POLSON – Crying softly after a District Court hearing that lasted more than an hour Wednesday afternoon, a small, 10-year-old boy hugged his grandmother goodbye before being led away to be returned to a juvenile detention facility in Galen.
Judge Kim Christopher asked the officers in her courtroom to allow the contact after deciding to keep Isaiah Shane Nasewytewa’s bail set at $500,000 pending a neuropsychological evaluation.
The judge made clear she was keeping the unusually high bail amount only to ensure the evaluation – already scheduled and missed three times in the past 14 months – takes place.
Nasewytewa’s initial appointment with Dr. Robert Velin is scheduled for Thursday, with a second daylong session set for May 17.
Depending on what Velin finds, Christopher said she would then consider lowering the bail to as little as a $500 cash bond, or even releasing the boy on his own recognizance.
“I’m asking you to do something hard,” the judge told the boy, who will remain in custody for at least 15 days until the evaluation is completed.
Addressing his grandmother and legal guardian, Dorinda Buck of St. Ignatius, Christopher added, “I’m sorry for the pain this is causing, but this is our opportunity to get a handle on where Isaiah is headed.”
The boy falls under the court’s jurisdiction because of charges of felony burglary, criminal mischief and criminal trespass against the youth relating to the 2012 burglary of a Polson rafting company.
Those were resolved through a deferred prosecution agreement wherein the charges would eventually have been dropped if Nasewytewa met certain conditions.
One was staying out of trouble. When he was recently cited for disorderly conduct at his elementary school, for allegedly throwing a metal desk, yelling at an administrator and banging his head against a window, those conditions had been violated and the previous charges were refiled.
The state noted it was one of a series of escalating incidents at the school involving alleged violent behavior on the part of Nasewytewa.
Christopher made her decision despite arguments from public defender Steve Eschenbacher that the state was using the criminal justice system to deal with a mental health issue, testimony from the grandmother that she would get her grandson to the evaluations if he was released to her or face jail time for herself, and assurances from Polson attorney Matt O’Neill, now representing Buck, that he would personally drive Nasewytewa to the Bozeman appointments himself if it came to that.
But the judge also heard testimony that adults have failed to get the boy to three previously scheduled neuropsychological evaluations since March 2012, after he first got in trouble with the law.
The boy was living with an aunt in Washington the first time, and his father failed to complete the necessary paperwork before the second, scheduled for last September, according to testimony Wednesday.
It was unclear who his legal guardian was when the most recent appointment was missed, in January.
Buck became his legal guardian at some point that month, after the boy was removed from his father’s care by the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes’ Child Protective Services, for reasons that weren’t disclosed in court Wednesday.
Since being in his grandmother’s care, Nasewytewa has missed nine of 15 scheduled meetings with mental health professionals in St. Ignatius, Deputy Lake County Attorney Cory Allen said.
Buck blamed Sunburst Mental Health in St. Ignatius for those missed appointments, saying she depended on Nasewytewa’s caseworker to contact her about them.
“Is it the caseworker’s job to get Isaiah to his appointments?” Allen asked.
“A lot of it is, yes,” Buck answered.
However, the case manager, Brandy Couture, testified that it was a standing weekly appointment Nasewytewa had shown up for just six of 15 times while in his grandmother’s care. Sunburst’s policy, Couture said, still requires contacting all clients by phone the day before any appointment, which she said an administrative aide does.
Buck took to social media last week, and traditional media this week, to protest a bail amount for a 10-year-old she said is usually reserved for adults accused of violent crimes.
Nasewytewa’s family was prepared to spend up to $5,000 – the cash they would have had to come up for a bail bondsman if Christopher had set the $50,000 bail requested by the county attorney’s office last week – to get her grandson released to her, Buck said.
But the $50,000 cash required for the $500,000 bail was far out of reach. Meantime, she said, she was worried because her grandson was being held more than 130 miles from her in the Reintegrating Youthful Offenders Correctional Facility in Galen, among a population much older than him.
The judge reminded Buck that money paid to a bail bondsman is not returned.
“You understand if you pay a bail bondsman $5,000, you never get it back,” Christopher said. “Wouldn’t that money be better spent on helping Isaiah, than paid to a bondsman?”
With all the missed psychological evaluations and appointments with other mental health professionals, “He’s not getting what you want for him,” Christopher added.
Chief juvenile probation officer Barbara Monaco testified that the staff at RYO had told her Nasewytewa was doing fine there. They found him to be outgoing, had no concerns with his behavior, but that he “gets off task easy” while attending classes.
Monaco recommended the boy stay there until the neuropsychological evaluation is completed. She likened youthful offenders to the second story of a home that still needs its foundation to be built.
“He’s at a critical point at his age,” Monaco said. “We can do a lot of good.”
Eschenbacher, the boy’s public defender, called Monaco a “hero” for getting the start of the neuropsychological evaluation moved up almost two weeks sooner than had previously been thought possible.
But he reminded the court it had still set $500,000 bail for a 10-year-old who has never been convicted of any crime.
“With the deferred prosecution agreement (regarding the burglary), he is still presumed innocent,” Eschenbacher said.
In the 24 hours since learning Christopher had scheduled Wednesday’s hearing, Buck said she had found a certified teacher willing to come to her house to home-school Isaiah if his bail was reduced, and also had potential leads on a couple of other educational options.
Buck said she was willing to be appointed an officer of the court, charged with getting her grandson to the neuropsychological evaluations in Bozeman, and willing to be jailed on contempt charges if he missed either Thursday’s or the May 17 appointments.
Her grandson had posed no discipline problems in her home, she testified.
But under questioning from Allen, Buck had trouble remembering the details of calls she received from St. Ignatius administrators concerning alleged behavior problems the boy was having at school.
There were “more than usual” lately, she admitted. “Maybe once a week.”
Allen asked her about calls on April 19, 23 and 30, involving reports Nasewytewa kicked, punched or tripped other students without provocation. Buck said her grandson called it “play-fighting” and told her that “other kids do it, too, but they don’t get in trouble.”
The deputy county attorney told Buck the behavior was “violent, constant and happening while he is in your care.”
“This report is 27 pages long, and I’m on page 2,” Allen said.
Christopher said it was obvious to her that Buck loves her grandson and was willing to step up for him, but said it was also obvious that it had to be difficult for a grandmother to serve as parent to a child who appears to be having serious issues.
The judge asked the 10-year-old only one question.
“Isaiah, is a lot of this going over your head?” she said.
“Yeah,” the boy quietly replied.
“I want you to go see Dr. Velin,” Christopher said. “You’ll have to stay in custody for at least two weeks and one day. When we come back, we’ll see where we are.”
Christopher reset the status hearing for May 23, and said it would happen sooner if possible.