The mental state of a Spokane County commission candidate is in question.
A week before filing for office Friday, civic gadfly David H. Elton was ordered by Spokane County Superior Court Judge Maryann Moreno to undergo mental evaluations to determine whether he’s competent to stand trial on harassment charges related to threatening e-mails sent last year to Spokane City Council President Joe Shogan and to Betsy Cowles, chairwoman of the Cowles Co., which owns The Spokesman-Review.
Elton’s trial, previously set to begin June 28, is on hold pending his mandatory mental health evaluation, Deputy Prosecutor Dale Nagy said.
“We’re just waiting for the report to come back,” Nagy said. “We thought it would be good for Eastern (State Hospital) to evaluate his competency.”
In court documents seeking the ordered mental evaluation, Nagy said Elton exhibits “signs of highly irrational behavior” and continues to write “disturbing e-mails” to court officials.
“He has appeared in other Spokane County Superior Court courtrooms, not during his scheduled hearings, and disrupted court proceedings, verbally confronted the judges, holding up containers and yelling ‘boom,’” Nagy wrote. “I have concerns that he may not be able to assist his attorney and he may have periods where he does not understand the proceedings against him.”
Elton, 44, called the claim about yelling “boom” in court “a complete lie” and said he caused only one slight disturbance in court when he left during testimony.
“Obviously, I’m hyperactive and I’m very sensitive to injustice,” Elton said.
He said he’s working with an organization that monitors judges and will continue observing their behavior.
“I’m going up to (Judge Tari Eitzen’s) courtroom in 10 minutes,” Elton said in a phone interview Tuesday afternoon. “I’m at the courthouse right now.”
Elton is a recognizable figure in local politics who has run for several elected positions over the years. He openly questions his mental health, describes himself as bipolar and is a longtime critic of many elected officials and the Cowles Co. His most recent public outburst occurred Monday afternoon when security officers at the Davenport Hotel ejected him from the downtown property.
Elton’s legal problems began in February 2009 when police obtained an e-mail in which Elton said he wanted “to murder” several people, including Shogan, Cowles and Elton’s ex-wife, Robin Stewart.
Elton also was suspected of threatening to kill Spokesman-Review Publisher Stacey Cowles, but that charge was dropped the day of his arrest after Stacey Cowles “expressed no fear or concern about Mr. Elton’s conduct,” according to court documents.
Elton has said the e-mails were a joke and that he would never hurt anyone. Spokane police Detective Corey Turman has testified that Elton said he wanted to provoke a lawsuit from the Cowles family so he could use the evidence process to obtain company records.
But Elton, who described himself as a “hyperactive political activist,” also claimed “he was not willing to commit a crime just to get them in court,” Turman said.
Elton is charged with three counts of felony harassment – threats to kill.
Moreno, who signed an order June 4 mandating Elton schedule a mental health exam by June 8, is the eighth judge assigned to Elton’s case. Elton has fired two attorneys, Mark Vovos and Rob Cossey, and “tried to fire a third,” Nagy said in court documents. Elton currently is represented by Mark Hodgson and Bevan Maxey.
Elton emphasized on Tuesday that the evaluation, which he said is scheduled for June 22, isn’t about his mental state but about whether he’s competent to assist his attorney.
He said “there’s absolutely no question” that he is.
Elton filed candidacy on Friday for the county commissioner seat for District 3. His opponents include incumbent Bonnie Mager, Jeff Holy, Al French and Steve Salvatori.Previous coverage: