Linda Valencia wants the man charged with murdering her son to be in jail. But four months after former Columbia police officer Steven Rios was put in protective custody, he is still in a mental health facility.
“I don’t think it’s fair that this man’s sitting in a mental hospital,” Valencia said. “I think he’s getting special treatment because he’s a cop.”
Rios is facing first-degree murder charges in the death of Valencia’s son, 23-year-old MU student Jesse Valencia, who was found with his throat slit on June 5. Rios was sent to the Biggs Forensic Center of Fulton State Hospital after he made two suicide threats.
Valencia began questioning whether Rios belongs in the facility after she first saw him at a preliminary hearing on Aug. 20. She said Rios looked at her and smiled.
“I do not think he belongs there because if you’re thinking about killing yourself, you’re not going to be that happy,” she said. “This man is literally joyous every time I have seen him.”
Valencia said she has contacted several people, including the prosecutor in the case, to find out what could be done to have Rios transferred to jail. She said that so far they have been unable to help her.
She said she plans to travel to the hospital next time she is in Missouri to see what it looks like from the outside.
“I want to see if it is anything like a jail or more like a hotel,” she said.
The decision whether to move Rios to the Boone County Jail ultimately rests in the hands of doctors and administrators at the Fulton State Hospital. Anthony Menditto, the facility’s chief operating officer, said he could not comment on Rios’ individual status because of patient confidentiality laws.
“I cannot even confirm or deny his presence at this facility,” Menditto said.
Menditto was able, however, to provide information on the hospital’s general procedures for treating patients who are awaiting trial. He said the hospital bases its decision whether to transfer patients on the opinions of the clinicians treating them.
“Typically, with any decision that’s made about someone being relocated from our facility, the initial recommendation would be made by the treatment team, based on the individual’s clinical status,” he said.
Treatment teams perform regular formal evaluations of all patients at the hospital to determine whether they still need to be there and to plan treatment, Menditto said. When first admitted, patients are evaluated every 30 days.
Jarrett Johnson, chairman of the Missouri Bar Association’s Criminal Law Committee, said whether Rios is in a mental hospital at the time of the trial will have little effect on the jury’s decision.
Rios was assigned a new judge for his trial last month. Circuit Judge Ellen Roper will preside over the trial, which is expected to take place late this year or early 2005.
Special prosecutor Morley Swingle and Rios’ public defenders, Valerie Leftwich and Stephen Richey, did not return messages left Friday. In the past, none of them has commented on Rios’ status in the mental hospital.