A patient at the Riverview Psychiatric Center who was shot by an Augusta police officer in January 2015 during a confrontation with mental health workers is asking to be released from state custody, saying he has recovered from his mental illness.

On Wednesday, Jason Begin, through attorney Rory McNamara, asked the Maine Supreme Judicial Court in Portland to vacate a judge’s order that keeps him in state custody.

Begin, who stole a plane and crash-landed it in Canada in 2003 in an apparent failed suicide attempt, was committed to the custody of the commissioner of the Department of Health and Human Services after being found not criminally responsible for theft and violating conditions of release.

Begin, now 38, maintains Justice Donald Marden should have discharged him from state custody last January because testimony showed he no longer was suffering from mental defect or disease.

“(Begin) suffers from a dislike of Riverview, not a mental disease or defect,” McNamara wrote in his brief. “(Begin) remembers ‘being sexually and physically assaulted at, at least, three different institutions.'”

McNamara added, “In fact, petitioner had the ‘best’ year of his life when living outside of Riverview, until six months before his petition for release. Petitioner’s few hiccups on this record were a product of his displeasure at continuing hospitalization, and not indicative of an inability to be safe in the community.”

Begin was committed to the custody of the commissioner in 2004 after being found not criminally responsible for several sexual assaults involving family members. He was facing those charges when the plane incident occurred.

McNamara asked the Maine Supreme Judicial Court to “vacate the order denying release” and send it back for a judge to consider only certain evidence or, alternatively, to vacate it and send it back for a hearing that allows testimony comparing Begin’s condition with that of Michael James. James is a 33-year-old man placed in the commissioner’s custody after a 2006 jury verdict of not criminally responsible for assaulting guards at the prison.

In April 2014, James won release from the custody of the commissioner — and Riverview — after a judge heard evidence that he no longer suffers from mental disease or defect and should be discharged under state statute. James was returned to the Maine State Prison to finish the eight years that remained on his robbery sentence. Since then, James has asked to be returned to Riverview.

In Begin’s case, the state, represented by Assistant District Attorney David Spencer, says Marden got it right, and Begin failed to prove he was able to be discharged and not endanger himself or others.

The court issues decisions in writing, and those can come months after the oral arguments take place.

Spencer’s brief outlines Begin’s history before and after the plane crash, including the incident in January 2015 in which Begin began stabbing himself with a knife and threatened to hurt others when a Riverview outpatient team told him he was being returned to the hospital during an investigation into a report that he had used marijuana and sold it to someone. At the time, Begin had been living in supervised housing in Augusta and working at a retail store.

Augusta police Officer Laura Drouin shot Begin three times to get him to stop. He spent five weeks hospitalized at MaineGeneral Medical Center being treated for his wounds. The state attorney general concluded that Drouin was justified in her actions.

Begin is suing Drouin and the city of Augusta in federal court, where he seeks $2.5 million, charging that his civil rights were violated when he was shot.

On Wednesday, Associate Justice Ellen Gorman asked McNamara, “Does Mr. Begin understand if he’s released, he could be prosecuted for the crime committed when he stole the plane and flew it to Canada?”

McNamara said his client wants to take responsibility for his actions.

Gorman also said she found it troubling that the court has seen a number of cases in which people found not criminally responsible for offenses remain in the commissioner’s custody much longer than any jail time that would have resulted from a conviction.

McNamara also argued that the state statute under which Begin is being kept in the commissioner’s custody “does not allow the state to hold somebody if they can’t treat them.”

He said the solution is to establish “a clear definition of what mental disease or defect is,” but until then the existing statute applies. “This is not just about safety. There’s a constitutional right. If you can control your behavior … this is not the statute to keep you.”

Chief Justice Leigh Saufley described Begin as “someone with a unique constellation of serious personality disorders and PTSD” who “responds negatively to institutions.”

She asked Spencer, “Is there something wrong with the system that there is not some other method of providing safe care for someone like Mr. Begin?”

Spencer said Riverview was safe for Begin, and that he was not at Riverview when he stabbed himself.

“I don’t know what the best treatment is,” Spencer said. “Riverview is what we have.”

He also said the state was erecting a secure, stand-alone facility next to Riverview to handle people with problems like Begin’s.

Marden’s order also allows Begin an opportunity to regain some privileges lost as a result of the incident that led to him being shot. The judge noted at the time that Begin’s petition to live permanently in the community lacked support from both the hospital and from the State Forensic Service, which evaluates defendants for the court.

Betty Adams — 621-5631

[email protected]

Twitter: @betadams

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