It's got to be better than here, because … it seems like the only friends I've had here were … at the YMCA.