Graphic by Greer Vermilye
Dubbed the “frying pan incident,” students and staff likely remember the event that occurred September of last year. A plethora of memes and jokes circulated around the school and on social media, making fun of “pan man.” But few recognize the name of the 19-year-old arrested for assaulting a student and teacher with a frying pan: Prince Cutchember.
At the age of seven, Cutchember was abandoned by his parents, and from then on was raised in various foster homes throughout Maryland. He attended RICA-Baltimore, a mental health residential treatment facility, before moving to The National Center for Children and Families — a child and family welfare agency in Bethesda — in order to attend Whitman.
On Sept. 16, 2019, Cutchember experienced a schizophrenic episode. He brought a frying pan into school from the group home where he was living at the time. The student he approached had not interacted with Cutchember before, but Cutchember was under the impression that they had, said Cutchember’s attorney John Pierce.
Cutchember had been diagnosed with schizophrenia at a young age, and he may have been non-compliant with taking his medication at the time of the incident, Pierce said.
“The age of 16 is about as early as that disease can be identified,” he said. “It’s usually identified much later. The fact that it was identified reflects what a serious condition it is.”
Schizophrenia is a syndrome, which means it is associated with a variety of symptoms that aren’t exhibited in all patients, making the condition difficult to narrow down to a specific definition.
The mental disorder distorts people’s interpretation of reality. Symptoms can include hallucinations, delusions and abnormal behavior, according to the World Health Organization.
After last September’s incident, Cutchember faced a charge of first degree assault, which could warrant a prison sentence of up to 25 years. His case originally got lost in the system, having fallen off the clerk’s calendar. However, Pierce, who connected with Cutchember through a charity foundation called The Invisible Hand, helped to get his case scheduled for the docket by Dec. 10.
Cutchember pleaded not criminally responsible by reason of insanity.
The judge determined that Cutchember qualified for mental health court, a new Montgomery County program established in 2016. The mental health court takes cases out of the criminal justice system, so the defendant can be treated for their mental illness.
In 2016, Montgomery County reported that around 20 percent of incarcerated men and 30 percent of incarcerated women had a serious mental illness.
Incarceration doesn’t address the underlying issue of the defendant’s mental health, and can interfere with that person’s access to housing and medical services.
“MHC takes people with mental conditions that impact their behavior, and instead of treating it criminally, MHC treats it as what it is,” Pierce said.
Cutchember is now residing in a state facility where he is being treated for his schizophrenia. He graduated from high school, finishing his courses online, Pierce said.
“Prince understands that he has a mental health disease, and he is addressing it,” Pierce said. “He believes in himself, and he is proud of himself.”
All information disclosed by John Pierce was cleared with expressed, signed permission from his client, Prince Cutchember.
This story was originally published on The Black & White on September 30, 2020.