- Associated Press - Monday, September 1, 2014

PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) - Five months after 32-year-old Mattie Spino drove drunk, fell asleep at the wheel and killed her 9-year-old daughter along a stretch of Interstate 84 — she got an unexpected visitor in jail.

Spino’s defense attorney came to give her some grim news: One of Spino’s four surviving children had been crushed by a boulder while hiking in Washington. The 11-year-old boy had been flown to Oregon Health & Science University, where doctors said he was near death.

Spino hadn’t been allowed to attend her 9-year-old daughter’s funeral in November because she had been arrested on accusations of manslaughter and held in jail pending trial. Now it was the end of April and Spino desperately wanted the chance to say goodbye to her son.

Spino’s lawyer, a judge and a jail captain made it possible for Spino to see her son one last time. They told The Oregonian the story after Spino was sentenced in August to a five-year prison term for the crash that killed her daughter.

Kasia Rutledge, a public defender of six years, had never heard of the Multnomah County jail system granting a temporary release for an inmate in similar circumstances. But she decided to try anyway - quickly meeting with the judge and prosecutor to make the request. Rutledge also began lobbying jail employees at the sheriff’s office - anyone she could get on the phone, even taking a call from a night-shift jail counselor at 3 a.m.

The prosecutor assigned to the case, Jeff Auxier, objected. For one, he worried that Spino might try to kill herself if freed.

“We’re dealing with someone who is a severe alcoholic going through a mental health crisis,” Auxier said. “So I really had genuine concerns for her safety and the safety of the public.”

Sheriff’s Capt. Rai Adgers also objected. Letting Spino out was simply too risky, he said.

But Rutledge and Judge Eric Bergstrom urged him to reconsider.

Adgers thought about it some more and considered their reasoning: Letting Spino out to say goodbye was crucial for her mental well-being. She was facing a prison sentence of at least several years. Then she’d be released back to society. She needed to walk out as whole of a person as she could be.

While at the hospital, Spino also could sign do-not-resuscitate papers that inevitably would result in her son’s death. The boy had already stopped breathing once or twice the previous night, and hospital staff had revived him.

Adgers mapped out a game plan and called the judge back. The answer was yes.

“Any parent would like to see their child one last time,” Bergstrom said. “Having to make that terrible decision about taking him off of life support, nobody should have to make that decision from a jail cell. I just thought it was an incredible act of human kindness, to take her out of her cell and give her that moment.”

On April 30, two jail deputies escorted Spino to OHSU. She was allowed to spend an hour or two with her son, Skyler Spino. She signed the papers. Then she returned to the jail.

A few days later, the jail released her to a Yakama tribal deputy, who drove Spino 75 miles to a longhouse in Lyle, Wash., where she participated in three days of funeral rituals. She also was allowed to mourn with her three surviving children, whom she hadn’t been allowed to see because of a no-contact order.

“The morning of the third day, they buried him next to his sister,” Rutledge said.

Spino wore a GPS monitoring anklet and an alcohol-monitoring device.

Allowing Spino to go to the hospital and the funeral helped her client along the healing process, Rutledge said, particularly because Spino had felt so cut off from her family while in jail. Spino is a member of the Yakama and Warm Springs tribes, Rutledge said.

“She comes from a very loving, but poor, poor family who was never able to visit, never able to put money on her books,” Rutledge said. “So she sat in custody with no one to talk to except her legal counsel.”

From time to time, the jail gets requests from inmates hoping to attend the funeral of a loved one. This was the first time that Adgers - the sheriff’s captain - could remember a request from a parent to bid farewell to an ailing child.

Adgers estimates that in his 30 years at the sheriff’s office, he’s taken part in the release of a half-dozen inmates to attend funerals or memorial services for close family members. The sheriff’s office considers various factors, including the severity of the crime, the danger the inmate might pose to others and the resource drain of escorting the inmate.

Adgers said in cases where he’s said no, he has sometimes worked out an alternative: From inside the jail, letting the inmate watch a video recording of the services with a family member and chaplain present.

Adgers remembers signing off on the release of one inmate to attend the funeral of his father, a highly decorated veteran. Adgers required the inmate to still wear handcuffs, but he let the man hide them under his suit jacket so they wouldn’t be obvious to other funeral-goers.

“Two (jail) staff members went armed, but in civilian clothing,” Adgers said.

If circumstances allow, the jail makes such exceptions out of compassion. But the exceptions also can help inmates cope with anger or unresolved issues, making them easier to manage back in jail, he said.

Spino’s trouble with the law began on Nov. 21, 2013. She, her longtime boyfriend and her five children had spent the day on Mount Hood. Spino, however, had been drinking. And as she drove the family back home, she drifted off to sleep and veered into a sunken median along Interstate 84 near Exit 17 in Troutdale. The SUV rolled, and 9-year-old Takesha Howtopat died at the scene.

One of Spino’s sons, age 7, was airlifted to a local hospital with lacerations to his face. Her blood alcohol content was .15 percent, nearly double the legal limit.

Two weeks ago, deputies escorted Spino into Multnomah County Circuit Court wearing a blue jail uniform and shackles. She pleaded guilty to criminally negligent homicide, driving under the influence of intoxicants and other charges.

She spent most of the hearing looking down at the floor. And she mumbled as she spoke - saying she wanted money that was in the SUV to be released by the sheriff’s office to her children.

The judge then sentenced Spino to five years in prison as part of the plea agreement.

After the hearing, the judge told The Oregonian that letting Spino say goodbye was the right call.

“It’s easy to be a bureaucracy and say, ‘We won’t do that,’” Bergstrom said. “It’s easy to stand behind standard rules and regulations and say ‘If we do this, we’ll get a million requests (from other inmates).”

And, the judge added, “At the end of the day, she was held responsible for the crime she committed.”


The original story can be found on The Oregonian’s website: https://bit.ly/Z0vGJs


Information from: The Oregonian, https://www.oregonlive.com

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