…some shit is really pissing me off. And there’s something YOU can do about it.
[CONTENT NOTE: racist police, prosecutor, judicial and parole office malfeasance toward an innocent, mentally ill child, denial of care, unjust sentencing and imprisonment of a child, racist bullying, racist harassment and public violence against black people by other community members with no police action taken, sexual harassment, physical and sexual assault, self-harming…fuuuuuuuuck.]
The following is an email I received this morning from change.org.
Iris — 14-year-old Saraya Rees battles with mental illness. After being abruptly taken off her antidepressants by a local pediatrician, she suffered a mental health crisis. She poured gasoline on the living room carpet and her parents contacted Coos Health & Wellness for help. But the clinic called the police. Saraya was arrested and sentenced to 11 years in juvenile prison. Kelsey and more than 250,000 signers say this is inhumane. Add your name to demand that Saraya’s case be reopened and the charges reassessed.
Well that all sounded pretty fucked-up to me, but this was just a summary. Even before my morning coffee, it occurred to my sleepy, chemo-addled brain that there were pieces missing in this story, some of which could be enormously consequential and thus color the true picture, in one way or another. So rather than sign-now-with-a-click and move on in the direction of my coffee pot, I read the rest of the email. And readers? When those gaps were filled in, the picture became so much uglier and far more disturbing than anything I could have imagined.
[all emphasis in original]
JUSTICE FOR SARAYA REES
We demand justice for 14-year-old Saraya Rees in Myrtle Point, Oregon. Saraya is a child who battles with mental illness. She was abruptly and improperly taken off her antidepressants by a local pediatrician which triggered her to go into psychosis. In this delusional state, she poured a small amount of gasoline on the living room carpet during the early morning hours, as her parents and [younger] sister slept in the next rooms. Saraya’s parents contacted Coos Health & Wellness for assistance. Rather than sending trained mental health advisors, Coos Health & Wellness called the police. Saraya was then arrested, questioned without her parents or a lawyer present, charged with attempted murder and assault, and sentenced to 11 years in juvenile prison by Judge Megan Jacquot. Saraya remains incarcerated to this day with no mental health support and will be 25 years old when she is eligible for parole. This is not justice. This is inhumane.
We demand to have Saraya’s case reopened and charges reassessed. We demand to see Coos Health & Wellness take responsibility and ensure their thoughtless actions are never repeated. We demand to see the corrective steps taken from Coos County Deputy Spencer Bell and Myrtle Point Police Officer Aaron Gilbert to ensure this never happens to an innocent child again. We demand DAs Kate McClintock and Paul Frasier admit they were wrong to pressure Saraya into a false confession when she was 13 and ill, and drop the charges against her now. We demand the release of Saraya Rees from juvenile prison and that she receives the appropriate mental health treatment for her condition. Mental illness is not a crime. Being black is not a crime. We demand justice and accountability.
Saraya Rees is a bright, beautiful, 14-year-old girl from Coos County, Oregon, who was wrongly sentenced to 11 years in juvenile prison without the possibility of parole. She will be 25 years old when even eligible for parole, having missed out on the entirety of her formative teenage years.
With a documented history of mental health struggles, Saraya had also been regularly bullied at her school, Myrtle Point High, for being biracial. Her loving parents, Shannon & Manny, were advised she be put on anti-depressants and therapy after it was revealed that Saraya had been self-harming.
On July 8th, 2019, 3 days after being improperly taken off antidepressants cold-turkey by a pediatrician who was not Saraya’s regular doctor, 13-year old Saraya went into a manic state of psychosis at 4 am. It is not uncommon to experience delusions and hallucinations which distract from normal cognitive function during psychotic episodes that can last days or weeks at a time. In her manic state, Saraya poured a small amount of gasoline from a lawnmower onto her living room floor. Her dad woke up and found her sitting on the living room floor in a daze. As recommended by her doctor, in the event she showed signs of further self-harm, Saraya’s parents called the 24-Hour Crisis Team at Coos Health & Wellness Center who they expected to pick her up. Because it was the early hours of the morning, the Crisis Center elected to call the Myrtle Point Police and Coos County Sheriff’s Department instead who stormed their house, guns drawn, and handcuffed 95 lb Saraya in front of her parents and terrified 3-year-old sister.
Coos Health & Wellness claimed that Saraya was supposed to be transported to the Bay Area Hospital but they lost track of her, indicating in Saraya’s files that they “don’t know who called the police”, and that Myrtle Point decided they “didn’t need [Coos Health & Wellness] to respond at the time since they had enough to take her to Bay Area Hospital.”
Saraya was, however, taken to the police department where she was read her Miranda rights without a parent or attorney present and informed that she was under arrest. Still, at this time, Saraya was in severe, manic psychosis and stated she just “wanted to sleep”. Instead, she was questioned further, once again without a parent or attorney, and was coerced into making statements that were later used against her in court.
