Mental Illness, Deputies’ Indolence & Hospital Incompetence End In Guard’s Death

A series of unfortunate events set amidst unprofessional action or incompetence on the part of officials with two Joshua Tree institutions led to the death of an elderly security guard for which a mentally-ill man is now on trial.
Adam Ahmed Almoula has not had an easy life. Over the last sixteen months it has grown immeasurably harsher.
His mother, a Native American, and father, a Saudi Arabian student studying in America, met while they were attending college in the early 1980s. The couple married and Amoula was born in 1983. When his father completed his education, he was purposed to return to Saudi Arabia. His mother, however, was unwilling to leave the United States. Almoula’s father returned to his native country, leaving his wife and young child behind.
The mother and child lived in Yucaipa, where she had been raised.
When Adam was yet a toddler, his mother began to show signs of systemic lupus erythematosus. Over the next several years, her condition worsened. In 1990, when Almoula was seven years old, one morning he awoke and a few minutes later found his mother dead in bed.
At that point, his maternal aunt, Victoria Keller, took him into her home and raised him.
Adam struggled as a child, living in a circumstance in which his father was lost to him and his mother was dead. Despite the kindness of his aunt, he suffered the indignity of being ostracized by his peers at school, who in reaction to his name and being informed that his father was a Saudi, called him a sandnigger, camel jockey and diaparhead. Some of the students were physically abusive toward him. His self esteem deteriorated.
In the midst of the circumstance in which Almoula was being mistreated by some of her other students, his teacher had him tell his classmates of his experience in finding his mother dead. This apparent effort to induce the others in his class to empathize with him and cease their verbal abuse redounded detrimentally when one of Almoula’s classmates instead told him that his mother’s body was rotting in the ground while worms were crawling into and out of her eyes and mouth.
While he was still an adolescent, Almoula was diagnosed as suffering from post traumatic stress disorder.
Another well-intended but possibly devastating blow to Almoula’s immediate and long-term development came about when he was prescribed medicines – anti-psychotic drugs – which he began to take as a teenager.
Almoula never acclimated himself socially, becoming and remaining a loner. He did not move through the normal patterns of adjustment. He did not join the military or receive any post high school education. According to his aunt, he had few friends, and those he did develop relationships with took advantage of him or were cruel to him in some way, which deepened and broadened his isolation.
When his aunt and her husband moved to the relatively remote desert community of Joshua Tree, he accompanied them there. The atmosphere in Joshua Tree was well suited to Almoula, as he was insulated from people. According to Keller, her nephew was at relative peace on her property, where she had goats and a donkey. Almoula, she said, was kind to the domesticated animals she was raising, and was fascinated by the wildlife that were a part of the natural desertscape, in particular the mojave jackrabbits.
Moreover, Keller said, despite his inability to develop close personal relationships with people, Almoula was compassionate, insisting on the occasions when she would take him into town in Joshua Tree or Yucca Valley or Twentynine Palms, that they show compassion for the homeless they would encounter there by giving them food.
In his early thirties, Almoula was diagnosed as having schizophrenia and bipolar disorder. His medications were adjusted. There followed a period during which medical professionals sought to fine tune his pharmaceutical panel.
Only Almoula can know the inward effect of the permutations of the medications prescribed to him. Outwardly, those drugs appeared varied in their impact. At times Almoula came across as evened out, an indication that the medications were having their desired or intended effect. Sometimes he became excitable. Other times catatonic. At times, he transformed into a seeming zombie. It was not uncommon for him to come across as stoned.
The latter effect became problematic when Almoula would venture out into civilization, into town in Joshua Tree or occasionally Yucca Valley or Twentynine Palms. The San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Department provides law enforcement service to all three of those communities, since Joshua Tree is an unincorporated county district and the Town of Yucca Valley and the City of Twentynine Palms, both incorporated municipalities, contract with the sheriff’s department to serve as their police departments. Historically, the San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Department does not quality as the most enlightened police agency nationally, in California or even in San Bernardino County. The county’s desert communities have for generations been places where the least well-educated, the lesser sophisticated, the most brutal, the least compassionate, the questionably competent and the laziest of the department’s deputies have been assigned. When the department’s deputies would encounter Almoula, relying on the department’s somewhat unreliable intoxication recognition protocol, they would deem him to be stoned, i.e,, under the influence. This, under the department’s code, gave the deputies license to beat him or otherwise mistreat him. It is unknown, precisely, how many of these encounters Almoula had with the department’s deputies. Official San Bernardino County Superior Court records reflect that on four occasions in the last ten years – December 12, 2018, March 24, 2019, June 6, 2019 and December 20, 2019 – the sheriff’s department mistakenly arrested him for being under the influence of a controlled substance. Ultimately, on August 26, 2019, the court dismissed the cases against Almoula growing out of the March 24, 2019 and June 6, 2019 arrests based upon the district attorney’s office requesting that they be dismissed in the interest of justice because what had been his supposed intoxication was determined to be a byproduct of his medication. Ultimately, this week, on Tuesday April 27, 2021, the court dismissed the case against Almoula that sprung from his December 12, 2018 arrest for being under the influence, again based upon the district attorney’s office’s acknowledgment that the arresting officer(s) was/were mistaken in assuming Almoula was intoxicated on street drugs.
