BELLINGHAM - A man with a history of bipolar disorder pleaded guilty this week to knocking a Whatcom County jail guard unconscious.
The guard was checking bunks on the third floor of the jail - where many troubled inmates are housed - on May 4, 2012, when Merle C. Thomas, 55, blocked him from entering his cell, according to charging documents filed in Whatcom County Superior Court.
Thomas backed off for a moment, allowing the guard to enter, then rushed forward with a haymaker punch that missed. Then he grabbed the guard, spinning him around and pushing him into a concrete desk. The guard's head banged against the wall, knocking him out and leaving a bump "the size of a golf ball," according to the charges.
Another guard jumped in when he heard a commotion. Moments later the injured man came to and, still feeling foggy, helped to subdue the inmate. Later the guard passed out again, spent time in an emergency room and had to take a week off work.
At the time, Thomas had been held in jail for about two weeks after an arrest for disorderly conduct. A police report claimed he was "yelling, cussing and threatening other people" one morning in downtown Bellingham. The charge was dismissed in municipal court two months later.
In the meantime Thomas underwent treatment at Western State Hospital. A court-ordered psychiatric exam noted he was "in the throes of a manic episode." He babbled about Biblical codes in his name and made threats to attack his attorney. Doctors first diagnosed Thomas with bipolar disorder three decades ago.
He was given medication. By December, a judge found him competent to stand trial. On Thursday, Feb. 14, he pleaded guilty to assaulting the guard, accepting a sentence of nine months in jail.
He already has served that time in custody, so a few hours after entering the plea he was released from jail.
Thomas, who lives in the Deming area, had no prior convictions in Washington state. In his mental evaluation he recalled 15 stays in psychiatric hospitals, mostly from his time in Alaska.