- Associated Press - Tuesday, April 8, 2014

SIOUX CITY, Iowa (AP) - An intellectually disabled man accused of accidentally shooting a foreign exchange student in Sioux City was released from jail after an Iowa judge ruled that state law doesn’t allow that he be committed.

Solomon Harris, 25, left the Woodbury County Jail on Monday after District Judge Mary Jane Sokolovske said the state has no authority to civilly commit him, so the local county jail has no legal right to hold him. Another judge has determined that Harris is a threat to public safety, the Sioux City Journal reported (https://bit.ly/1oJdPle ).

Iowa lacks a law that would allow intellectually disabled defendants to be committed to mental health treatment facilities. Sokolovske said the U.S. Supreme Court has said that mentally incompetent defendants who aren’t expected to regain competency must be released if they cannot be committed civilly.

Harris was ruled incompetent last year to stand trial in the shooting of Natacha Butera, a Briar Cliff University student from Rwanda. She later recovered from her injuries and left Sioux City.

Police said Harris fired the gun while arguing with another man in a bar on Nov. 18, 2012. He was charged with willful injury, intimidation with a dangerous weapon, assault while participating in a felony and reckless use of a firearm.

After the ruling on his competency, Harris was sent to the state Department of Corrections Medical and Classification Center for treatment. He was returned after corrections officials questioned his placement.

He remained in the Woodbury County Jail while prosecutors sought to have him civilly committed.

On Monday, Harris was released to his mother, who traveled to Iowa from Mississippi. Sokolovske said it was her understanding that the mother would seek help for her son in Mississippi, though there is no requirement that she do so.

“The court lacks the authority to order the defendant to leave Sioux City or the state of Iowa. The court further lacks authority to order the defendant into his mother’s care,” Sokolovske said.

Harris’ attorney, public defender Greg Jones, could not be reached for comment, the newspaper reported.

Iowa has clear guidelines on treatment options for defendants suffering from mental illnesses and disorders. But the law on people with intellectual disabilities was repealed last year by the state Legislature.

Rep. Dave Dawson, D-Sioux City, said the repeal was an unintended consequence of a mental health redesign passed by the Legislature. Dawson introduced a bill this session that would have ensured defendants like Harris could be committed. The measure failed to advance out of committee, but Dawson said he’ll reintroduce it next session if he’s re-elected in the fall.

First Assistant Woodbury County Attorney Mark Campbell said it’s frustrating to see Harris released.

“Sometimes it takes a situation like this to indicate to the Legislature that it’s something they need to address,” he said.


Information from: Sioux City Journal, https://www.siouxcityjournal.com

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