The District Attorney’s Office on Thursday made a second attempt to put a Buchanan High School graduate — accused of threatening to do a mass school shooting — in a locked mental health facility, but a Fresno Superior Court judge denied the request.
Because of Judge Michael Idiart’s ruling, 18-year-old Kyle Dwelle will remain free as long as he attends mental health counseling, stays away from firearms, wears a GPS monitor and doesn’t break any laws.
Dwelle spent 12 weeks in jail without bail after he told Clovis police he was “one bad moment” away from doing a mass shooting at Buchanan’s graduation ceremony. He was released from jail Aug. 23 after his attorney, Mark Coleman, argued Dwelle was eligible for a newly-enacted mental health diversion program.
This summer Gov. Jerry Brown signed a law that gives judges discretion to order a defendant to undergo mental health treatment in lieu of prosecution of a crime. Dwelle is the first Fresno County defendant to benefit for the legislation, lawyers said.
Digital Access for only $0.99
For the most comprehensive local coverage, subscribe today.
Police initially accused Dwelle of threatening two people. But on July 19, Judge Arlan Harrell dismissed one felony count when one of the alleged victims testified at a hearing that he never felt personally threatened when Dwelle made comments about a mass shooting.
Harrell, however, ordered Dwelle to stand trial on the other felony charge after the other victim testified she felt threatened by Dwelle’s “disturbing” comments about wanting to commit a mass shooting.
Though Dwelle never threatened her directly, the victim testified, she felt like a target because she planned to attend the graduation ceremony.
The District Attorney’s Office requested Thursday’s hearing, arguing in court papers that based on doctors’ reports Dwelle remained a danger to the community.
During the hearing, prosecutor Andrew Janz argued Dwelle should receive inpatient care in a locked mental health facility. Janz also said Dwelle did not qualify for the program since his lawyer never proved that Dwelle’s mental condition played a substantial role in the charged crime.
Coleman, however, told the judge that Dwelle has an autism or Asperger’s “spectrum disorder” that played a substantial role in his arrest. The disorder causes Dwelle to have difficulties with his social and communication skills, Coleman said.
In essence, Dwelle is impulsive and says things to get a reaction without thinking how others will react to what he is saying, Coleman said.
In his ruling, Idiart said said he found Dwelle does have autism and that his disorder “played a significant role in the charged offense.” In allowing Dwelle to remain free, Idiart noted for the record he only faces one felony criminal threat charge.
Idiart ordered Dwelle to attend counseling sessions with Dr. Allan Hedberg at least twice a week and attend an mental health treatment program that deals with autism. Dwelle also has to live with his grandparents with a curfew from 7 p.m. to 7 a.m., stay in contact with his probation officer and look for a job.
In addition, Dwelle is prohibited from going within 100 yards of Buchanan and his one alleged victim.
After the hearing, Janz disagreed with Idiart’s ruling, saying Dwelle needs to be in a locked facility “in order to guarantee public safety.”
“I do not believe the defense proved that the defendant’s mental health condition played a significant role in the commission of this offense” Janz said. “I am concerned that this ruling may set bad precedent for future defendants seeking relief under this (law).”
Because of Idiart’s ruling, Dwelle’s pending trial is vacated. Within two years, if he successfully completes his mental health treatment program, the single felony charge will be dismissed, Coleman said.