Murdered officer's widow is left in the dark
[Guest Columnist Chief Gregory G. Cowart]

By Chief Gregory G. Cowart
Millbrae California Police Department

(MILLBRAE, Calif.) -- Ms. Gail Chetcuti sits and waits. Since her late husband, Officer Dave Chetcuti, was gunned down and murdered on US 101 near Millbrae Avenue on April 25, 1998, Gail has suffered the most grievous indignity any crime victim can endure — no information. No information on her husband's killer — no information on the possibility of a trial — no information at all.

While Gail has become active in a local support group known as Concerns of Police Survivors ("COPS"), she suffers in a way that other "survivors" can only imagine. Most of the families and loved ones of police officers killed in the line of duty can anticipate some form of closure as the criminal case against the accused individual proceeds through the court system.

Yet at the various Survivor and Victims meetings, Gail Chetcuti attends, when questions are asked about the murderer of her husband, she can only respond, "No information".

Why? Because Marvin Patrick Sullivan is protected by the web of secrecy surrounding what is legally termed, mentally incompetent to stand trial.

Evidence is overwhelming

The evidence against 45-year-old Marvin Patrick Sullivan for the murder of Officer Chetcuti is overwhelming. Shooting a motorcycle officer with a semi-automatic rifle on a US freeway at 10:00 a.m. on a Saturday morning in plain view of literally hundreds of motorists and busloads of airport travelers was not a crime of stealth.

However, approximately 15 months ago, San Mateo County Superior Court Judge John Runde found Marvin Patrick Sullivan mentally incompetent to stand trail pursuant to Section 1370 of the California Penal Code.

Since that time, Marvin Sullivan has been housed in a state mental hospital. Of course, which hospital is a secret because under Section 5328 of the Welfare and Institution Code not even Gail, her three sons, law enforcement or the District Attorney, are authorized to learn one iota of information about Sullivan's status.

Questions like, "Is he improving to the point where he might eventually be returned for trial?" or; "When is he next due to be reevaluated as to his 'mental competence'?" remain deep, dark secrets to the victims of this homicide. The protective shield placed around individuals deemed incompetent to stand trial is seemingly impenetrable.

Even public domain information is hidden

Any information is difficult to obtain from the Department of Mental Health including information that should be public domain information. First off, Sullivan is one of nearly 900 individuals in the custody of the Department of Mental Health with the status of incompetent to stand trial.

These individuals are held at the Norwalk, Napa, Atascadero and Patton institutions. To realize that these persons have all committed crimes and are keeping families like Gail Chetcuti's in limbo is a sad commentary on the Criminal Justice "System".

But one must keep in mind that under the law, these individuals are not in the Criminal Justice System until, and if, they are ever deemed mentally competent to stand trial. In their current status, they are officially in the Mental Health system.

State statistics reflect that most of these individuals are deemed competent to stand trial after 6 to 12 months of institutionalization. It is my understanding that the treating physician/psychiatrist/psychotherapist can medicate a patient to restore mental stability to understand and participate in his criminal proceedings. Whether or not this is happening with Sullivan is also a secret.

Written report is hidden

Under the provisions of Penal Code Section 1370, the treating facility must submit at six-month intervals a written report to the court concerning the "patient's" (they are no longer "defendants" in the Department of Mental Health) progress toward recovery of mental competency. Of course, neither Gail Chetcuti, her family or law enforcement may legally review these reports or receive any information as to the evaluation process.

The San Mateo District Attorney has proposed legislation to the California District Attorneys' Association to make these psychiatric evaluation reports a matter of public record.

Attorney General Bill Lockyer has stated he is interested in remedial legislation which might allow for more information to flow from the Department of Mental Health to victims and law enforcement agencies regarding the "status" of these cases. Such improvements are necessary to resolve the conflicting missions of mental health vs criminal justice pertaining to this tragic case.

Gail and family still wait

So Gail Chetcuti, her three sons, her family, friends, supporters as well as Officer Chetcuti's fellow officers are left in the dark with no light at the end of the tunnel.

(Last week the Department of Mental Health informed the San Mateo County District Attorney that Marvin Patrick Sullivan was once again deemed incompetent to stand trial with another evaluation due in six months.)

About the Author: Millbrae, California, Police Chief Greg Cowart has been a police officer in the State of California for 32 years. From 1991 to 1999 he served as Director of the Division of Law Enforcement for the California Attorney General. Earlier this month he contacted PoliceOne.com seeking to share the frustration that California law has imposed on the victims of alleged cop killers. We appreciated his position, listened to what he had to say and asked him to pen this guest column.

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