A Kent Municipal Court judge granted a defense attorney’s request for a new competency evaluation for a man facing two charges for an incident at Meridian Elementary School.
Noah W. Peterson, 26, had a competency hearing Thursday, Dec. 8 in front of Judge Michael Frans, but that hearing has been continued to Dec. 22 to allow time for the new evaluation to be conducted, according to an email from Kent City Attorney Tammy White.
“He (Peterson) was heard by Judge Frans,” White said. “During that hearing his defense attorney indicated that they still had competency concerns and requested a new competency evaluation. Judge Frans granted the defense’s request and ordered a new competency evaluation.”
Peterson remained in custody at the city jail.
“Mr. Peterson’s bail remains as non-bailable to ensure he remains in custody until after the new evaluation is conducted,” White said.
Peterson faces charges for allegedly intimidating a school employee and harassment for 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 and closure for four days. Peterson also reportedly pointed a gun at his brother Nov. 14 inside the home he lives in next to school property.
Prior to the hearing, Peterson had been in the custody of King County Designated Crisis Responders, held under the Involuntary Treatment Act. King County released Peterson Dec. 7 and he was transported back to Kent’s city jail.
Peterson had two previous Kent Municipal Court hearings (Dec. 1 and Dec. 6) to address competency continued because he remained under county custody. His public defender raised competency at an initial hearing about the charges.
After a competency hearing, Peterson could be kept in custody for treatment or on the charges. He also could be released depending on the judge’s ruling.
If a court (judge) believes a mental health issue may prevent a person from aiding in their defense, the court puts the criminal case on hold (per RCW 10.77) while an evaluation is completed to determine that individual’s legal competence to proceed with the criminal court case, according to the state Department of Social and Health Services (DSHS) website.
If the individual is found not competent, DSHS is required to provide them with competency restoration services in a timely fashion, after which point the criminal case may proceed, according to DSHS. The majority of competency restoration services are provided in the forensic units of Western State Hospital in Lakewood in Pierce County.
DSHS, however, 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 king5.com. 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.
The criminal case is in Kent Municipal Court because the charges are misdemeanors. King County Superior Court handles felony cases.
Kent Police arrested Peterson Nov. 16 and booked him into the city jail before he was transported less than 24 hours later to a treatment center for psychiatric care and evaluation, Kent Police Chief Rafael Padilla said in an email.
An estimated 150 people attended a town hall meeting Nov. 22 about the Meridian Elementary incident. Padilla, Kent Mayor Dana Ralph and Kent School District Superintendent Israel Vela led a nearly 90-minute meeting. Meridian Elementary parents and teachers raised concerns about what will happen next, especially if Peterson is released from custody.
Judge Frans background
Voters elected Frans to a four-year term in 2021 to the Kent Municipal Court when he ran unopposed. He was appointed by Mayor Dana Ralph as court commissioner in 2018 prior to becoming judge on Jan. 1, 2019, to fill out the remaining three-year term of Karli Jorgensen, who retired.
Frans, a lifelong resident of South King County, worked as a criminal defense lawyer for more than 18 years.
“The position of judge affords me the opportunity to make a real difference every day, and that is what is most exciting for me,” Frans said when appointed by Ralph, according to the Kent Reporter. “It is my goal to ensure that every person appearing before the court is treated fairly and with respect.”