People in Lovelock know Dylan Garretson, 24, as a soft-spoken and bright young man. Last year, he pleaded guilty to possessing a controlled substance, heroin. Word on the street is that heroin use is on the rise as evidenced by an increase in overdoses. 

Judge Jim Shirley granted Garretson probation on the condition that he complete drug court, a course of court-supervised treatment.

Pershing County’s Western Regional Drug Court accepted Garretson’s application in April 2020.  If he completed the program, he could withdraw his guilty plea and avoid having a felony on his record. The future looked slightly more hopeful. 

However, one year later, on May 3, 2021, Garretson came to court from jail and admitted to violating his probation. The drug court had terminated him from the program and barred him from future participation, a lifetime ban. He appeared in the 11th Judicial for sentencing, his probation revoked and his opportunity for diversion gone. What went wrong?

Judge Archie Blake started the multi-county Western Regional Drug Court in 2001, and remains its senior judge. He rotates through Pershing County, alternating with three or four other judges. Western Regional Drug Court has been active in Pershing County since 2003. 

Other members of the panel include DDA Todd Banks, Public defender Steve Cochran, counselors and the program coordinator.

Cochran subpoenaed Katrena Martin. She’s been the coordinator since last spring, in addition to her role as a court administrator. Martin was on the stand for most of the morning, maintaining her poise throughout lengthy questioning.

Cochran referenced Nevada law (NRS 176.290). It mandates that drug court sanctions align with those established by the National Association of Drug Court Professionals. In 2013 and 2015, NADCP released volumes I and II of the Adult Drug Court Best Practice Standards, revised in 2019.

He noted the mandatory language of the statute. “It’s a must, not a may,” he said, holding the first and second volumes aloft. “I would hope basic notions of fairness and due process don’t lead to us sending someone to incarceration when the program itself was not following the rules.”

Martin said she was not familiar with the Best Practice Standards and was seeing them for the first time. She believes the number of drug court graduates exceeds the number of terminations but produces and disseminates no annual report.

According to the Best Practice standards, inpatient treatment is a last resort, not recommended as a sanction for a first-time dirty test. However, when Garretson tested positive for opiates in Nov. 2020, the drug court sent him to Idaho House, a transitional living facility in Washoe County.

Garretson reluctantly entered Idaho House under court order. When he could not convince the drug court judge to authorize his release, he walked away without permission, setting off a domino effect of dirty tests followed by weekends in jail. 

Later, in Mar. 2021, Garretson walked away from another program, Elko’s Vitality Center. In response, the drug court terminated him from the program and barred him from future specialty court participation.

Banks objected several times. He said Cochran was asking Martin to speculate on the drug court judge’s thoughts. He noted the absence of the handbook prepared by former drug court coordinator Frank Wilkerson. Without it, it was difficult to evaluate Western Regional against the Best Practice standards, he said.

Under his questioning, Martin said the drug court considers inpatient treatment in response to a pattern of frequent drug use. “We want to help them before they crash and burn,” she said.

 “I share a number of the frustrations Mr. Cochran brings before the court because I am a stakeholder,” said Banks. “But as stakeholders, the appropriate forum for us to express our dissatisfaction is within the panel.” 

“I don’t think prison is an appropriate outcome here. However, Mr. Garretson has forfeited the opportunity for diversion,” he continued. Banks recommended reinstating Garretson’s probation. “At this point, I’m not sure what conditions to put in place to get him the help he needs.”

Garretson’s attorney wants him back in drug court. 

“He should be in drug court. He has a drug problem,” said Cochran, noting that Garretson turned himself in both times he absconded, picked up no new charges and posed no threat to the community. 

Another area where the WRDC deviates from the Best Practice standards is the length of jail sanctions, he said. According to the standards, these should not exceed three to five days. The drug court sanctioned Garretson and others with stays of up to 12 days. Also, the standards do not recommend alternating drug court judges. 

“Perhaps drug court needs to have a bit of an overhaul and start complying with the law,” said Cochran. “That would be a big start. Taking people out of the community and placing them in inpatient treatment is not working. It’s not just this defendant.”

“If we were actually following the law and had the numbers, I can’t tell you the last person to go into inpatient treatment, come out and not use in the next two weeks. I think it’s an abject failure.”

“This idea of sending people hundreds of miles out of the community, especially young people, is not the recommended level of treatment that I can believe in for anything with such an abysmal failure rate.”

“And this determination that a 24-year-old man is not eligible for specialty court in the future? His future is closed off to help in a drug treatment program? That’s the most unbelievable thing to come out of this.”

 Garretson returns for sentencing on May 17.