Similarly, over the years, Almoula’s behavior and comportment has drawn attention to itself, and at least in some instances involved the sheriff’s department overreacting or misinterpreting the circumstance in which Almoula had come to be involved.
Almoula was arrested for misdemeanor battery on November 11, 2002. When the actual circumstances and events were outlined to the court, the charge was dropped on May 7, 2003.
On December 3, 2005, an incident in Joshua Tree resulted in Almoula’s arrest on two felony charges of abuse of an elder or dependent and assault with a deadly weapon other than a firearm likely to result in great bodily injury. Thirteen days later, on December 16, 2005, at a court appearance without legal representation, Almoula pleaded guilty to the assault with a deadly weapon likely to inflict great bodily injury charge.
On February 4, 2013, Almoula was involved in what was referred to as a circumstance of domestic violence and was arrested by the sheriff’s department on two felony charges, assault with a deadly weapon other than a firearm likely to cause great bodily injury and infliction of corporal injury on a spouse or cohabitant. On May 8, 2013, again appearing without legal representation, Almoula was induced to enter a guilty plea on the infliction of corporal injury on a spouse or cohabitant.
A one-time member of the prosecutor’s office acknowledged that pressing the 2005 and 2013 cases against Almoula was done to assist the sheriff’s department, whose deputies had roughed Almoula up in making the arrests, save face and help the county avoid potential liability. The prosecutor likened obtaining the conviction against the mentally ill Almoula to “shooting fish in a barrel.”
The sheriff’s department and the district attorney’s office did not fare as well in a case that was made against Almoula that grew out of an incident occurring on December 3, 2007, the four-year anniversary of the 2003 incident. On December 3, 2007, Almoula was arrested and charged with infliction of corporal injury on a spouse or cohabitant and misdemeanor vandalism. Those charges were dismissed on May 7, 2008, the four-year anniversary of the misdemeanor battery charge from the November 11, 2002 incident being dismissed.
According to his aunt, describing Almoula as violent is a mischaracterization. He has episodes of psychosis, she said, but emphasized, “He has never been violent toward me or my husband. He has always been very respectful. He never tore up anything. He never stole anything. He cannot socialize. He is is okay with my husband and myself. He has talked to some people that are around. It is painful to see people who try to take advantage of him. We live far out in Joshua Tree. He feeds the squirrels that are here. He talks about the animals. There is a kindness to him.”
According to Keller, on December 19, 2019, Almoula felt an episode coming on, one which he recognized by experience would not be suppressed by his normal regimen of medicine. Keller said both she and Almoula understood that the local hospital in Joshua Tree, the Hi-Desert Medical Center, did not have the facilities to deal with his condition, and that he would more properly be committed to what is referred to as Ward B at the county hospital in Colton. Keller said she and Almoula further knew that an effort by Almoula to self commit himself would be ineffective if he simply went to the Hi-Desert Medical Center, and that he would be discharged from that facility without getting adequate treatment. Therefore, she said, “He wanted to go to the county psych ward, where he knew he needed to be. He knew he was having an episode and that if the sheriff’s department brought him in on a 5150 call, they would have to take him in for a 72-hour observation hold. He couldn’t get that if he went there on his own volition, and he knew the Hi-Desert Medical Center did not have the facilities to treat him.”
5150 is law enforcement nomenclature for mentally ill.
They summoned the sheriff’s department, Keller said, around 6 p.m. on December 19, 2019, and the deputies arrived around 6:30 p.m. “They told me they were taking him to the county psychiatric ward, but instead they went to the end of the road and put him into a Morongo Valley Fire Station ambulance, and shipped him off to the Hi-Desert Medical Center,” Keller said. “At Hi-Desert, they gave him more psych meds to calm him down. I believe he had already medicated himself with the two anti-psychotic drugs he has. They gave him Ativan, which is incompatible with one of the medications he takes. Then they released him.”
That was at roughly 10:30 p.m. Almoula then set out to go back to his aunt’s house, located on Sunburst Circle. The Sunburst Circle turnoff is roughly 1.9 miles west on Highway 62 from White Feather Road, upon which the High Desert Medical Center is located. Walking along Highway 62, also known as the Twentynine Palms Highway, that night, Almoula failed to turn down Sunburst Circle, which would have taken him to his aunt’s house, and he just kept walking.
“He was already overmedicated, and they gave him even more,” Keller said of the staff at the Hi-Desert Medical Center. “He had a bad reaction to that. He was disoriented and apparently did not know where he was. He continued on foot westward on Highway 62.”
