Monday, July 27, 2009

Eric Searles - Repeat Sex Offender - Civilly Committed

Law enforcement isn't alone in wanting Searles in custody, in treatment and under supervision. His father and brother, who were unaware of Searles's commitment, said they support the idea.

Despite a record of sexual assaults and other offenses, Eric Searles has managed to avoid jail time for some of those crimes because he has been deemed incompetent to stand trial. But he's free no longer.
A probate court judge has involuntarily committed Searles to a psychiatric hospital for treatment, according to court records.
Hillsborough County prosecutor Michael Valentine initiated Searles's commitment this month after witnessing Searles cycle through the courts with no consequences and no treatment.

"Even after he has been found incompetent and released, he has committed additional offenses, some of which are potentially serious sex offenses," Valentine said. "While (Searles) may not be competent to stand trial, he's not safe to be at liberty."

On July 14, Hillsborough County Probate Court Judge Christina O'Neill granted Valentine's request and ordered Searles be held at the secure psychiatric unit inside the state prison for up to five years. She did so after two doctors found his mental illness made him dangerous, court records said.
Searles, 47 and homeless, sexually assaulted one woman in a Concord coin laundry in January 2008, according to court records. He did so, the records said, while on bail for raping a woman in Hooksett whom he'd met at a homeless shelter.
And shortly before the Hooksett arrest, Searles had been found incompetent in Hillsborough County Superior Court on a charge of failing to register as a sex offender.
Court records show that Searles denies criminal responsibility for the sexual assaults, fails to understand his need for treatment, and suffers from paranoia and delusional thinking.
"His insight and judgment are clearly severely impaired due to his psychosis," wrote Dr. Timothy Breitholtz after evaluating Searles for the court.

But it's unlikely Searles will remain committed for the entire five years. Patients are released on a conditional discharge once medical staff believe they are well enough to return to society.

Upon release they must remain on their medication and meet regularly with a case worker or counselor, but they are not under close daily supervision.

In an interview this month, Dr. Alexander de Nesnera, associate medical director for the state hospital, said only 5 percent of the people involuntarily committed to the hospital stay the full five years. The average stay is 10 days, he said. The stays can be longer at the secure psychiatric unit, where Searles is being held.
Law enforcement isn't alone in wanting Searles in custody, in treatment and under supervision. His father and brother, who were unaware of Searles's commitment, said they support the idea.
"We've all tried to help him," said Tom Searles of Manchester, Searles's oldest brother. "Everybody is burned out trying to help him. I only wish the best for my brother. He's in a place where he needs to be right now."

Searles's father, 82-year-old Gordon Searles of Manchester, stopped talking with his son more than 10 years ago because of Eric Searles's criminal activities. Like Tom Searles, Gordon Searles said he encouraged his son to get help for years.

"He's been in and out of jail so many times," Gordon Searles said. "He's never learned."

Eric Searles grew up in Manchester, the youngest of Gordon and Norma Searles's six children. Gordon Searles said his youngest son showed no signs of troubling behavior. After high school, Searles joined the Army, following the lead of his father and older brothers.

Tom Searles said Eric Searles was stabbed near the heart and nearly died during assignment to Fort Benning in Georgia in the 1980s. He said he didn't know the circumstances and still isn't sure whether his brother was given an honorable or dishonorable discharge. But he came home a different person, he said.

"He wasn't right ever since he came home from the service," Tom Searles said. He abused drugs and alcohol, Tom Searles said, and refused to get treatment.

Immediately after his discharge, Eric Searles stayed with his parents in Manchester while he looked for a place to live, Gordon Searles said. A $30,000 coin collection the couple had inherited from Norma Searles's father went missing. Gordon Searles said he's always believed his son stole it and spent much of it on drugs.
Eric Searles eventually married and had a son. When his son was still a baby, Searles, then 27, sexually assaulted a 14-year-old girl in Vermont, according to court records. He and two other men met the girl and invited her to join them at a party. Searles and one of the men drove the girl to a dam, where both forced her to have sex with them, court records said.
A jury convicted Searles of sexual assault, and he was sentenced to 6 to 10 years in prison. He was paroled in 1995 with a requirement that he register as a sex offender for life.

It was in Vermont that Gordon Searles last spoke to his son at any length. When his wife died in 2002, his son was in jail or prison, Gordon Searles said. He was escorted to his mother's burial site by corrections staff - after everyone else in the family had paid their respects and left, Gordon Searles said.

Eric Searles and his wife tried to patch things up after his release from the Vermont prison, Tom Searles said. The couple had another child, but as the marriage fell apart, Eric Searles's behavior became worse, his brother said.

In the last several years, court records suggest, Eric Searles's criminal behavior has escalated. He was arrested in 2005 in Hillsborough County for failing to register as a sex offender.

He was released on bail after his attorney questioned Searles's competency to stand trial. While on bail, Searles was also charged by the Bedford police for failing to register, according to court records.
Searles was found incompetent to stand trial and released. A suspect is determined incompetent to stand trial when his mental state makes it impossible for him to participate in his own defense.
Less than five months later, in November 2007, Searles was arrested and charged with raping the woman in Hooksett. He was released on bail after his attorney again raised the competency issue.

While on bail, Searles was charged by the Concord police in January 2008 with sexually assaulting the woman in the coin laundry. He was again found incompetent to stand trial but considered "restorable" if he received treatment. But the treatment was not mandated or provided by the court, and it appears from court records that Searles didn't get help.

By August 2008, courts with cases against Searles had dismissed their charges against him because he'd been found incompetent. In January of this year, Searles was arrested again, this time in Gilford, and charged with failing to register. In April, a doctor again found Searles not competent to stand trial.

It was then that Valentine decided to ask his county's probate court to commit Searles involuntarily to the secure psychiatric unit.

Valentine said if Searles is "restored" to competency through medication and treatment, he and other prosecutors can refile their charges against him, as long as the statute of limitations has not expired.

"If not," Valentine said, "our charges will get dismissed, and he will be dealt with in the mental health system."
Tom Searles is concerned about what happens when his brother is released. His family no longer trusts him, and he's lost his relationships with his children and ex-wife, Tom Searles said.
"They cannot release him without parole or supervision and requirement that he attend (substance abuse) meetings," he said. "He makes bad decisions.

"The best thing that could happen is that he gets released to a halfway house or something and has to work and stay in his (meeting) groups," Tom Searles said. "He needs that support if he's ever going to get better. If they are not competent, you can't just let them go. He's a danger to society."

"25% of all sex offenders re-offend within 15 years"
.........Sarah Tofte

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