By Missy Schrott | firstname.lastname@example.org
How does a father tell his 9-year-old son that the man who shot him in the head will walk free?
Former Alexandria Police Officer Peter Laboy had to grapple with this question on June 7, when an Alexandria circuit court judge ruled that Kashif Bashir, the man who shot him in the head while he was on duty in 2013, was fit to be released from a mental hospital.
The shooting occurred on Feb. 27, 2013. Bashir, a cabdriver at the time, had been stalking a woman in Old Town with the intent to rape her, Commonwealth’s Attorney Bryan Porter said. Alexandria police officer Peter Laboy had responded to the scene and was approaching Bashir’s vehicle when he was shot in the head.
When the case went to trial in 2014, Alexandria Circuit Court Judge James Clark found Bashir not guilty by reason of insanity.
In the five years since the offense, Bashir has been residing in and undergoing treatment at a mental hospital.
During those same five years, Laboy has suffered through seizures, regular trips to the hospital, the loss of his job and the deterioration of his marriage.
When the case came back to Clark for a hearing last week, he ruled that Bashir was medically fit to be released to an apartment in Prince William County under certain conditions, including that he not go outside a 50-mile radius of his apartment, Porter said.
The decision has stirred concern among the community.
“There’s a feeling from the community that this isn’t ‘right,’” Porter said. “That someone could do this, use this level of violence in the community, and then five years later, it’s ‘oh, okay, well now he’s taking his medication and he can just go on about his life.’ I think to laypeople, it just doesn’t seem ‘right.’”
Porter said the decision was made possible because of Virginia state law. He said the two possible outcomes when Bashir’s case went to trial in 2014 were that he was guilty or not guilty by reason of insanity.
“If he’s found not guilty by reason of insanity, then he is totally blameless and completely not culpable and the entire system starts looking at it as a mental health case, and how do we reintegrate him into society and get him back out into the street,” Porter said.
Because of the initial ruling, the hearing last week was only a matter of whether Bashir was fit to be reintegrated into the community, thus the observations and opinions of medical professionals who have worked with Bashir were the only relevant testimonies.
“While I understand the feeling that it isn’t ‘right,’ that’s not really the issue before the court,” Porter said. “The issue is, is he compliant with his medication, what’s best for him, can we give him conditional release and still have some assurance that the public will be protected. That might rub some people the wrong way I guess, but whether it’s right or wrong, that’s the system under which we’re currently laboring.”
Porter said about 20 other states have enacted legislation that would allow for a third potential outcome to cases involving mental illness – guilty but mentally ill.
“I personally think that the system that we currently have in Virginia does not address the reality, which is that mental illness exists upon a spectrum and in many cases, we have people who are severely mentally ill committing crimes but also have some understanding that what they are doing is wrong,” Porter said.
Porter said the fact that Bashir had premeditated the rape, then shot an officer in the head and led the police on a 100 mile per hour chase when he was deterred, suggested that Bashir knew what he was doing.
At the June 7 hearing, Porter argued that certain circumstances surrounding both Bashir’s offense and subsequent treatment gave him concerns about whether the release was consistent with public safety.
The first concern he argued was that there was an underlying sexual nature of Bashir’s offense.
“Everyone agrees that he planned on abducting and raping a young woman whom he did not know,” Porter said. “Not only is that a shocking crime to plan that and to buy a gun to help you commit the crime, but the fact that it was motivated by sexual violence is even more disturbing from my standpoint.”
Porter was also concerned about Bashir’s treatment in relation to the sexual motive of the crime.
“The sexual motive was not significantly addressed by his mental health treatment team. They seemed to basically say, ‘Look, he’s compliant with his medication, and we think that that is successfully addressing whatever issues he has.’ They really didn’t give that much in the way of analysis or concern,” Porter said.
Porter’s third concern was the length of time Bashir has been undergoing treatment. Porter said Bashir has been asymptomatic for three years, and has been able to leave the hospital for 48-hours at the time for the past seven months.
