A mentally ill man who was put on a 5150 involuntary psychiatric hold two months previously is now in custody after allegedly murdering his mother, engaging in a 15-hour standoff with police Sunday night into Monday, and then turning a gun on himself. While the SFPD has not publicly named him, Mission Local has all but confirmed that 52-year-old Thomas Ragsdale was arrested in the shooting, though he may still be recovering from the self-inflicted bullet wound to the chest that got on Monday afternoon. And it was Ragsdale whom police visited nearly two months earlier, on June 5, after a family member called them concerned that he was "hearing voices" and could potentially be a danger to himself and others.
As Mission Local learns, Ragsdale's mother, 76-year-old Martha Alfaro, answered the door at 2443 15th Street that night in June, and when Ragsdale came to the door, he had a gun holstered on his hip. A further look inside yielded a massive arsenal of guns and ammunition, including half a dozen pistols, a shotgun, and an unmodified AK-47, as well as high-capacity magazines and 28,000 bullets. Ragsdale claimed that he could hear through the walls of the house that the neighbors were plotting to kill him, and police subsequently placed him on the psychiatric hold, from which he would later be freed on June 9.
CBS 5 confirmed Thursday that Martha Alfaro was the victim in last Sunday's shooting. She was apparently found on the street and succumbed to her wounds at SF General. Knowing what they already knew about Ragsdale and guns registered to him that police never found, it's now understandable why the standoff at his home lasted 15 hours.
An elderly female neighbor was contacted by police and she told them she did not know Ragsdale and did not want him dead, and Ragsdale's adult son told police that these claims were all in his father's head.
The open questions are now why Ragsdale was allowed to amass such an arsenal of weapons and why his mental illness had gone untreated.
Mission Local probes the legal issues surrounding forced commitment of the mentally ill to hospitals, which is extremely legally difficult since the passage of California's Lanterman-Petris-Short Act in 1972. Mort Cohen, a law professor at Golden Gate University, tells Mission Local that "The system is now geared to protect the individual who is being detained... to a greater extent than the individuals who might be at risk" at the hands of the mentally ill individual.
Thus, when the SF District Attorney's office felt there was not enough probable cause to charge Ragsdale back in June, and with the psychiatric community's hands tied, he was released back to his mother's house, where he would ultimately end up (allegedly) killing her in less than 60 days.
And the residents of 15th Street in Corona Heights are certainly right to feel uneasy that a man with obvious mental health problems and a huge cache of weaponry was living in their midst, liable at any moment to crack.