BRATTLEBORO — A superior court judge expressed frustration Wednesday that a local man who’s been in jail for eight months isn’t getting the mental health care he needs from the state.
Misbah Abdul-Kareem, 38, has more than 80 charges stretching back to 2019, most of them minor incidents including disorderly conduct, trespassing, theft, and violating the conditions of his release. Late last year he was deemed incompetent to stand trial.
On Wednesday, Windham Superior Court Judge Katherine Hayes approved an order of non-hospitalization that releases Abdul-Kareem from jail to receive treatment in the community, though she was not happy it was her only option.
“I expect if I approve this order, I’ll be seeing [Abdul-Kareem] for a new charge within the next 10 days,” she said. “I’ll be shocked if that’s not the case.”
On Thursday night, according to information from the Brattleboro Police Department, Abdul-Kareem broke into a Brattleboro home. Police are currently searching for him.
“DMH is aware of the history with the patient,” said Assistant Attorney General Scott Shumaker, of the Vermont Attorney General’s Office, on behalf of DMH during Wednesday’s hearing. “Unfortunately, there are people in the hospital all over the state who are waiting some kind of placement.”
“I think [a] seriously mentally ill person who needs residential treatment should take priority over folks who are in a safe, comfortable treatment setting,” said Hayes, who said she believes Abdul-Kareem should be given priority. “I realize that carries no weight whatsoever with the Department [of Mental Health].”
“I will certainly convey the court’s concerns and the state’s attorney’s concerns to the Department,” said Shumaker.
Deputy State’s Attorney David Gartenstein said DMH moved Abdul-Kareem, who has other similar charges in other counties in Vermont, to Windham County in 2019 but there’s never been a time “that he’s been able to maintain in a manner [that doesn’t] pose risk of harm to others and self as reflected in all of these criminal dockets.”
The State’s Attorney’s Office believes Abdul-Kareem should be in state custody, hospitalized, and getting the help he needs, said Gartenstein, and has “communicated repeatedly” to DMH that it doesn’t believe releasing him into the community is good for him or the community.
“The Department of Mental Health has indicated they don’t believe defendant requires hospitalization,” he said.
Everybody, from the state’s attorney’s office to defense counsel believes that Abdul-Kareem requires “a more supportive and restrictive location to be residing besides just in an apartment or in a shelter or in a motel,” he said.
DMH has authorized release of Abdul-Kareem into the custody of Pathways Vermont, an organization that provides support to people suffering from mental illness.
“It’s the state’s position that that is clearly not sufficient to protect defendant [and to] protect the community, but defendant will be in DMH custody, and it’s their sole discretion to make that determination,” said Gartenstein.
Mimi Brill, Abdul-Kareem’s public defender, agreed that her client needs more intensive care.
“This is very frustrating,” said Brill. “But ... I don’t think statutorily you could or you should keep him in jail any longer.”
Brill said her client “certainly never intends to cause any harm.”
“It’s a struggle as I’m standing around wondering what the next step is,” Abdul-Kareem told Hayes.
Jack McCullough, project director of Vermont Legal Aid, told Hayes he has communicated to DMH that “it’s precisely the people who are the most difficult to provide services for who need their help the most.”
He said he is pushing DMH to find space for Abdul-Kareem in Meadowview Recovery Residence on Lindon Street in Brattleboro or the State of Vermont Therapeutic Community Residence in Middlesex, where there soon will be 16 beds available.
“I don’t know how many of them are already spoken for,” said McCullough, adding that given the state of mental health treatment in Vermont, there may be no room there for Abdul-Kareem.
Hayes released Abdul-Kareem into the custody of Pathways Vermont and ordered a status conference in three months.
“I’ve reluctantly signed the order,” she said. “And we really hope that Mr. Abdul-Kareem is able to work with Pathways. I know that he always leaves the court with the best of intentions and I know Pathways works very hard. I very much appreciate the efforts they’ve made, but I’m not sure they can provide the level of services necessary to assist Mr. Abdul-Kareem in staying safe and keeping others safe. But I have no alternative.”
On Friday morning, the Reformer reached out to both the Department of Mental Health and Pathways Vermont, but had not heard back as of noon.