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Hugh Jackson: Mr. Brooks goes to Barstow

<p>Hugh Jackson</p>

Hugh Jackson

There’s no way to know what might happen to Steven Brooks between the time this is written and the time it is published.

But we know a lot about what happened to the former state assemblyman in the months leading up to his arrest last week following a high-speed chase near Barstow.

In recent months, the Brooks saga featured two arrests, medical examinations, firearms, alleged threats and a multitude of disjointed statements, perplexing movements and bizarre appearances — and nonappearances.

Along the way, those involved with Brooks in one manner or another included council members and administrators for the city of Las Vegas (his former employer), medical professionals, lawyers — including one who was at least supposed to be working on Brooks’s behalf — the Clark County district attorney’s office, the state attorney general’s office, attorneys and administrators with the Legislative Counsel Bureau, a select committee of the state Assembly tasked with investigating Brooks’s behavior, and the full Nevada Assembly, which of course voted last week to expel Brooks from their ranks, in part due to a determination that he posed a danger to his former assembly colleagues.

Yet while politicians felt Brooks was such a threat that he needed to be expelled from their ranks, the collective wisdom of all that aforementioned officialdom could not determine that Brooks posed a danger to the community at large — or to himself — at least not to a degree that warranted taking him off the streets and assuring that he got the help he so obviously needs.

Media coverage, meantime, was fairly intense by area standards — if not with respect to how Nevada’s legal, social and mental health capacities were serving or not serving Brooks, then certainly with an urgent curiosity regarding what — Oh dear! What? – Nevada lawmakers would do. Apart from the systemic failure to reverse an individual’s fully public, uncontrolled, downward spiral, the policy ramifications of Brooks’s legislative fate were negligible at best. The Brooks story wasn’t political as much as it was prurient, the legislative news equivalent of a crash on the freeway: interesting to look at, relatively simple to understand and of no consequence to 99.9 percent of the population.

When the Assembly inevitably ousted Brooks, the media dutifully described it as “historic,” which it is in the sense that it had never happened before. But Brooks’ expulsion was not the equivalent of, say, an elected official stripped of his office after abusing power in a scandalous and deliberate assault on the public good. The Assembly’s action was not a watershed moment marking some significant moment in Nevada’s development destined to shape the state’s future. It was an oddity, a curiosity.

And then, in an act of almost inconceivable convenience for official Nevada, Brooks is California’s problem now.

That’s in keeping with one high-profile Nevada approach to mental health care: Hope the patient goes away.

A few weeks ago California officials accused Nevada of “patient dumping,” after Nevada state mental health officials acknowledged they discharged a patient from the Rawson-Neal Psychiatric Hospital in Las Vegas and put him on a Greyhound with three days’ worth of medication and ticket to Sacramento.

Nevada officials later acknowledged that 99 mental patients have been bused to California since July. “Given California’s experience,” the Sacramento Bee wrote in a recent editorial, “authorities in Arizona, Utah and other neighboring states ought to be aware of Nevada’s proclivities.”

Californians wondering why Brooks is locked up in Rancho Cucamonga instead of getting treatment in Nevada might conclude that this is just Nevada’s newest method of dumping patients across the border, and who could blame them?

As I mused on TV last week, when Steven Brooks appears before a California judge (he was scheduled to appear Tuesday), the judge could be tempted to order Brooks placed on a Greyhound with a ticket to Carson City.

As California authorities learn more about who Steven Brooks is, they will not only wonder at Nevada’s failure to get Brooks the attention — both legal and medical — that he needs. They’ll also realize they can’t just put him on a bus … well, not without a law-enforcement escort to assure that Brooks would stay on the bus all the way to the Nevada state line.

Since Brooks’s arrest and detention in California, there have been expressions of relief here in Nevada. At least Brooks is not on the streets, for now. That’s understandable.

But Nevada, especially official Nevada, which is no doubt hoping that California authorities detain Brooks for, well, a good long while, should not just feel relieved. Nevada should also feel humiliated. An investigative report by a special select Assembly committee wasn’t needed to know that the wheels had come off, that Brooks was a wildly unstable, deeply troubled man and a potential threat to his community, his colleagues, his family and himself. Official Nevada knew that in January, and certainly by February, when Brooks was arrested for allegedly abusing his wife, an arrest Brooks resisted by fighting with police. A few weeks later he was trying to buy a rifle, night-vision goggles and a bulletproof vest? Christ on a cracker.

A California judge is not going to give Brooks a bus ticket to Carson City, of course. But for the public’s sake, and for Brooks’ too, hopefully California will give Brooks something his own state didn’t: help.

HUGH JACKSON co-hosts The Agenda on KSNV Channel 3, and blogs at The Las Vegas Gleaner.