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United States v. Grissom

United States District Court, N.D. Georgia, Atlanta Division

November 2, 2018




         This matter came before the Court following the Court's orders that Defendant Nathan Laron Grissom (“Grissom” or Defendant) undergo a competency examination pursuant to 18 U.S.C. § 4241 and be hospitalized in an attempt to restore his competency to stand trial. [Docs. 13, 23, 33]. For the following reasons, the undersigned RECOMMENDS that Grissom be found competent to stand trial in that he is able to understand the nature and consequences of the proceedings against him and to assist properly in his defense.

         I. Background

         Grissom is charged in an indictment with transmitting a threatening communication in interstate commerce, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 875(c), and impersonating a federal officer, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 912. [Doc. 2]. The Government filed a motion for a mental health evaluation, [Doc. 12], which the Court granted with the stipulation that the evaluation be performed locally. [Doc. 13]. The Court later ordered that Grissom be evaluated for his competency both to stand trial and at the time of the commission of the offenses. [Doc. 19]. An August 7, 2017, forensic evaluation report opined that Grissom possessed some factual understanding but not a rational understanding of the proceedings against him, and that he did not have the capacity to assist legal counsel in his defense, and recommended that an attempt be made to restore his competency through medication. Court Exh. 1 (under seal).[1] The Court granted the Government's motion, [Doc. 22], for restoration treatment. [Doc. 23]. The Court then extended the time needed to attempt to achieve restoration. [Doc. 33].[2]

         On August 3, 2018, the Federal Bureau of Prisons, Federal Medical Center, at Butner, N.C., by Forensic Psychologist Evan S. Du Bois, Psy.D., issued a report opining that Grissom's mental disease symptoms are in remission and that he is no longer incompetent to stand trial. Court Exh. 4 (under seal) (hereinafter “the Report”). Based on the Report, Associate Warden A. W. Rupska certified that Grissom's competency has been restored. Court Exh. 5 (under seal). At a hearing before the Court on September 4, 2018, the parties stipulated to the conclusions in the Report and stipulated to Grissom's competency to stand trial. [Doc. 36].

         II. Facts

         According to the Report, covering the period following February 9, 2018, Grissom initially was non-compliant with suggested psychotropic medications but eventually verbally agreed to be medicated on March 21, 2018. Because his thoughts remained delusional and disorganized, his medication was increased on March 26 and April 5, 2018. Report at 2. Thereafter, his improvement was described as “mild, ” but he continued to experience delusional beliefs, disorganized speech, and some agitation. Id. On April 16, Grissom became agitated and aggressive towards Dr. Du Bois, requiring hand restraints and the efforts of three to four staff members before Grissom became compliant. Id. at 2-3. Following this incident, Grissom agreed to an injection of long-acting risperidone.[3][4] He then was reported to have improved organization and ability to engage in conversation with others, even though his grandiose beliefs remained. Id. at 3.

         On June 12, 2018, Dr. Du Bois reported marked improvement in Defendant's ability to engage in conversation, although potentially grandiose delusions remained. He was able to discuss applying for social security benefits and understood the charges against him and their meaning, as well as the Government's evidence against him and that his conviction could result in prison time. Dr. Du Bois further noted that Grissom did not have as good an understanding of his illness as it related to his delusions, and considered him as minimally receptive to education. Id. Dr. Du Bois related that, on June 20, 2018, Grissom described his remaining at FCI Butner as “ ‘unconstitutional' ” and he agreed to take Depakote, a mood stabilizer, [5] and remained on it at least through the date of the Report.

         On July 12, 2018, Dr. Du Bois observed that Grissom stated that he was feeling “ ‘leveled out' ” and he denied difficulty with sleep or appetite. He also reported feeling “ ‘good' ” overall and had improved anxiety. Dr. Du Bois described Grissom's participation in his competency restoration group as notably improved over the last several weeks of his hospitalization preceding the Report, and further observed that Grissom was insightful and engaged during the group, responding appropriately to questions, and remaining focused without inserting irrelevant or bizarre information. Id.

         Dr. Du Bois assessed Grissom with the following diagnoses from the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition (“DSM-5”):

Schizoaffective disorder, bipolar type, multiple episodes, currently in full remission Amphetamine use disorder, unspecified severity, in a controlled environment Alcohol use disorder, moderate, in a controlled environment

Id.[6] He described the prominent features of Defendant's presentation as disorganized speech, delusional ideation, and elevated energy levels, and recounted examples supporting this conclusion. Id. at 4. Dr. Du Bois wrote that prior to his taking the medication consistently, Grissom evidenced high energy and activity, rapid speech and talkativeness, and distractibility. He demonstrated increased goal directed activity in written and telephonic communications, and he was rarely observed with idle behavior as is common for individuals in incarceration. He would approach staff members with a thought, question, or complaint, and walk away without concluding the conversation. The Report also repeated observations of Grissom's manic episodes and manic-like behavior as reported by Grissom's wife and father. Id. Nonetheless, Dr. Du Bois opined that

Despite some prior evidence of possible mania, Mr. Grissom's key features of disorganized speech and delusional ideation remained consistently present concurrently and in the absence of any mood symptoms prior to his placement on psychotropic medication. Based on available information, Mr. Grissom has a reported history of behavior that appears affectively driven and is consistent with manic episodes. His histo[r]y has indicated significant impairment in functioning with each of these episodes. Given the presentation of the above symptoms, the diagnosis of schizoaffective disorder, bipolar type appeared more appropriate than schizophrenia or bipolar disorder with psychotic features. During this current hospitalization period, Mr. Grissom has demonstrated marked symptom improvement, such that he does not report any delusional beliefs or present with disorganized speech. Due to this improvement, the specifier of “in full remission” was provided.

Id. at 4-5.[7] Dr. Du Bois noted that Grissom has developed insight into his mental disorder, sought assistance and understanding from appropriate resources, and appears motivated to continue receiving treatment following the completion of his current hospitalization. He opined that, given this improved insight and social support, his overall prognosis appears ...

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