Almoula continued another mile to mile-and-a-half all the way through Joshua Tree and then covered the roughly seven miles between Joshua Tree and the outskirts of Yucca Valley. Almoula later told her, Keller said, that by the time he reached Yucca Valley he felt as if he was having a heart attack. He eventually made his way to the first commercial facility open at that hour, an AM PM Arco gas station. By that time, it was 3 a.m. on the morning of December 20, 2019. The clerk at the AM PM called 911. The responders were a California Division of Forestry and Fire Service ambulance crew. The crew drove him back to Joshua Tree to the Hi-Desert Medical Center. At the Hi-Desert Medical Center, a different shift was in place at 3:30 a.m. on December 20 than the one Almoula had encountered at around 7 p.m. on December 19. Almoula was administered more Ativan.
The staff on duty at that point believed the Ativan would have a sedative-effect on Almoula, and they escorted him to a place in the emergency waiting room for him to sit down. They told a woman employee in the waiting room and a 69-year-old security guard, Gary Pack, to prevent Almoula from leaving.
At around 5:30 a.m., just as hospital personnel were starting to fill out paperwork to put Almoula on a 5150 hold, he got up and left the emergency waiting room. Hospital staff confronted Almoula, persuading him to go back into the emergency waiting room. Shortly thereafter, Almoula again attempted to leave, heading into the hospital’s lobby, with Pack following behind him. As Almoula was approaching the entrance to/exit from the hospital, Pack managed to get between Almoula and the door, blocking Almoula’s exit. Almoula attempted to spin around Pack, and his legs entangled with Pack’s, kicking the security guard’s legs out from beneath him. Pack went down to the ground, breaking his left femur in the fall and momentarily blacking out. When Pack came to, he grabbed Almoula by his leg in an attempt to prevent him from leaving. When Pack then tried to get up, he was unable to because of severe pain in his leg and hip.
According to a witness, at one point while he was outside the hospital, Almoula picked up a rock in an effort to fend off a security guard, and then threw the rock at but missed the security guard. It is unclear whether the security guard referenced by that witness was Pack. Another witness stated that Almoula punched a security guard several times. From the sheriff’s department report pertaining to the incident, it is not clear whether the security guard Almoula was said to have punched was Pack.
Almoula was detained and arrested by the sheriff’s department for assault with a deadly weapon other than a firearm and battery inflicting serious bodily injury and three charges of being under the influence of a controlled substance.
Pack underwent surgery on his leg and hip. He remained hospitalized for five days after the surgery and was sent home. On January 4, 2020, Pack developed a blood clot and died. The blood clot was considered to be a complication from the surgery he underwent for his broken leg. In this way, the district attorney’s office is proceeding with prosecuting Almoula on two charges – PC 245(a) (1) assault with a deadly weapon other than a firearm with the likelihood of inflicting great bodily injury and PC 192 (a) voluntary manslaughter. At this point, the district attorney’s office is not pursuing the charges of being under the influence of a controlled substance against Almoula.
Because of Almoula’s mental condition, he was not considered sane enough to stand trial. Under such circumstances, defendants are generally sent to a state mental hospital to undergo evaluation and potential restoration of their sanity to make them eligible to stand trial. Because of the COVID-19 circumstance in the spring and summer of 2020, Almoula was not checked into Patton State Hospital until October. Psychiatrists there experimented with a number of medications in an effort to render him compos mentis, meaning he was capable of understanding the legal proceedings to which he is being subjected. After his return to the custody of the sheriff’s department, however, his access to the medications that rendered him fit to stand trial was cut off, and his mental condition has now worsened to the point that he is no longer able to participate in his own defense.
On Tuesday, April 27, he appeared in Department M2 in the Joshua Tree Courthouse before Judge Shannon Faherty. Judge Farherty appeared intent on moving the matter to trial at the earliest possible date.
Deputy Public Defender James Carson, who had recently replaced Deputy Public Defender Isaac Rees as Almoula’s legal counsel, pointed out that his client’s mental state has deteriorated since his medication has been cut off since he has left Patton State Hospital and is now in the custody of the San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Department at West Valley Detention Center in Rancho Cucamonga. Carson asserted that he could not give Almoula adequate representation without Almoula’s mental competency being maintained, which he said was not possible if his medicinal therapy  remains discontinued. He requested that the court order the sheriff’s department to reinstitute the daily administration of anti-psychosis chemical agents to Almoula.
Judge Faherty ordered Almoula’s medicinal panel to be reinstated and for Almoula to return to her courtroom on May 11 for a progress review on the restoration of his ability to understand the proceedings against him and participate in his defense.
There is some indication of dissent within the district attorney’s office with regard to Almoula’s prosecution. Deputy District Attorney Jason Gueltzow was previously prosecuting the case against him. He has recently been replaced by Deputy District Attorney Michelle Bergey.
Bergey did not respond to the Sentinel’s inquiries with regard to the case.
-Mark Gutglueck

Leave a Reply