How long can a mentally ill man be locked up based on a fear of what he might do if he’s released?
In Cobb County—at least in the case of a 34-year-old man named Michael Lake—the answer is nineteen months. Today, the Cobb County district attorney’s office dropped all charges against Lake, charges that stemmed from his obsession with a woman who he hadn’t seen since high school in Maine.
As we first reported on July 2, Lake has been held without bond in Cobb County jail since November 2011 on charges of aggravated stalking, involving a former high school classmate named Leslie. Over the years, Lake’s obsession took many forms: he emailed her, set up a website to discuss her and deride Leslie’s mother, and even moved to Atlanta in 2006, the same city to which Leslie had moved six years earlier. When Leslie divorced her husband in 2011, Lake posted a congratulatory message on his website and then messaged Leslie through LinkedIn. After having ignored Lake’s overtures for years, Leslie finally responded, asking Lake to leave her alone. When he didn’t, Leslie filed for an order of protection, which Lake allegedly violated by mailing her a copy of his appeal of the order, along with copies of blogs and emails about Leslie’s “paranoia.”
In November 2011, Lake was arrested. An indictment followed in February 2012. But over the course of the next year-and-a-half, bond was never set in his case. One psychological evaluation concluded Lake wasn’t mentally fit to stand trial (in the past, he’s been diagnosed with “overvaluted ideation”—a subcategory of obsessive compulsive disorder in which a person doesn’t recognize his own obsession), and then a subsequent evaluation determined he was fit. Meanwhile, Lake rebuffed all plea deals.
In February 2013, Lake’s court-appointed attorney filed a motion that Lake’s indictment be thrown out because Lake was legally exercising his right to appeal, sending Leslie, who had not retained counsel, a copy of the appeal, and last month Judge S. Lark Ingram agreed. However, the initial arrest warrant was still in effect. Charles Boring, a Cobb County assistant district attorney, told us that investigators have been unable to determine if any of the website posts made by Lake concerning Leslie had come after the protective order was in place. Today, Boring opted to take the case no further. “We still have concern [about Lake],” Boring said. “But we can’t hold him just because of a fear of further dangerousness.”
Cynthia Counts, a local first amendment attorney who is also representing Lake, said that Cobb County already has held him too long on fear of what Lake might do. Said Counts: “He’s never gone to her house. He’s never gone to her office. There’s no more evidence that he’s going to harm someone than there is against anyone else. … Just because [Lake] is mentally ill doesn’t mean he should be branded a criminal.”
Leslie, whose efforts to fall off of Lake’s radar over the years have been unsuccessful, declined to comment about the Cobb prosecutor’s decision, except to say, “I am done with the drama.”