UPDATE: Case of accused Westview vandal sent to grand jury
Aaron Roden in court Thursday as his case was sent to the grand jury. WRCBtv.com photo
One of the classrooms at Westview allegedly vanalized by Roden. WRCBtv.com photo
Westview Elementary School. WRCBtv.com photo
CHATTANOOGA, TN (WRCB) -
UPDATE: The man charged with vandalizing Westview Elementary School in August had his charges bound over to the grand jury Thursday.
Aaron Roden, 22, is charged with vandalism, burglary and aggravated assault on police.
Roden had his preliminary hearing Thursday morning. Judge Gary Starnes read excerpts from the defendant's October mental health evaluation. In it, Roden claims to have taken 57 Adderall pills, a handful of Xanax and 10 doeses of LSD before breaking into Westview. Starnes said Roden's mental illness is only fueled by illegal drugs.
The next day, he caused more than $2,000 in damages to his hospital room and allegedly assaulted several deputies over the two day period. Deputies testified Thursday that Roden threw a school printer at them and charged at another with a hospital IV pole.
"If he gets out and gets into this stuff again, he's definitely going to kill somebody or hurt somebody and that concerns me," Judge Starnes said. "This court is very concerned about this defendant being released to the public. I do find he's a danger to the public."
Starnes did not reduce Roden's $100,000 bond as requested by his attorney Bill Speek and all the charges stand as they're bound over to the grand jury.
"Well he's getting some treatment," Speek said. "Obviously clearing some of the drugs from his system has cleared his mind. Now we start dealing with his underlying mental illness. He's a mentally ill patient as well as addiction issues. I think the combination of the two is a real challenge especially behind bars."
Both Speek and Starnes agree that Roden can one day get back into society.
Just not yet.
One hospital official testified Roden caused $2,000 in damages to his hospital room, and claims more than $20,000 in lost revenue while the hospital room was repaired.
The school says damages totaled more than $18,000.
Aaron Roden, 22, is charged with aggravated assault, burglary and vandalism. Police said he trashed Westview Elementary in August. His father, an assistant U.S. Attorney in Nashville, made the trip to Chattanooga to support his son in the courtroom.
It's the third time he's seen Aaron since his arrest.
"If he can ever get these problems under control and treated, I think he can accomplish big things. Right now I think he's in a bad place," Michael Roden said.
Michael Roden said his son has always "had issues" and was diagnosed as bipolar at age 16. But he thinks there's more to it than that preliminary diagnosis six years ago. In July of this year, he was sending his son off to start college at UTC. He said Aaron is bright, personable and funny and has a lot of potential.
But now he's watching from a court bench as his son moves in shackles and cuffs. He told Channel 3 Tuesday that jail is not the right fit for Aaron.
"There are people who deserve punishment and then there are people, like Aaron, I submit who just need help," he said. "We don't believe that that's the place he needs to be. I think he's being well treated there but he's just not where he needs to be. He needs treatment rather than punishment."
Aaron was arrested in early August. He had a brief stay at Moccasin Bend but now he's at the jail. Roden wants his son to get a good mental evaluation and he can't understand why it's taking so long.
Neither can the judge.
"It cannot take this long to get a psychiatric evaluation. It just can't," said Judge Gary Starnes. "I understand they're inundated. Moccasin Bend, by the way, has to serve us because of legislative acts, because of our legislature. There's no monies to treat everyone so we're trying to get you evaluated and that could be the holdup."
Moccasin Bend serves 52 counties, more than half the state of Tennessee. Judge Starnes said they're overwhelmed with cases. The judge and Aaron's public defender took a break in court Tuesday afternoon to call the mental health facility to set up an evaluation. Until then, Aaron remains in the Hamilton County Jail.
Jail officials estimates that more than 30 percent of the inmates in 2013 were receiving mental illness related treatment.
Michael Roden said he hopes Hamilton County can open a mental health court in time for Aaron's case to be heard. The mental health court program would help break the cycle in which many, like Aaron, might get caught. Nashville is the only area in Tennessee with such a program that the Public Defender's Office has proposed for Hamilton County.
In the meantime, Michael Roden said he "hopes and prays" his son soon gets a proper diagnosis and treatment.
"This is for society's good if we can figure out what causes people to act out in this way. It helps us all," Roden said. "My hope is that the silver lining in all of this is that he will finally get a thorough evaluation and a concrete diagnosis as to what's going on and the treatment that he needs."
Roden said he'll return to Chattanooga for Aaron's next court date November 12.
His mental evaluation is scheduled for October 30 at Moccasin Bend.
As for Westview Elementary, the school is fully repaired and one parent said "its business as usual."