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San Bernardino County therapists allegedly fail to report bloody evidence found at home for mentally ill felons

January 28, 2010 |  7:00 am

San Bernardino County officials said today that they are making changes at the Department of Behavioral Health after three county therapists failed to report a bloodied knife and pair of jeans to law enforcement officials at the site of a fatal stabbing

The three therapists arrived in the middle of the day Jan. 8 to look for evidence of drug use at an independent living home in the 300 block of South Bixby Way in Upland for seven mentally ill felons, according to the San Bernardino County district attorney’s office.

The therapists found a blood-encrusted knife and blood-soaked jeans, but did not immediately report the evidence to police, said officials at the Upland Police Department. It was unclear why the therapists did not report the evidence.

About 2 p.m., another resident of the home reported that his car had been stolen, and police went to investigate. It was unclear if the therapists were still there when police arrived.

Nine hours later, a resident told police that the body of another resident, Chava Venegas Barrasa, had been found on the premises with multiple stab wounds.

At that point, detectives contacted the three therapists to find out what they knew. It was during the conversation that detectives learned of the unreported evidence, authorities.

The prime suspect in Barrasa's slaying is another housemate, Javier Robinson, who remained at large, police said.

The seven men who lived in the house were part of the state Department of Mental Health's Forensic Conditional Release Program, which primarily serves to rehabilitate men with severe mental illness who have committed violent offenses. The program is staffed by county workers, including the therapists.

San Bernardino County officials said the killing is the first in the program’s 25 years in San Bernardino and Riverside counties. But they acknowledged that the incident pointed to larger issues within the Department of Behavioral Health.

“The therapists never told management that we had seven people living under the same roof," said David Wert, a county spokesman. "And the management of the department believes that the therapists should have seen a problem with that.”

Department of Behavioral Health and police officials said they did not know the house was next to a school.

“If I’d have known there were seven people in one of those homes next to a school, obviously I’d have taken a different approach,” said Allan Rawland, director of the department.

Rawland said he is working with state Sen. Bob Dutton (R-Rancho Cucamonga) to create legislation that would allow local authorities to be notified when mentally ill felons in the conditional release program move into a neighborhood.

In the future, only two or three felons will be allowed to live together, Rawland said. Until the program in San Bernardino County is reviewed, it has stopped accepting referrals, he said.

Nancy Kincaid, a spokeswoman for the state Department of Mental Health, said she had heard of one or two violent incidents since the program was established in 1984. She said the program has a recidivism rate of less than 6%.

-- Amina Khan