BRATTLEBORO — Police arrested a mentally ill man who was recently released from prison, although a judge had expressed concern upon his release that she would soon see him again.
On Thursday, the Brattleboro Police Department responded to a residence on Elliot Street for a report of a person unlawfully entering the home. Police said investigation determined Misbah Abdul-Kareem, 37, of Brattleboro, entered the residence without permission and stole some items before leaving after being confronted by the homeowner.
Officers were unable to immediately locate Abdul-Kareem following the incident. On Sunday, they found him at a hotel on Putney Road.
Abdul-Kareem was arrested for burglary and lodged at the police station, where he was held in lieu of $5,000 bail. He was cited to appear in court Monday.
Lt. Adam Petlock of the Brattleboro Police Department said Abdul-Kareem took medications from the home but declined to say which kinds.
Last week, Judge Katherine Hayes expressed frustration that Abdul-Kareem had not been getting the mental health care he needs from the state after being in jail for eight months.
Abdul-Kareem 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, 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.”
The Vermont Department of Mental Health “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.”
Hayes expressed hope that Abdul-Kareem would be given priority for treatment.
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,” Gartenstein 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,” Gartenstein said.
DMH authorized release of Abdul-Kareem into the custody of Pathways Vermont, an organization that provides support to people suffering from mental illness. 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.”
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.
Former neighbors to Abdul-Kareem have shared their concerns with the State’s Attorney’s Office, worried about his wellbeing and their own safety. He “needs long-term, compassionate, residential care and in my opinion would likely benefit from living within the Vermont state hospital system,” wrote one family on Oak Street.
“He does not deserve to be treated as a criminal just because we don’t have the infrastructure to provide him with a more appropriate bed,” the family said. “The most vulnerable members of our society deserve basic human supports at the level of their need.”
Abdul-Kareem “needs care and is repeatedly being denied it, so he’s ‘flushed’ back to the streets,” wrote another community member.
“I’m disturbed that Misbah may well be released soon with no provision for mental health treatment,” wrote a couple on Chase Street. “He trespassed in our yard and attempted entry into our house which was observed and documented by our neighbor ... in the spring last year when he first appeared in our Chase Street neighborhood. We are concerned that no provision has been made to date [regarding] mental health treatment and ask for support and action for his sake as well as that of our neighborhood. His escalation is troubling.”