Crime - Sacto 911

Lodi-area ISIS suspect found mentally fit to face trial

Nicholas Teausant spoke to a Sacramento Bee reporter last year from the Sacramento County jail.
Nicholas Teausant spoke to a Sacramento Bee reporter last year from the Sacramento County jail. Sacramento Bee file

After nine months of legal limbo, Nicholas Teausant, the Lodi-area man suspected of trying to travel to Syria last year to train fighters for the Islamic State, has been declared mentally competent to stand trial and faces a new hearing in Sacramento federal court on Sept. 15.

However, the prospects of Teausant actually facing trial are unclear as both sides continue meeting to reach a settlement in the case, court documents state.

Teausant, 21, is being held without bail in the Sacramento County jail and faces a felony count of attempting to provide material support to a foreign terrorist organization.

He is accused in court papers of boasting to a confidential government informant of wanting to train fighters in Syria for the terror group known widely as ISIS – the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria – as well as wanting to blow up his daughter’s day care center and bomb the Los Angeles subway system in an alleged effort to spark a civil war and topple the U.S. government.

Teausant, an Acampo resident and California National Guard washout, was arrested in March 2014 as he was riding an Amtrak bus headed over the Canadian border from Washington state, part of what the FBI says was his effort to get to Syria.

He has been in custody ever since and has been placed on antipsychotic medication, with legal wrangling over his mental state delaying progress in the case. Last December, U.S. District Judge John A. Mendez found reasonable cause to believe Teausant was mentally incompetent to understand the nature of the charge he faced or to assist his public defenders.

He was shipped from the jail in Sacramento to the federal Bureau of Prisons’ Metropolitan Detention Center in Los Angeles for psychiatric examination. Doctors there began treating him with a new medicine that court papers say has improved his mental state and allowed him to be returned to Sacramento’s jail in April and placed in the general population rather than in isolation.

Teausant had complained about his previous placement in isolation in the jail, and conducted two interviews with The Sacramento Bee in August 2014 in which he insisted he posed no threat to the United States.

“I have to talk to somebody,” he said at the time. “I’m tired of seeing myself portrayed as a crazy terrorist who wants to kill Americans.”

Teausant was diagnosed with schizophrenia in the jail in December and placed on medication, but since his evaluation in Los Angeles and the change in medication his mental state has improved, his lawyers say.

“In the months since his return to Sacramento, the defense team has met with Mr. Teausant on numerous occasions and has observed a marked improvement in his ability to understand the nature and consequences of the proceedings against him and to assist properly in his defense,” his lawyers wrote in court documents filed in U.S. District Court on Aug. 3.

Following that filing, the judge signed an order last week finding Teausant mentally competent. A status conference in the case is set for Sept. 15.

Teausant, a former community college student who has no employment history or even a driver’s license, has said he first became interested in Islam when he met a Muslim woman who would only date fellow Muslims. He subsequently converted to Islam.

Since the rise of the Islamic State as a terrorist group, the FBI has estimated that up to 200 Americans have tried to travel overseas to join with the group’s fighters. Teausant was one of the earliest to be arrested. He faces up to 15 years in prison if convicted.

Evidence in the case includes “many thousands of pages” of documents, including “a significant amount of classified” information, court documents state, but there is no guarantee the case will go to trial.

“Over the past several months, the parties have had several informal discussions regarding the resolution of this case,” lawyers for both sides said in a document filed in court last week. “More recently, the parties have begin holding formal conferences in an effort to reach a negotiated disposition ...”

Both sides met twice in June in sessions that included an attorney from the Justice Department’s national security division, according to court papers.

“Both of these meetings were productive,” the court document states. “Although all parties continue exploring all potential avenues of litigation, a negotiated resolution appears to be attainable.”