Mental health hold keeping man in jail longer than sentence, lawyer says

GASTONIA, N.C. — Dillon Ledford isn’t mentally fit to stand trial, but his lawyer says that’s what’s keeping him in jail and not the actual alleged crime.

Attorneys tell us they’re seeing cases like this often, when people who should be in a mental health facility are in jail instead.

On Thursday, Channel 9′s Gaston County Reporter Ken Lemon was in court as Ledford’s attorney made a last-ditch effort to get him out.

Veronika Monteleone, his attorney, said in a perfect world, he would be getting professional help in a facility. Instead, he’s still in jail, refusing to take medication or get help, and exhibiting some of the same issues that landed him in jail.

So in court, Monteleone stood before a judge with a request for dismissal. She knew it was a long shot.

“I was at a loss as to what else I can do,” Monteleone told Lemon.

She says it appears that Ledford thought he was saving lives when he called 911 last June, claiming there was a bomb at Bessemer City High School.

Four months ago, prosecutors and the defense had Ledford evaluated and decided he isn’t mentally ready for trial. The state hospital hasn’t had a bed for him, however, and he’s refused treatment in jail. He does have a right to refuse treatment.

The prosecutor in the case has said they can’t just let him out of jail, and the judge agreed.

“This is a grave concern for the state because we not only have to protect him, we have to protect our citizens,” said prosecutor Stephanie Hamlin.

Ledford’s attorney says if he didn’t have these issues, he would’ve been sentenced for the alleged bomb threat long ago.

“If he was found guilty and given the worst sentence he could for his record, he would already be out of prison,” Monteleone said.

The law says that Ledford can be held in jail for 39 months without it being considered a violation of his rights.

“He could be held for the max amount of time as though he had the worst record possible for the crime that he is charged with,” said Monteleone.

Monteleone told Lemon she can’t say if the blame lies with the courts, the overcrowded mental health facilities, or the jail. She just feels that it’s not right.

“We can’t just forget about these people, and that’s what’s happening,” Monteleone said.

She said Ledford’s case is dramatic, but everyone in the public defender’s office is dealing with mental health cases daily. Many of those cases are waiting for beds or mental health evaluations that slow the justice process.

Ledford’s mental health evaluations say that he could eventually be declared fit to stand trial after treatment, the judge in the case said.

There is help available for those with mental health concerns, and Channel 9 has a county-by-county resource guide available at this link.

(WATCH: Charlotte woman works to expand access to mental health resources)