Mental Health Experts Disagree in Navajo Man’s Appeals Case
A Navajo man who pleaded guilty to one count of abusive sexual contact unsuccessfully contested a post-release order that required him to enter a residential program even though two psychologists disagreed about his potential to re-offend.
Ronald Tom served a 16-month sentence imposed by a District Court in New Mexico which ordered one year of supervised release. Probation officials also requested that Tom spend additional time in a halfway house for further treatment after release because he would be living near his 8-year-old granddaughter.
Tom acknowledged at least four instances of inappropriately touching a 14-year-old step-granddaughter he and her grandmother had raised since the girl was 3 years old, court records showed. The grandmother and the girl moved out of Tom’s house after the sexual abuse allegations were made.
Post-release conditions for Tom, who appealed the halfway house requirement to the U.S. 10th Circuit Court of Appeals, included a provision that he “not have contact with children under the age of 18 without prior written permission of the probation officer.”
Some of Tom’s relatives argued that the residential requirement was unnecessary because they had successfully kept Tom away from his granddaughter when he was on supervised release and they could continue doing so.
A mental health counselor, Dr. Bobby Sykes, disagreed with them and noted that Tom “had a recurring, and chronic, alcohol abuse problem” with periods of drinking interspersed with sobriety.
Although tests showed there was a low risk that Tom would re-offend, Sykes determined that Tom was “at a high risk of re-offending because [he] was an introverted man from an introverted culture with limited ability in the English language, with whom Dr. Sykes had admittedly established no rapport and because [Tom] was very reluctant to talk about his first sexual experiences,” the court said.
Dr. Eric Westfried, a licensed clinical psychologist, “strongly disagreed” with Sykes’ findings and concluded Tom would not re-offfend if he was not required to enter a halfway house.
Faced with the conflicting opinions, the District Court upheld the residential requirement, noting that Tom’s close proximity to his granddaughter could violate the order forbidding contact with any children under age 18.
In addition, “the court sees someone who has demonstrated the capacity and willingness to sexually assault a girl who, while not a blood relative, was almost like a member of his family” and then claimed no memory of the assaults “because of his level of intoxication.”
The federal appeals court February 29 upheld the post-release requirements imposed by the District Court because, among other factors, Tom could be provided with needed treatment.