Orange-Osceola state attorney creates mental health unit

Office has backlog of cases with defendants suffering from mental illnesses

ORANGE COUNTY, Fla. – Kevin Christopher Torres killed three people on Tuesday, according to Osceola County Sheriff Marcos Lopez. Torres also has a history of mental illness, the sheriff said.

Mental illness in the criminal justice system is a long-standing problem, according to Orange-Osceola state attorney Monique Worrell.

Worrell would not speak about Torres’s case but said she created a new unit to deal with defendants with mental illnesses earlier this year.

“Our criminal justice system can not address mental illness. It is not equipped to address mental illness,” Worrell said.

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When Worrell was sworn into office, one of the first problems brought to her attention was the backlog of criminal cases involving defendants with mental illnesses and competency to stand trial, she said.

“It’s not unusual for an individual to come into the system and they have several different cases in several different courtrooms being handled by several different assistant state attorneys,” Worrell said. “So someone may have been deemed incompetent in one courtroom, but not in another.”

Take 35-year-old Armando Montalvo. He livestreamed himself running from deputies with the Orange County Sheriffs Office in June of 2020, before being arrested.

Montalvo went to jail. It was his seventh arrest in seven years and in every case prior, doctors found he was incompetent to stand trial and he was released, according to court records.

News 6 found out Montalvo is competent to stand trial for his latest arrest.

“Sometimes those doctors will tell us that this person is or is not a danger to the community,” Worrell said. “Typically, they are not a danger to the community, and they’re incompetent to stand trial, we have no authority to detain them, or keep them in custody.”

To address the problem, Worrell has created a mental health unit within the state attorney’s office and hired Joanna Sandstrom as its director.

Sandstrom started in the office last month and will oversee all cases with defendants with a history of mental illness, according to Worrell.

“In the few weeks that she’s been here, the attorneys have been constantly calling upon her to weigh in on particular situations, dealing with individuals who are dealing with mental health issues,” Worrell said.

It is the first step in tackling an ongoing problem.

“I will make whatever provisions are necessary within my office to ensure that we can bring programs to our community that are going to help address the needs of individuals suffering from mental illness,” Worrell said.

About the Author:

Emmy Award-winning reporter Louis Bolden joined the News 6 team in September of 2001 and hasn't gotten a moment's rest since. Louis has been a General Assignment Reporter for News 6 and Weekend Morning Anchor. He joined the Special Projects/Investigative Unit in 2014.