Judge orders mental exam for Matanzas student who attacked teacher’s aide

A judge on Friday ordered an expert to conduct a mental examination of the Matanzas High School student accused of beating a teacher’s aide and to provide a report on whether the teenager is competent to proceed in the legal case against him.

Circuit Judge Terence Perkins appointed Dr. Roger Davis to examine whether Brendan J. Depa meets the definition of “intellectual disability” or autism in Florida statutes, according to the order filed Friday. Davis is to provide a written report to the judge and attorneys within 30 days of examining Depa, according to the order.

The order states that Davis will examine Depa on the location, date and time that Davis directs. It states that Davis is authorized to have access to psychiatric and other records about Depa possessed by hospitals or mental health providers. He will also have access to records from prosecutors and defense attorneys.

The 17-year-old Depa was charged with aggravated battery on a school board employee, a first-degree felony punishable by up to 30 years in prison, in the attack on a paraprofessional. The News-Journal is naming Depa because he was charged as an adult. A security video of the incident has gone viral.

Depa’s defense attorney, Kurt Teifke, filed a motion Friday titled “suggestion of mental incompetence to stand trial.”

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“Review of pertinent school, medical and mental health records, as well as information learned through the defendant as well as collateral sources (to include family members), leads the undersigned to have a reasonable, good faith belief that the defendant is not mentally competent to stand trial,” the motion states.

Teifke also filed a plea of ​​not guilty and requested additional time to file motions. The motion also waives Depa’s appearance at his arraignment, which is slated for Monday morning at the Kim C. Hammond Justice Center. However, a notation on the court record indicates the case has been continued, which is routine when a defendant’s attorney files the plea ahead of the hearing.

Perkins’ order states that if the medical expert determines Depa meets the legal definition of “intellectual disability” or “autism,” then the expert must determine whether Depa is competent or not to proceed in the case against him. The expert must determine whether Depa has the ability to consult with his lawyers “with a reasonable degree of rational understanding.” The expert must also decide whether Depa understands the legal proceedings against him.

The order is like a form letter with Davis’s name placed in a blank for the expert.

The expert must provide an analysis of Depa’s appreciation of the charges against him, the range of possible penalties and the adversarial nature of the legal process, according to the order. The expert must also opine on Depa’s ability to behave appropriately in the courtroom, his capacity to “testify relevantly” and his ability to disclose relevant facts to his attorney.

If the expert determines Depa to be incompetent to proceed then the expert is to provide any “recommended training” for Depa to become competent, the order states. The expert also needs to report on how long the “training” will probably take and the probability of Depa regaining competence. The order also states that the expert will report on whether Depa would need to be committed until he is competent or whether there are less restrictive residential facilities in the community.

The expert must also report on whether “there is a substantial likelihood that in the near future the defendant will inflict serious bodily harm to himself” or another person as shown by recent behavior, according to the order.

Defendants who are ruled incompetent to proceed are often committed to state psychiatric hospitals for treatment until they are judged to have regained competence. At that point, the legal case against them can proceed.

The News-Journal contacted Depa’s mother, Leanne Depa, who declined comment and said she had been directed to refer all calls to Teifke. Teifke could not be reached for comment.

Depa has a pre-trial set for April 5. He is being held in the Duval County jail on $1 million bond. The Flagler County jail does not have a facility for juveniles.

The attack on Joan Naydich

Depa attacked paraprofessional Joan Naydich on Feb. 21, according to a charging affidavit. A school security video shows a male identified as Depa walking quickly up to a woman, knocking her off her feet and onto the floor. The video then shows Depa beating Naydich as she lays unresponsive on the floor. People intervened and separated Depa from Naydich. Depa later threatened to kill her as he is being led away, the affidavit states.

While the affidavit stated that Depa was upset because Naydich took away his Nintendo Switch, a GoFundMe for Naydich stated that she did not take the Switch from him.

Court documents indicate Depa was staying East Coast Habilitation Options, known as ECHO, a group home in Palm Coast. The organization’s Facebook page describes it as a “group home agency for behaviorally challenged children and young adults.” A help-wanted ad says the home “helps children, teens and adults with autism, intellectual disabilities, and behavior challenges.”

Depa had three priors misdemeanor battery charges in Hillsborough County.

Florida Statutes

Florida statutes define autism in part as a developmental disability of extended duration which causes severe learning, communication and behavior disorders.” Individuals with autism exhibit impairment in social interaction and verbal and nonverbal communication.

Statutes describe intellectual disability as “significantly subaverage general intellectual functioning” along with “deficits in adaptive behavior which manifests before the age of 18 and can reasonably be expected to continue indefinitely.”

This article originally appeared on The Daytona Beach News-Journal: Judge orders mental exam for student in attack on teacher’s aide

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