“I basically was arguing that we needed to do more analysis and get some more insight into the sexual motive for the offenses, that he needed more time in a setting where he was completely asymptomatic and that we needed significantly more time with him complying with privileges like being able to leave the hospital for short periods of time before we could be convinced that he would be someone of low risk out in the public,” he said.
Despite Porter’s argument, the judge deemed Bashir fit for release.
While he is allowed to live in an apartment, there are several conditions of Bashir’s release. In addition to the order that he not go outside a 50-mile radius of the apartment, he is not to return to the City of Alexandria or contact any of the victims in the case. He cannot own or operate a car, consume alcohol or drugs – other than those prescribed to him – and he must remain compliant with his medication regime.
In addition, he will be under the supervision and monitoring of his Program of Assertive Community Treatment team, which will have 35 to 40 hours of structured activity for Bashir per week. He will have additional meetings with the PACT team three times a week and meetings with a psychiatrist once a month. His PACT team will also provide monthly reports of Bashir’s status to the Alexandria circuit court, Porter said.
Laboy and his supporters have struggled to accept that his shooter will walk free.
“He shot me,” Laboy said. “I’m very lucky that I’m still here, but I’m suffering more than he is. I’m still going to the hospital two times a week. It’s not right that they gave him medication and said he’s good now and he’s out there.”
“Our family has been torn apart,” Suzanne Devine, Laboy’s ex-wife said. “Relationships have suffered. You can’t take that back.”
While Bashir is rehabilitated and reintegrated into society, Laboy will be dealing with the repercussions of the shooting for the rest of his life.
“Peter looks the same, but spend any time with him and he’s not. He’s not the same person,” Devine said. “He suffered this traumatic brain injury, he struggles with seizures, he struggles with mood disorders, he struggles with irritability, inflexibility and he’ll never get away from that. Ever. The bullet’s in his head. It’s never going to leave. He has to deal with that, and my children have to deal with that for the rest of their lives.”
Devine and Laboy separated in the years following the incident.
Devine said one of the hardest things about Bashir’s release was explaining it to her children. The two boys she has with Laboy are now 9 and 11 years old.
When Bashir was sentenced five years ago, Devine said the kids were too young to understand the “not guilty by reason of insanity” verdict, but that she had felt comfortable telling them that the “bad guy” was locked up.
“When they knew their dad was shot, it was, ‘Is the bad guy in jail?’ ‘Yes, the bad guy’s in jail forever and ever, he’ll never come out.’ That’s kind of what they remember,” Devine said.
After last week’s hearing, however, Devine and Laboy realized they’d have to tell them that that wasn’t true.
“The younger one was pissed,” Devine said. “He’s like, ‘I don’t understand. What do you mean? That shouldn’t happen.’ They have a variety of emotions and feelings, but like I said, we don’t harp on it. We don’t talk about it at the dinner table.”
Both Laboy and Devine said they were comforted that Bashir was banned from Alexandria.
“Knowing that we won’t have to turn a corner, and he could possibly be right there, I think gives me a little bit of assurance that my children won’t come in contact with him,” Devine said. “That gives me a little peace of mind that my children aren’t going to have to wonder or question, ‘Is that the person who shot my dad and tried to kill him?’”
Laboy said he feels better about the conditions of Bashir’s release now than he had when he learned about his 48-hour leave from the hospital.
“Compared with what he had before and what he has now, I basically feel better,” Laboy said. “The way I look at it is you’re having a dog with a 10-meter leash. The judge kind of pulled everything back, and he told him, he said, ‘Mr. Bashir, you’re gonna be out there now, but just remember you’re going to have a lot of eyes looking at you.’”
Devine said she wanted to use her story and her experience to bring about change.
“Hopefully we’ll get a lot of people to help change the laws in Virginia. I don’t know if it can be done, but I’m going to try and do what I can to see if we can motivate and help change so that this doesn’t happen to anyone else,” she said.
Porter agreed that the law should be changed to more fully address cases involving mental health.
“It’s a long road,” he said, “It would require statutes and the general assembly to change it, but if people are unhappy enough about outcomes like this one, there’s a potential that it might change.”