Intellectually disabled need advocates

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WOODS CROSS -- When someone repeatedly commits a crime, police are more apt to press charges against that person. But what if that person is intellectually disabled? Should the same rules apply?

Heather Billinger is very aware of limited intellectual capacity and mental illness.

"It's hard for us to just be a normal person like everybody else -- just try to behave. But sometimes we can't," said Billinger.

Billinger has been struggling her whole life.

"Sometimes, us special needs people, we have a lot to go through, and we struggle," she said. "We are struggling right now."

Billinger has the mental capacity of that of an 8 year old. However, her wrap sheet is more like a career criminal. Most are petty crimes, usually filing a false sexual assault police report. But disability advocate, Cynthia Proctor, said if you knew her background, Billinger's behavior makes sense.

It's hard for us to just be a normal person like everybody else -- just try to behave. But sometimes we can't.

–Heather Billinger

"Heather is reacting of a ‘I need to be protected, sometimes is scary, I need to act," Proctor said. "And I believe she did the first thing that came into her mind in order to protect herself."

As a child, Billinger was sexually assaulted. And when she gets frightened, Proctor said she relives past trauma.

The most recent incident happened earlier this year when she called Woods Cross Police to report a rape. After multiple incidents with Heather, they charged her with a crime.

Her mother also has limited capacity, and the two are lost in the justice system. Proctor said police departments need disability advocates, just as they have language translators.

"People with intellectual disabilities think differently and need to be treated differently," she said.

And Chief Greg Butler of the Woods Cross Police Department said they're working to make something like that happen.

"We've had team meetings about her -- how to get her some help and how to deal with her," Butler said. "And I can promise we're doing the best we can, but we don't have the magic pill to take care of it."

Butler said by pressing charges, they could ensure Billinger receives counseling and medication. He agreed with Proctor about needing the help, but he's not sure there is much assistance in store for people like Billinger.

"The funding for mental health crisis is drying up," he said. "So it's a big concern throughout the state."

Billinger pleaded guilty to the charges against her and is now in court-ordered counseling. She is also back on her medication, which she says makes her feel "normal."


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Jennifer Stagg


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