Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Mentally ill guy - shot in court - had California DUI

California DUI lawyer

To law enforcement officials, Robert Gerald Eaton was a small-time vandal with an arrest record stretching back 17 years, but to his family, he was a loving father who liked to play guitar and go fishing with his two teenage children at Lake Yosemite.

As to why Eaton drove to the Merced County Superior Courthouse and charged into Judge Brian McCabe's courtroom with two large kitchen knives Monday, that's a mystery to his family.

He had mental health problems, they say, but if Eaton battled demons, that war didn't intrude too much on a normal family life.

"We knew how he was, but we weren't going to let that stop us from being a family," Eaton's 18-year-old daughter, Lisa, said outside her family's house in a new Atwater subdivision Tuesday. Her brother, 17-year-old Robert Eaton III, remembered that his father liked to watch him play football at Buhach Colony High School. "He loved us and we loved him," Robert said.

They say there was no warning that Eaton's life would end in a burst of public violence, when a Merced County sheriff's deputy shot him to death in front of a packed courtroom.

The details of Eaton's mental health treatment aren't public record. The picture that emerges from arrest reports and court files doesn't shed much light on exactly why Eaton, 40, terrorized the courthouse Monday -- but records confirm that he struggled with his mental health and was under court-supervised psychiatric care. They also show a pattern of erratic behavior.

According to a mental health worker's statement to law enforcement, Eaton was a diagnosed schizophrenic. His encounters with law enforcement started in his early 20s with incidents such as drunken driving and public fighting.

In April 2006, he was arrested after he threw a rock through his neighbor's living room window. On his birthday -- Nov. 8 -- Eaton pleaded no contest to misdemeanor vandalism charges, reduced from a felony. McCabe sentenced him to probation and ordered Eaton to maintain his mental health treatment.

A year after the rock-throwing incident, Eaton made what his family called a desperate cry for help. He crashed his 2005 Ford Mustang into the old courthouse. He told officers that he drove into the building because he was upset that he had been denied care at Marie Green Psychiatric Center earlier that day.

At his court hearings, Eaton faced various judges, many times McCabe.

For crashing his car into the old courthouse, Eaton was sentenced to probation, ordered to pay for the damage and told to seek and maintain counseling.

Three and a half weeks ago, Judge McCabe sentenced Eaton to three years of probation, ordered him to pay fines and attend a California DUI class in a drunken driving and car theft case.