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Orange County teen is missing after release from jail

Matt Hoff, 18, hasn't been seen since he finished a 60-day jail term for theft three weeks ago. His family says he was off his anti-psychotic medication.

February 21, 2012|By Carol J. Williams, Los Angeles Times
  • Matt Hoff, 18, was let out of the Orange County Central Jail in Santa Ana at 4 a.m. on Feb. 7, his mother said.
Matt Hoff, 18, was let out of the Orange County Central Jail in Santa Ana at…

A mentally ill Orange County teen who "aged out" of treatment programs last year and went off his medication during a 60-day jail stay has been missing since his predawn release nearly three weeks ago, his distraught mother said Monday.

Matt Hoff, 18, hasn't contacted his family in Ladera Ranch since he was let out of the Orange County Central Jail in Santa Ana at 4 a.m. on Feb. 7, said Jennifer Hoff, who has appealed through a Facebook page for help finding her son.

Hoff had been in custodial treatment for severe mental illness for most of his adolescence and was "medically compliant" when he returned to California nine months ago from a Texas facility after he turned 18, his mother said.

Orange County mental health authorities can't offer him the services he needs because they are available only to adults whose behavior has been deemed dangerous to others, Jennifer Hoff said.

"There's nothing we can do to keep him safe," she said. "He's off his meds now and doesn't trust us anymore."

Hoff's disappearance after his release from jail is reminiscent of the Mitrice Richardson case in Los Angeles County. Richardson, an emotionally troubled 24-year-old arrested in Malibu after failing to pay an $89 restaurant bill, was released from the Malibu/Lost Hills jail in 2009 after midnight without her car, wallet or cellphone. Her remains were found a year later in a remote Malibu Canyon ravine.

Matt Hoff has exhibited erratic behavior since he was 5, his mother said. He was kicked out of a group home operated by Orange County mental health officials when he became too disruptive and lived on the streets for several weeks, according to Jennifer Hoff. When he was arrested and held for two months for taking things from a neighbor's car, jailers refused the anti-psychotic medications she brought for her son and his condition escalated to full-blown psychosis, she said.

After that first jail stint, Hoff went home with gang members with whom he lived until his parents persuaded him to go with them, Jennifer Hoff said. His second jail sentence was also on theft charges.

She said the family would be able to pay for the teen's treatment in a private facility, but they lack the legal authority to commit him against his will.

"What kind of private program can I put my 18-year-old kid in? It's called kidnapping," she said of the legal constraints that can be overcome only if he becomes a threat to public safety. "There's nothing we can do to get him involuntary care."

The family has posted an appeal on Facebook asking anyone who has seen Matt Hoff to contact his parents, Jennifer and Gary Hoff, at (714) 759-4357, or the Orange County Department of Behavioral Health at (714) 517-6353.

A mental health specialist who answered the department phone said an assessment team member would be dispatched with police to investigate any reports of the teen's whereabouts.

Calls to the Orange County Sheriff's Department for information on jail release policies were not returned.

carol.williams@latimes.com

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