Crime - Sacto 911

Lodi-area man charged with trying to join Islamic State may be mentally ill

Terror suspect Nicholas Teausant, speaking to Sacramento Bee reporter Sam Stanton at the Sacramento County Jail on Aug. 26,  will be evaluated to see if he is mentally competent to stand trial.
Terror suspect Nicholas Teausant, speaking to Sacramento Bee reporter Sam Stanton at the Sacramento County Jail on Aug. 26, will be evaluated to see if he is mentally competent to stand trial.

Indicted terror suspect Nicholas Teausant may be schizophrenic and will be sent to a federal medical facility to evaluate his mental state to determine whether he is competent to stand trial.

Teausant, the 21-year-old Lodi-area man arrested in March as he allegedly tried to cross into Canada as part of a plan to join up with the Islamic State terror group fighting in Syria and Iraq, made a brief appearance in federal court today in Sacramento as lawyers mulled whether he understands the case against him.

“The main issue is the psychiatric question,” Assistant Federal Defender Benjamin Galloway said after the court session.

Galloway said in court that he expects a mental evaluation of his client to be completed by the end of the week and that preliminary indications are that Teausant is schizophrenic.

He added that he is concerned Teausant may not be able to understand the charges he faces and cannot assist in his own defense, and asked that Teausant be sent to a federal facility where psychiatric experts will evaluate whether he is competent to assist in his defense.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Jean Hobler said in court that prosecutors are taking no position on whether Teausant is mentally ill. She added, however, the indications thus far might prompt “a reasonable person to question” his mental health.

A status conference was set for Feb. 24 to allow time for the next evaluation.

Teausant, a convert to Islam who lived in Acampo, near Lodi, has pleaded not guilty to a count of providing material support to a foreign terrorist group, a charge that could net him 15 years in prison and a $250,000 fine.

He has been portrayed in court papers filed by prosecutors as a willing participant in a plot to join the Islamic State, which has lured thousands of Western and foreign fighters to its battle to establish a dominant Islamic presence in the region and has employed ruthless tactics that include videotaped beheadings of U.S. journalists and American and British aid workers.

It was a much more obscure organization in March when Teausant was arrested while a passenger on an Amtrak bus approaching the Canadian border near Blaine, Wash. Its tactics and success at conquering parts of Iraq have since drawn worldwide attention and drawn the United States into air attacks on its forces.

Court documents describe Teausant as boasting of wanting to bomb the Los Angeles subway system, blow up his infant daughter’s day-care center, train fighters in Syria and kill his mother “if I needed to” to carry out his plans.

But his lawyers have questioned Teausant’s grip on reality. After entering the county’s main jail in downtown Sacramento on a no-bail court order, he was diagnosed with schizophrenia and placed on antipsychotic medication.

Galloway said his client is kept in his cell at the jail for 23 hours a day and is allowed no contact with other inmates, and the defense lawyer is trying to have him moved to a facility where the conditions would not be so harsh. Galloway expressed concern that the present conditions, which he compared to “administrative segregation,” the term for isolation in a prison setting, will cause Teausant’s mental health to deteriorate even more.

Teausant himself conceded in interviews with The Sacramento Bee in August that he is suffering from stress as a result of his situation and that the medication helps only some of the time.

“It’s kind of surreal, the way it is at times,” he said in an interview at the jail. “I’m kind of like a cracked egg, and I can’t cope with all the pressure and everything.

“And at times I understand what I’m going through and have to be level-headed about it.”

He also insisted he posed no threat to anyone and wanted to go home, “back to my books and my daughter and my family.”

The chances of that happening anytime soon are remote. Although he nearly won release on bail last May on conditions that would have left him under house arrest at the home of his grandparents, prosecutors convinced U.S. District Judge John A. Mendez to reverse that decision by a U.S. magistrate judge, successfully arguing that Teausant is too great a risk to be released.

Further complicating the prosecution is a wealth of classified information pertinent to the matter that has been collected by the federal government and continues to come in. Two of Teausant’s attorneys, as well as a paralegal and investigator for the defense team, have had to undergo rigorous background checks in order to obtain the security clearances necessary to receive the information.

Members of the defense team have had to sign memorandums noting that they understand they may have access to information that could “cause serious damage, and in some cases exceptionally grave damage, to the national security of the United States” and promising to “never divulge” the secrets.

Call The Bee’s Sam Stanton, (916) 321-1091.