Charges dropped against Leonard again

"It's increasingly likely that Ralph F. Leonard won't slip through the cracks of the civil and criminal justice systems a second time.So say county officials, despite the fact that 13 felony charges, including attempted murder, against the 62 year-old Leonard were dropped last Friday in Kitsap County Superior Court."

  • Sunday, February 6, 2000 8:00pm
  • News

“It’s increasingly likely that Ralph F. Leonard won’t slip through the cracks of the civil and criminal justice systems a second time.So say county officials, despite the fact that 13 felony charges, including attempted murder, against the 62 year-old Leonard were dropped last Friday in Kitsap County Superior Court. The action came after Judge Jay Roof agreed Thursday – for the second time in the past five months – that the former Eagle Harbor liveaboard was not competent to stand trial in connection with an armed standoff with Bainbridge police in 1998. That incident resulted in a police officer being grazed by a blast from Leonard’s shotgun.The case gained a small measure of infamy as a Catch-22 situation in the county criminal justice system, casting a spotlight on the question: How can a suspect be judged mentally incompetent to stand trial for violent crimes, yet of sufficient mental health to re-enter society?Last week, just as he did last August, Roof ordered that Leonard be held in custody as he undergoes evaluation toward possible civil commitment that could keep him behind institutional doors for the rest of his life.But all involved seem confident that the case will soon see closure.We feel good about it this time, Bainbridge Police Chief Bill Cooper said. Russ Hauge went out on a limb to make this right. His people made mistakes, and it would seem that those mistakes have finally been corrected.In the first round of court proceedings, the secrecy-shrouded civil commitment process freed Leonard, whose apparent mental deterioration and malice toward law enforcement was documented by state psychologists.This time, however, there’s a key difference. Instead of being evaluated by Kitsap Mental Health professionals who may not have been apprised of key facts about the case last year, Leonard will be evaluated by officials at Western State Hospital in Tacoma. Instead of being represented by the county prosecutor, the evaluations will now be overseen by the state attorney general’s office.They’re the same officials who issued a series of detailed psychological profiles of Leonard last year while he was awaiting a date in criminal court. They’re also the same officials who, in their most recent evaluation, offered the opinion that both the patient and the public would best benefit from his continued hospitalization.Dr. Trish Sowards, a licensed psychologist at Western State who performed three separate evaluations on Leonard last year, completed her latest study of him earlier this month and issued her report to the court on Jan. 10.As I noted in my prior letters to the court, Mr. Leonard has not had any difficulty controlling his behavior while hospitalized, Sowards wrote. It would therefore appear that in structured circumstances, when medicated, without the use of alcohol, and around people regarding whom he is not paranoid, Mr. Leonard does not appear to be (at) a higher than average risk of assaultive behavior.The report was greet soberly on both sides of the courtroom aisle.I think they’re taking things a little more seriously this time, said Tim Kelly, the Port Orchard public defender who has represented Leonard for more than a year. I don’t know what the future holds for Ralph, but I’m sure he’s going to get a little closer attention than he did before.They won’t make the same mistakes twice.Added Kevin Andy Anderson, the deputy prosecuting attorney handling the Leonard case: We certainly hope there’ll be a different outcome, for everyone’s sake. As a procedural matter, Western State is far better suited to evaluate and take care of someone with Mr. Leonard’s problems.Several parties say the move can be chalked up as a save for the prosecutor’s office after it was accused of fumbling the case last fall – resulting in the release of a convicted felon less than a year after, by his own declaration during an evaluation, he nearly took the life of Bainbridge Lt. Scott Weiss’ life in the Blakely Harbor shootout.I had a real frank discussion with (prosecutor) Russ Hauge, Kelly said. Out of that, it was clear that there were some mistakes made and some (behind)-chewing that occurred.Kelly said his understanding is that Leonard, once charges were dropped in August following Roof’s finding of his incompetency to stand trial, was released through a combination of two factors.For one, Kelly said, Kitsap Mental Health professionals may not have been given the information they needed to make a competent evaluation of Leonard’s suitability for civil commitmentAlso, attorney Joanna Case, who represented Leonard in the civil process, successfully argued that Leonard might have acted in self-defense during the November 1998 confrontation with police, he added.We thought of pleading self-defense (during the criminal proceedings), because Ralph genuinely thought the police were coming to kill him, Kelly said. From Kelly’s viewpoint, Hauge’s office erred once more when it gave in to pressure from Bainbridge police and members of the public last November and refiled the charges against his client. Leonard, who had been released in September, had returned to his boats and moved them back to Eagle Harbor. No new criminal complaints had been lodged against Leonard during his two months of freedom.I kept asking, how many times is this going to happen? Kelly said. My opinion is that they had two chances – in the civil and the criminal arena – and they couldn’t make their case.Anderson said, however, that because the charges against Leonard had been dismissed without prejudice – meaning they could refiled – the prosecutor’s office merely exercised its legal prerogative.Leonard was rearrested Dec. 16 – ironically enough, after voluntarily appearing at the Bainbridge police station to reclaim a chainsaw seized during his 1998 arrest – and was charged with 13 felony counts.Besides attempted murder, they included first- and second-degree assault charges, all with firearm sentence enhancements because he was a previously convicted felon illegally in possession of a gun.He wound his way through the criminal process in much the same way he had before, with substantially similar psychological reports accompanying his shuttling between the Kitsap County Jail and Western State.He appears to feel quite justified in his past alleged behavior with regard to the alleged offense, and I could reasonably presume that he would act in a similar manner if (he) felt threatened by law enforcement in the future, Sowards wrote. Because of state laws that protect the privacy of those going through the civil commitment process, there’s no word on when a hearing on Leonard’s fate will take place.”

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