Judge orders health evaluation for former professor prior to bond hearing

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Dessler was arrested Feb. 18 on a charge of violating a community-based program, specifically a probation supervision agreement monitored by Colonial Community Corrections. COURTESY PHOTO / WY DAILY.COM

During a scheduled court hearing Feb. 26, a Williamsburg-James City County General District Court judge ordered that former College of William and Mary government professor David Dessler undergo a mental health evaluation via Colonial Behavioral Health. The status of his bond will be determined at his next court date, which is scheduled for March 1 at 9:30 a.m.

Dessler was arrested Feb. 18 on a charge of violating a community-based program, specifically a probation supervision agreement he signed Aug. 30, 2018. Since his Feb. 18 arrest, he has been in the custody of the Virginia Regional Peninsula Jail.

The former professor is awaiting a deferred adjudication hearing for an earlier charge – his hearing for that charge is scheduled for May 29, 2019. The probation supervision agreement, monitored by Colonial Community Corrections, requires that Dessler follow all recommendations of his mental health care providers. Refusal to do so would result in him being found in violation of the agreement and arrested on the charges that brought him to court Feb. 26.

Defense attorney Tom Bohannon and prosecuting attorney Nate Green, who serves as the Williamsburg-James City County Commonwealth Attorney, shared with the court Feb. 26 that two events culminated in Dessler’s most recent arrest. First, Colonial Community Corrections believed that an email he sent to College officials Jan. 15, 2019 represented a deterioration of his mental health. Second, Dessler’s CCC probation officer Jeff Haynie reported that he had missed both probation and counseling appointments.

In the Jan. 15 email, Dessler said that Jan. 31, he would be sending additional requests to the government department and Faculty Assembly for hearings on faculty rights and the rights and freedoms of students. He said that he believes he has been denied such hearings and still wants answers from the government department and Faculty Assembly. He said that if the College is unwilling to hold such hearings, he will begin a hunger strike March 1, 2019 and last until hearings are held.

“I very, very much do not want to go on a hunger strike this spring. I certainly do not wish to die. But no reader should doubt I will start my hunger strike at 12:01am, March 1, 2019  if it is my only remaining change to get the hearing my students deserve and indeed must be provided them. Equally, no one should doubt my unyielding commitment to seeing this hunger strike through to the bitter end, once started, if that is the price that W&M faculty decide to impose on me for asking, one time too many, for a hearing they have every obligation to provide.”

“I very, very much do not want to go on a hunger strike this spring,” Dessler said in the Jan. 15 email. “I certainly do not wish to die. But no reader should doubt I will start my hunger strike at 12:01am, March 1, 2019  if it is my only remaining change to get the hearing my students deserve and indeed must be provided them. Equally, no one should doubt my unyielding commitment to seeing this hunger strike through to the bitter end, once started, if that is the price that W&M faculty decide to impose on me for asking, one time too many, for a hearing they have every obligation to provide.”

Dessler never sent the emails he outlined for Jan. 31.

The full text of the Jan. 15 email has not been entered as evidence during the court proceedings. Bohannon and Green are using a letter provided by CCC, which cites this email as context for why Dessler was arrested. Green said that he does not believe there are laws in place that would prevent Dessler from hunger striking while under the probation supervision agreement. Bohannon said he believes that the promised hunger strike reflects Dessler’s earlier ideology as a social sciences scholar – and possibly that his mental health has improved.

Regarding the missed appointments, Bohannon shared with the court that Dessler was ordered to see a psychiatrist for medication therapy. In addition, Dessler has voluntarily chosen to see a licensed counselor affiliated with a Richmond, Virginia church for talk therapy. Dessler visits the court-ordered psychiatrist once every three months for his medication and visits the licensed counselor more frequently.

Communicating with the court through a video conference call from the jail, Dessler shared that he has not missed any meetings with the court-ordered psychiatrist but has missed meetings with his licensed counselor due to physical illness. Dessler also said that he missed at least one scheduled meeting with his probation officer but that he had rescheduled his appointment prior to the Feb. 18 arrest.

Bohannon and Green agreed with the judge that prior to a re-evaluation of his bond, similar to bail, that it would best to have CBH evaluate his mental health. Bohannon said that he wanted to emphasize that Dessler has never been considered a threat to himself or others by medical professionals.

The court will reconvene Friday, March 1 at 9:30 a.m. to discuss his bond, pending completion of his mental health evaluation.