By Bianca Macias
A ferocious crowd banged on the doors of the Riverside County District Attorney’s Office Building, demanding solace for who demonstrators say is a disabled inmate.
Protestors arrived in downtown Riverside on April 22 to call for the transfer of Darik Schaaf , a 28-year-old Black man, into a mental health diversion program. Schaaf was arrested by Riverside County Sheriff’s deputies in March of 2019 in Rancho Mirage.
In an email, John Hall, the DA Office’s public information officer, said Schaaf is being charged in a domestic violence case with six felonies, including torture and kidnapping.
Schaaf’s mother, Karrie Schaaf, the alleged victim, said her son was at the peak of a mental health crisis Feb. 25, 2019, a few days before he was taken into custody. She said he told her it “was going to be over soon” and went into his bedroom with a firearm, planning to take his own life.
“He wasn’t intending to hurt anybody but himself,” she said.
But court documents provided by Hall show that in an interview with police after her son had been arrested, Karrie Schaaf recalled several instances of both physical and verbal abuse at the hands of her son.
According to the documents, Darik Schaaf did not deny much of the abuse recounted by his mother and blamed several incidents on her behavior and controlling personality.
Karrie Schaaf claims that she was in a state of psychosis during her interview with police.
“They took advantage of my trauma and my own mental state to build a case against my son,” she said.
Karrie Schaaf said she refrained from calling 911 after the incident which she said led to her son’s arrest out of fear that police would kill him on arrival. She said she knew her son’s intentions with the gun were suicidal and she instead rushed to the emergency room and pleaded for help.
But she said her trip to the emergency room resulted in little hope after police arrived at her door a few days later on March 1, 2019 to take Darik Schaaf into custody.
“Their decision to not help my son and provide him the mental health care he deserved and desperately needed has turned our lives upside down and further traumatized him,” Karrie Schaaf said. “He has still not received mental health care or treatment. He should have been placed on a 51/50 and I should have been too.”
According to Hall, the DA’s Office files the charges supported by the evidence in each individual case that it believes it can prove beyond a reasonable doubt to a jury.
“In this case, defendant Schaaf — should he be found guilty as currently charged — could face a potential sentence ranging from 10 years in prison to life in prison,” Hall said.
The defense asked Judge Dean Benjamini during a Sept. 5, 2019 court appearance to make a determination whether or not Darik Schaaf was eligible for mental health diversion. Benjamini ruled that the defendant appeared to be eligible and set a diversion conference hearing.
But on June 18, 2020, after reviewing the defense’s request, the DA Office’s opposition to mental health diversion and the proposed treatment plan, Benjamini denied the defense’s request and ruled that Darik Schaaf was not eligible for mental health diversion.
“Part of why we opposed mental health diversion was due to the severity and duration of the crimes charged,” Hall said.
The court documents show the DA’s Office argued, after reading Darik Schaaf’s statement, that it did not appear he was suffering from mental illness or delusions at the time of his arrest.
“I’ve seen how many people misunderstand our actions,” said protester Cameryn Steinline.
Steinline said they have been on the autism spectrum for years and have seen the pain people with mental health issues suffer.
“I want us to continue this fight for mental health and to ensure that Darik Schaaf is going to make it out safe,” Steinline said.
Demonstrators shouted on the steps of the DA’s Office Building, advocating for the de-stigmatization of mental illness, an increase in the quality of intervention systems and more preventative services.
Mary Valdemar, a representative of the Chicano Indigenous Community for Culturally Conscious Advocacy and Action, said the current mental health system is not working.
“Mental health folks are being criminalized because the mental health system is broken,” she said. “There’s not enough beds for those who need mental health services. We don’t need more police on our streets, we need more mental health services … that prevent folks from getting in jail.”
Karrie Schaaf said she will continue to seek her son’s transfer to a mental health program.
“I have to do all I can to fight for justice for my son,” she said. “Then I need to ensure others experiencing mental health crises get the care and ongoing medical care they deserve.”
Darik Schaaf’s next court date is set for May 4.