Kent Municipal Court, 1220 Central Ave. S. COURTESY PHOTO, City of Kent

Kent Municipal Court, 1220 Central Ave. S. COURTESY PHOTO, City of Kent

Kent judge rules man incompetent to stand trial in Meridian school incident

Also orders restoration treatment for the man at a state mental health facility

A Kent judge ruled the man charged with two incidents at Meridian Elementary School is currently incompetent to stand trail.

Kent Municipal Court Judge Michael Frans issued his ruling at a Dec. 30 hearing after he reviewed two competency evaluations of Noah Peterson, 26, of Kent. The ruling also includes an order for restoration treatment for Peterson at a state mental health facility through the Department of Social and Health Services (DSHS).

“A court hearing is scheduled for Friday, Jan. 13 at 1 p.m. to discuss whether DSHS will take custody of Mr. Peterson for competency restoration services, and if so, when that can be anticipated,” said City Attorney Tammy White in a Jan. 3 email.

Peterson remains in the city jail with bail denied.

City prosecutors charged Peterson for allegedly intimidating a school employee and harassment after a Nov. 14 incident near Meridian Elementary, 25621 140th Ave. SE, on the East Hill, according to court documents. The incident resulted in a school lockdown for one day, closure for four days and a town hall meeting to discuss the case that drew nearly 150 people.

A Dec. 1 evaluation of Peterson at Fairfax Hospital in Kirkland found Peterson competent to stand trial and he was returned Dec. 7 to the Kent city jail. But the defense asked the court for a second evaluation and Judge Frans agreed. A Dec. 22 evaluation determined Peterson incompetent to stand trial.

City prosecutors asked Frans to follow the competent evaluation while the defense argued for the incompetent evaluation.

“There is no evidence the first evaluator even discussed the facts of the case with Mr. Peterson, nor did the evaluator even reference the facts anywhere in the evaluation,” Frans wrote in court documents. “Mr. Peterson blames his sister’s dog for the delusions that caused his behavior leading to the current charges he faces. There was no additional discussion of the facts. How is this reality-based? The court cannot accept the first evaluator’s conclusion that Mr. Peterson has the capacity to assist in his defense.”

Frans noted that both competency evaluations reached the same diagnosis: unspecified schizophrenia and other psychotic disorders. But Frans favored the second evaluation.

“In the 12/22 second evaluation, the author stated at the outset that Mr. Peterson put forth good effort, but due to continuing symptoms of thought disorder, his ability to offer reliable information is questionable,” Frans wrote. “It is striking that the same symptoms were clearly present during the first evaluation and yet apparently was of little concern to that evaluator.

“It was clear in the body of the 12/22 evaluation that the second evaluator had reviewed the discovery provided, understood the severity of the mental health issues exhibited during the alleged incident, and had also reviewed the 12/1 first evaluation. …the second evaluator noted that Mr. Peterson’s responses reflected circumstantial and at times delusional thought processes.”

Start of the incident

Kent Police responded at about 5:27 a.m. Nov. 14 to a threat with a weapon call at a home in the 25800 block of 140th Avenue SE, next to the Meridian Elementary School fields. The caller told police his brother (Noah Peterson) had pointed a gun at him.

The brother told police that Peterson was having significant mental health issues, had been paranoid and was searching for aliens he believed had broken into the house, according to court documents. The brother said Peterson could be under the influence of methamphetamine. The gun was a .22 caliber rifle with a scope.

Officers arrived and helped the brother and his girlfriend safely exit the residence. The brother told police he was not afraid during the incident, which was believed to prevent any probable cause finding for assault at the time. Attempts by officers to talk with Peterson were unsuccessful. Given the volatile nature of the situation, officers did not believe further escalation was safe, according to court documents. Officers then left the scene.

Police response to school

At about 9:50 a.m., shortly after the response to the house, officers were dispatched to Meridian Elementary School. It was reported that a male, later identified at Peterson, was reportedly standing outside the school, wearing dark clothing with a beanie, ski mask and gloves. Peterson was using a megaphone to yell at kids, according to court documents.

The report indicated that Peterson yelled: “Now you know who the school shooting is for, I’m not lying.” His vehicle was apparently parked in the middle of the street when this was happening. He also reportedly drove back and forth in front of the school at a high rate of speed and revving his engine.

A teacher later reported that Peterson had made a throat gesture toward her that she felt was threatening.

Witnesses stated to police that they heard Peterson yell something to the effect of, “This is why people shoot up a school,” and “Now when the school gets shot up you will know why.”

When officers arrived on the scene, Peterson returned to his residence and yelled at officers claiming he was God and that aliens had taken over his home, according to court documents.

Standoff at home

Due to Peterson’s unstable behavior, access to a firearm, and close proximity to the school (officers later learned that Peterson could see the school and playground area from an upstairs window of the residence), the school was placed in lockdown.

Officers surrounded the house and the standoff began as Peterson refused to exit the home. Police said the goal was to have Peterson involuntarily committed because he was in a mental health crisis.

At some point during the standoff, Peterson’s father arrived on scene and against law enforcement direction, the father ran through the perimeter and into the house. The father was able to obtain the rifle, which he placed on the front porch before going back inside. Officers then entered the residence briefly to pull the father back outside.

Peterson remained barricaded in an upstairs room. Officers contacted King County prosecutors and were advised they did not have sufficient probable cause for assault to enter the house. Most officers then left, but a few remained at the school to ensure safe evacuation.

City prosecutors on Nov. 15 released probable cause for misdemeanor crimes that Peterson is charged with. Officers took Peterson into custody on Nov. 16 after a warrant was issued for his arrest.

At Peterson’s arraignment on Nov. 17, a defense attorney raised competency. State law provides that no incompetent person may be tried, convicted or sentenced for the commission of an offense so long as such incapacity continues, according to court documents.

The criminal case is in Kent Municipal Court because the charges are misdemeanors. King County Superior Court handles felony cases.

Judge’s ruling

Judge Frans knows about the lengthy list of people seeking mental health treatment from the state who remain in county or city jails because of a lack of space in state facilities.

“But this court must reach a decision on the basis of the facts and the law, and not on the potential consequences presented by woefully inadequate mental health services,” Frans wrote. “However, the (state) department (of health) has also indicated that admission procedures are being adjusted to evaluate and admit patients who present with the highest risk to the community and themselves.

“This court will sign an order for a show cause hearing so the department may appear before this court and explain not only to this court, but to this community, why this case does not meet that criteria.”

The majority of competency restoration services are provided in the forensic units of Western State Hospital in Lakewood in Pierce County.

Next steps

What happens next could be decided at the Jan. 13 hearing to discuss whether DSHS will take custody of Peterson.

“While the competency statutes provide for a ‘performance target’ for the state to accept Mr. Peterson for restoration services within seven days from when DSHS receives the court’s order or 14 days from the date of the court’s order, whichever time period is shorter, there are individuals in other jurisdictions who have waited a long time for restoration services,” Kent City Attorney Tammy White said.

DSHS has approximately 850 mentally ill defendants across the state that are waiting for court-ordered mental health treatment at state psychiatric facilities, according to a Nov. 29 report on King County has more than a record-number of 100 mentally ill defendants waiting in the county jail for a bed at Western State Hospital, according to the report.

That leaves next steps for Peterson somewhat up in the air.

“We are not sure what DSHS will do with respect to Mr. Peterson, so we need to wait until the next court hearing to determine if the court received any information from the state in response to the court’s order,” White said. “Restoration services are entirely within the authority of the state to provide.”

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