The DA determined that Shannon & Manny were “victims” of Saraya’s planned “arson and intent to murder” her parents and baby sister. The DA claimed she poured gasoline all over each of them and the house. This is false. In fact, she had poured gasoline on a small patch of carpet in the living room that was later removed and taken as evidence. Saraya maintains that she never intended on lighting a fire, and that the poured gas was a cry for help. She was a young, adolescent girl dealing with a mental illness. But because her parents (who never pressed charges) were considered “victims,” they were not allowed to see or speak to Saraya for 23 days while she was held at a detention center.
Saraya was assigned Criminal Defense Attorney Kate Dyer, who not only admitted to Saraya’s parents that this was “not her area of expertise,’’ but also advised Saraya that if she pleaded guilty, ADA Karen McClintock would reduce her charges from 5 counts of Arson in the first (without ever lighting a fire) and 3 counts of Attempted Homicide to 2 counts of Attempted Homicide in the first and 1 count of Attempted Assault (dropping the Arson charges). Saraya had been experiencing sexual harassment at the detention center and wanted out immediately to a safer environment. Kate advised a guilty plea so Saraya could avoid 3 more months of holding at a center that she was abused in waiting for a trial. As a result, Saraya, at 13 years of age, pleaded guilty to a crime she did not commit. She is now in juvenile prison instead of in a facility where she can get the help she needs. ADA Karen McClintock has been bombarded with calls from citizens across the country and is now hiding behind DA Paul Frasier.
District Attorney Paul Frasier told KEZI 9 News that they determined that Saraya had a mental illness, but she was still aware of what was right and what was wrong that night. However, from many of Saraya’s statements, she thought she was screaming for her parents’ help that night and they couldn’t hear her. She was delusional. Paul Frasier has doubled down on his comments, saying he will never reopen the case for Saraya. This is the same DA Paul Frasier whose son was convicted of rape of a 13-year-old girl in 2011 but never served a single day in jail for his crime, instead did 3 years or probation with the promise of an expunged record, all because his dad is the DA. This is the same DA who wrongfully imprisoned Nick McGuffin for 10 years for a crime he did not commit and was just released from prison in February of 2020. The Innocence project stepped in and proved the state did not disclose that they had found another man’s DNA on the evidence that the state tried to pin on Nick McGuffin. ABC 20/20 covered the story and DA Paul Frasier’s egregious mishandling of the case. This is the same DA who was sued by another deputy district attorney for wrongful termination and whistleblowing after Frasier tried to dissuade him from disclosing information about unlawful activity of another deputy district attorney. Paul Fraiser settled in this case.
Coos County and its surrounding communities have a history of deeply rooted racism. Currently, the town has written “NO N***** ZONE” on the fence of the most popular beach in town. Black men have been chased in the streets with rocks thrown at them with no help from the local police. Recently, a white 17-year-old boy in nearby Winchester County took an AR15 and shot up his own home after his mother took his cell phone away. He was only charged with Mischief. In another Coos County case, a white woman with mental health issues stabbed her mother to death and was charged with Murder in the Second Degree. However, instead of jail time, she was sent to receive treatment at a mental health facility in Salem, OR. Both of these offenders were white. So why is it that a mentally ill, 13-year-old biracial girl got sentenced to 11 years in prison for not even committing the crimes she was charged with?
In April, Saraya was told by her P.O. that she would consider an early release to a residential mental health facility but her parole officer, Diana Pedregon will not consider a transfer out of the prison until Saraya has “accepted accountability.” She wants Saraya to confess to a crime she didn’t commit. That’s her only way out. To lie. Why is this person who is supposed to advocate for her, refusing to hear her? Refusing to fight for her? The system has never considered Saraya’s psychosis to be part of the whole incident and case proceedings.
Saraya had never been in trouble with the law in her life. She has been a model inmate according to the staff at Oak Creek Correctional Facility (Where she is being held in Albany, OR) .OAK CREEK CORRECTIONAL FACILITY TESTED TWICE THE NATIONAL AVERAGE FOR SEXUAL ASSAULT IN THEIR FACILITY this year. This is where a mentally ill child is being held and experiencing sexual and physical abuse. Earlier this year, Saraya was physically abused by another inmate leaving her bloody and bruised. Saraya spent her 14th birthday in prison. She will be 15 on Sept 20th 2020.
Shannon and Manny have not been able to see their daughter since March of 2020 because of the Covid situation. They miss their daughter terribly and want her to get the proper help she DESERVES.
If even 10% of these facts are true – and I suspect closer to 100% of these facts are true* – an innocent, mentally ill, black girl is imprisoned, while the racist, unrepentant malefactors who put and keep her there are not. When I think about what #justiceforsarayarees would look like, at the very least their settings would be reversed. Unfortunately, we’ll have to wait for The Revolution™ for that to happen.
235 miles (378 km) to the north, my friend and FtB colleague Crip Dyke has been targeted with tear-gas, flash bangs and rubber bullets by Trump’s personal gestapo for existing at a protest against exactly this kind of brutal, systemic racial injustice.
So if you are willing and able, please sign this petition, and then share it as far and wide as your privilege and platform(s) allow.
*One fact, in fact, is almost certainly untrue for many people: “Sign now with a click.” Change.org already has my credentials and IP address, so I receive personalized links. If the same is not the case for you, you will likely need to enter your name, email address and location, and then you can “sign now with a click.” I sincerely hope you will.