Crime - Sacto 911

Agency facing contempt order over Sacramento killer’s release from mental hospital

A Sacramento judge is threatening to issue a contempt of court finding against a state-contracted agency for failing to meet the conditions he specified for the release of a killer from a state mental hospital in Napa.

Superior Court Judge David W. Abbott on Thursday scheduled a hearing next Friday to determine whether the Central Valley Conditional Release Program should be found in contempt over the impending release of Ronald Benjamin Toppila, who slashed and bludgeoned his mother to death in 2004 but was found not guilty by reason of insanity.

On Nov. 5, Abbott ordered Toppila’s release from Napa State Hospital on six conditions. A Manteca transitional living facility that was supposed to house the 73-year-old Toppila later informed CONREP it could not meet two of those conditions. One stated that the facility must have a licensed clinical psychologist available to meet with the patient “not less than once per week,” and the other was that Toppila have daily contact with a licensed clinical social worker.

An official with the Harper Medical Group, which operates CONREP for the California Department of State Hospitals, then told the judge the agency planned to transfer Toppila to a Sacramento group home under a program that apparently would leave a third condition unmet – that Toppila be treated by a psychiatrist at least once every two weeks.

At Thursday’s court hearing, Deputy District Attorney Donell Slivka said CONREP’s recommended placement for Toppila in the Sacramento group home would be “unacceptable” and that it “would be placing the community in danger.”

Toppila’s lawyer, Robert Saria, told the judge that CONREP has an obligation to find transitional placement for his client and the program’s for-profit parent company has an obligation to pay for it. If the Harper Medical Group “can’t do what they say – and financially, they don’t want to – I’ll find a private facility and they’ll have to pay for it,” he said.

Saria said CONREP/Harper is “making a business decision that affects another man’s life,” and that Toppila’s placement out of Napa shouldn’t be affected “because somebody else can’t make a business decision.”

The lawyer said CONREP already is in contempt of court by not finding a facility for his client that can meet the court’s conditions. Toppila is still being housed in Napa.

Toppila killed his mother, 86-year-old Hilda Tone, on Oct. 7, 2004. He slashed her 52 times with a box cutter in her South Land Park Drive apartment. Doctors said he suffered from paranoid delusions and thought that an impostor had inhabited his mother’s body.

When jurors found him not guilty by reason of insanity, he was placed in Napa State Hospital. Under the law, he is entitled to regular hearings to determine if he has regained his sanity and is eligible for community placement under the state’s Conditional Release Program. After an unsuccessful effort by Toppila in front of another judge to gain his release in 2009, Abbott issued his conditional-release order two months ago.

In a letter Nov. 18, the clinical director of the Northstar Program in Manteca informed CONREP he could not meet two of the release conditions.

Rhonda Love, the community program director for the Harper Medical Group, wrote to the court Nov. 27 saying that even though her agency now wants to place Toppila in a group home, he would be receiving mental health treatment four days a week at the CONREP provider’s main office at 9300 Tech Center Drive in Sacramento.

Harper’s office staff includes a licensed clinical psychologist, but Love’s letter did not address how her agency would comply with the judge’s condition that Toppila have daily contact with a licensed clinical social worker.

Another condition of Toppila’s release is that he must “remain under the specific care and treatment of a psychiatrist, who maintains contact no less frequent than once every two weeks.” Love’s letter said Harper has a psychiatrist “in the office monthly for scheduled appointments and available on emergency basis when needed,” which would appear to be short of the condition spelled out by the judge.

At Thursday’s hearing, Abbott said Toppila appears to have benefited from intramuscular anti-psychotic medication injections, administered to him on a monthly basis. Love said in her Nov. 27 letter that a group home employee would give him the shots.

Love has declined to be interviewed in the CONREP proceedings on Toppila. Citing patient confidentiality, Love also has declined to identify the group home in Sacramento where Toppila would live. She did not return a phone call Thursday.

“I am convinced that an outpatient environment is the next best stop to where (Toppila) is now,” and that he “is entitled to take the next step” to get out of Napa, Abbott said from the bench Thursday. But, he added, “I’m not going to turn him loose without restrictions.”