By Michael R. Moser
In a rare scene that unfolded recently in Cumberland County Criminal Court, a defendant accused of threatening to kill a sheriff's deputy was sent to receive the mental health treatment his family so desperately sought, with his defense attorney aiding that effort by state prosecutors and the judge.
"This was a case where everyone came together in the interest of what was best for all involved," Deputy Chief District Attorney Gary McKenzie said after the hearing. "This was a case of the system working."
The case centered around Robert Ford Jr. of Rockwood, who was arrested by Sheriff's Deputy Avery Aytes in April 2012 on charges of videotaping without permission and retaliation for past acts. The case was presented by Assistant District Attorney Amanda Hunter Worley.
Aytes testified during the hearing that he had received complaints about a man videotaping from the roadway and in parking lots of businesses in the Westel community. He finally made contact with Ford, whom he did not know, around 1 a.m. on April 25 in the Greenwave Market when Ford asked a clerk to charge his camcorder.
Aytes, realizing Ford was the same man he had received complaints about for weeks, asked Ford to step outside so he could talk to him. He also viewed what had been recorded on the camera and, as a result of the interview and what he saw, Aytes placed Ford under arrest.
At that point Ford allegedly threatened to kill Aytes. After being placed in custody and on the trip to the Justice Center in Crossville, Ford reportedly rambled about Bin Laden, 9/11, and the fact that people were out to get him. Aytes said Ford told him people were following him and watching him. In Ford's mind, "He was the victim," Aytes testified.
Ford has been in custody since his arrest, but all involved in the case agreed jail was not the place Ford needed to be held. He underwent a forensic evaluation and Dr. Rokeya S. Farouque of the Middle Tennessee Mental Institute in Nashville came to the conclusion that Ford suffered from severe mental illness and "does not appreciate the consequence of his act."
He was diagnosed as suffering from schizophrenic paranoia, a mental illness that can be treated.
Being an adult, Ford's parents could not force him to seek help. They felt helpless.
Defense attorney Spence Brumer on Jan. 11 filed a waiver of indictment in a legal document called an information, paving the way for a "trial." Ford pleaded not guilty by reason of insanity, and the state presented its case. Prior to the hearing, a section of the law was met when a second forensic psychiatrist evaluated Ford.
Once the state presented its case, Brumer opted to not present witnesses and left the case in Judge Leon Burns' hands. With only evidence of Ford's actions to consider, Burns found Ford not guilty by reason of insanity, paving the way for Ford to be transferred from custody of the corrections department to custody of the state commissioner of mental health.
Arrangements were made after the hearing to transport Ford to a state mental health facility so he can obtain the treatment that his family has sought for him.