Johnson County case highlights need for broader mental health discussions

A few days ago, I received a Twitter message from a Chicago-area man hoping to aide his son, held by Johnson County since late 2012 on $1 million bond. Sending the message was Joseph Jason, and his son, Daniel Jason, is a 29-year-old with a neurodevelopment disorder commonly known as Asperger Syndrome.

Like many with this syndrome, which is on the autism spectrum, Daniel is high-functioning. Joseph is quick to point to a lack of physical violence by his son, and equally as quick to brush aside the terror that was inflicted.

Daniel Jason (Source: Johnson County)
Daniel Jason (Source: Johnson County)

Daniel was recently found guilty on three felony counts related to an obsession with a former girlfriend, and was labeled a habitual offender last Friday. The latter means that each of current counts that would typically carry a maximum of five years could be expanded to 15 years each, or a total prison term of 45 years.

In order to understand how he got to this point, we need to go back to late 2005. That’s when Daniel graduated from the University of Iowa and experienced his first romantic breakup. After nearly a year, she wanted to call it quits. Daniel didn’t.

The woman was granted a protective order, which Daniel violated. He was arrested in late March 2007, but his obsession continued. He was later found guilty for the violation and witness tampering. More charges followed when he mailed threats to his lawyer. Back with his parents in Illinois, he again violated the protective order by sending messages to the woman and attempting to connect with her through social media. He phoned her place of employment and threatened to disclose “embarrassing information” about her.

All of this has led to criminal charges, but more in court documents has not. For instance, he threatened to sexually molest the granddaughter of a court official. He verbally assaulted his public defender with racial slurs, and made sexual comments to a court reporter.

Several people in the woman’s workplace tell of their fear and uncertainty. Law enforcement was stationed in the building for a time and employees were provided photographs of Daniel. It is clear his actions negatively impacted her co-workers as well.

While behavioral health experts caution against linking Aspergers to violence, there have been high-profile cases. Adam Lanza, who committed the shooting massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary had Aspergers. Just last week, Elliot Rodger committed mass murder in California, leaving behind videos and documents outlining his obsession in attaining a romantic relationship.

In such cases, society has tried to understand why earlier signs weren’t enough to stop the tragedy. Social workers, health professionals, family members and police have endured public flogging.

When viewed in relation to the Jason case, officials seem to be damned if they do and damned if they don’t.

Pundits, armchair and otherwise, have been quick to question whether or not officials have acted appropriately. Before reading court documents and case files and speaking with those involved, I anticipated asking similar questions.

But this isn’t an after-school special that will end with a group hug. Daniel has violated the law and provided no indication of remorse or an ability to stop.

On the other side of the issue is a woman, who has done nothing wrong, and her family members, who are also innocent. Justice requires they be allowed to live without Daniel’s continued obsessive behavior and harassment.

Society needs to decide if justice can only be served by a prison sentence.

More on this issue coming in my Sunday column.

This column by Lynda Waddington originally published in The Gazette on May 31, 2014. Photo credit: