HAMILTON — Reports that a youth who allegedly threatened to shoot students at the Hamilton High School graduation was turned away from checking himself into a crisis mental health center has created a stir in the community.
But Ravalli County Sheriff Chris Hoffman said that’s not how it happened.
“This guy was never out of custody,” Hoffman said on Thursday. “He did not go there under his own steam. He was in the custody of the Hamilton Police Department when he was taken to West House.”
A court affidavit filed in the felony intimidation case against Adam M. Chambers said the 18-year-old “had attempted to check himself into West House, an adult crisis facility, but was refused admittance.”
That statement was widely reported by various news organizations.
On Thursday, Hoffman said the affidavit was written for brevity and didn’t fully explain the protocol used by Ravalli County law enforcement to address mental health issues.
Normally, Hoffman said the sheriff’s office takes the lead in working directly with West House, a mental health crisis center in Hamilton.
“We have the contract,” he said. “We deal with them on a routine basis.”
In this case, sheriff’s deputies met the Hamilton Police officer and Chambers at the center and the deputies formally took Chambers into custody. Chambers was then booked into the county detention center and the process for mental health examination was started, Hoffman said.
“If he had walked in there under his own steam, West House would have taken him and then notified law enforcement,” Hoffman said. “The fact he was already in custody was the reason they didn’t take him.”
“The important thing for the community to know is that he was never out of custody and he was not turned away by West House,” he said.
Hoffman said Chambers never came close to carrying out his threat. Law enforcement responded to a 911 report that an individual was making threats.
“There was no incident when he was taken into custody,” Hoffman said. “He had no means to carry out the threat he made.
“He never got close to the school. There was never a danger. The report gave us the opportunity to take precautions and immediately act.”
West House office director Danielle Harden said the center provides 24/7 access to mental health professionals.
People walk in and ask for help on a regular basis, Harden said.
“Any time an individual is in crisis, we encourage them to call us,” she said.
Harden said West House employees would never turn someone away without taking some type of action.
An average stay at the center lasts three to five days. Some patients have stayed as long as two weeks, but once it gets longer than that, Harden said the patient’s needs require a different level of care.
“This is a short-term crisis facility to help people stabilize,” she said. “We know that people tend to get better faster when they are closer to family and friends.”
Harden said the center works closely with law enforcement, including providing crisis intervention team training that offers insights on how to respond to a mental health crisis.
“We do have a pretty well organized system here,” she said. “All law enforcement knows how to get in touch with mental health professionals when they need one.”
Hoffman said there are many communities around the state that wish they had something similar in place.
“We are held up as a model in the state for dealing with mental health issues in the community and that’s due, in no small part, to West House and all the other partners.”
Before West House opened, Hoffman said his deputies were on the road to Warm Springs almost daily, transporting mental health patients. That doesn’t happen any more.
“This whole case stemmed from a person making a 911 call and making a report that an individual was making threats,” Hoffman said. “Now we have a young man in crisis getting the help he needs. The system worked exactly the way it was supposed to work.”