The Orange-Osceola Attorney General sets up a mental health unit

ORANGE COUNTY, Fla. Kevin Christopher Torres killed three people on Tuesday, according to Sheriff Marcos Lopez of Osceola County. Torres also has a history of mental illness, the sheriff said.

Mental illness in the criminal justice system is a long-standing problem, according to Orange-Osceola State Attorney Monique Worrell.

Worrell would not talk about Torres’ case, but said she set up a new unit to deal with defendants with mental illness earlier this year.

“Our criminal justice system cannot deal with mental illness. It is not equipped to deal with mental illness,” Worrell said.

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When Worrell was sworn in to office, one of the first problems she became aware of was the backlog of criminal cases involving defendants with mental illness and jurisdiction to stand trial, she said.

“It’s not uncommon for a person to come into the system and they have several different cases in several different courtrooms that are handled by several different assistant state attorneys,” Worrell said. “So someone may have been deemed incompetent in one courtroom but not in another.”

Take 35-year-old Armando Montalvo. He livestreamed himself running from deputies with the Orange County Sheriffs Office in June 2020 before being arrested.

Montalvo went in prison. It was his seventh arrest in seven years, and in all previous cases, doctors found he was incompetent to appear in court, and he was released, according to court records.

News 6 found out that Montalvo is competent to stand trial for his latest arrest.

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“Sometimes these doctors will tell us that this person is or is not a danger to society,” Worrell said. “Typically, they are not a danger to society and they are incompetent to stand trial, we have no authority to detain them or hold them in custody.”

To solve the problem, Worrell has set up a mental health unit in the public prosecutor’s office and hired Joanna Sandstrom as its director.

Sandstrom started in the office last month and will monitor all cases with defendants with a history of mental illness, according to Worrell.

“In the few weeks she’s been here, lawyers have constantly encouraged her to take a stand on special situations dealing with people dealing with mental health issues,” Worrell said.

It is the first step in tackling an ongoing problem.

“I will take the necessary precautions in my office to ensure that we can bring programs to our community that will help meet the needs of individuals suffering from mental illness,” Worrell said.

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