By Jeremy Schwartz
Peninsula Daily News
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The evaluation, completed in Port Angeles by doctors from Western State Hospital, concluded that Barry A. Swegle, 51, lacks the mental capacity to understand the nature of the proceedings against him and cannot assist in his own defense.
Swegle still could face a jury trial if the Clallam County Superior Court judge in the case, George L. Wood, determines Swegle's competency has been restored after mental treatment at Western State Hospital in Lakewood.
Wood ordered Friday that Swegle begin the treatment.
“He's not competent to assist in his defense right now because of his perspective on the evidence,” said Port Angeles lawyer Karen Unger, Swegle's retained attorney.
Swegle was last set to go to trial Sept. 24, but the date was indefinitely pushed backed following concerns Unger had about his mental state.
She said Friday that no further court rulings, including setting a new trial date, can be made until Swegle's competency can be restored.
Psychiatrists from Western State and Dr. Brian Grant of the University of Washington, hired by Unger, already had determined Swegle was suffering from diminished mental capacity when he allegedly used a bulldozer he owned to destroy multiple homes and pieces of property along a residential street in Gales Addition on May 10.
Swegle has remained in the Clallam County jail on $1 million bail since the incident.
Unger could not estimate Friday when exactly Swegle will be sent to Western State Hospital.
Swegle allegedly destroyed or damaged four homes, multiple outbuildings, a tractor, a boat, a pickup truck and a power pole.
He is charged with one count of first-degree assault with a deadly weapon and four counts each of first-degree malicious mischief and first-degree burglary with a deadly weapon — “to wit, a bulldozer.”
John Troberg, the Clallam County deputy prosecuting attorney assigned to the case, filed a motion Sept. 19 to change the charges to seven counts of first-degree malicious mischief, three counts of reckless endangerment and two counts of residential burglary-aggravated circumstances.
No court decision on the motion to amend has been made.
During Friday's hearing, Unger said she would not object to treatment as long as Swegle is not involuntarily medicated.
“They're going to try to restore his competency without that requirement,” she said.
The treatment is expected to last an estimated 90 days, according to the order filed in Superior Court, and will produce a report detailing Swegle's mental condition, an opinion on if mental capacity has been restored and, if not, what more could be done to restore capacity.
Dr. Brian Waiblinger, Western State Hospital medical director, said Friday that treatment regiments differ per patient but generally include interactive classes and mental health discussion groups combined with medication offered to the patient on a voluntary basis.
“All of them, along with medication, are important for the restoration process,” Waiblinger said.
He said the patient could refuse medication, but the hospital's treatment team then likely would tell the court mental competency cannot be restored without medication.
“Only the courts can allow compelled medication,” Waiblinger said.
He said only the court can determine if a given patient is competent to stand trial.
The hospital's treatment team can only assess a patient's capacity to understand the legal proceedings involved and offer their opinion to the court once treatment has been completed, he added.
“Once [the patient] is physiologically stable enough and in our opinion they have capacity, we return them to the court to make a decision on their competency,” Waiblinger said.
A court hearing to review the status of Swegle's competency restoration has been set for Jan. 14.
Reporter Jeremy Schwartz can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 5074, or at firstname.lastname@example.org.