Mentally ill man jailed after throwing food in institution
Published: October 25, 2013
Font size: [A] [A] [A]
ST. THOMAS - A patient at a long-term mental institution remained in jail Thursday after nurses at the institution were pushed to their breaking point.
Nijah Douglas, 23, was arrested earlier this month and charged with disturbing the peace and destruction of property at the Eldra Schulterbrandt Facility.
Douglas, who has been in jail since his arrest Oct. 11, now is stuck in jail because no third-party custodian could be found for him to stay with prior to his trial.
His case highlights a lack of resources in the territory for dealing with those who are mentally ill and who also can pose a criminal threat to others.
Robert Leycock, the attorney representing Douglas in V.I. Superior Court on Thursday, was unsettled that Douglas was being charged based on behavior at a mental health facility, where it is expected that the residents' behavior usually is not what most would consider normal.
"He was being treated at a psychiatric facility and now he is being charged, because he was acting up?" Leycock asked Magistrate Henry Carr during Douglas's arraignment.
Carr said that he was the judge who determined that there was probable cause for Douglas's arrest, and that he stands by his decision.
It is not uncommon for residents of mental health facilities to be arrested if their behavior escalates beyond what is manageable for staff at the facilities, according to Human Services Commissioner Christopher Finch.
Finch said that his department does not oversee Schulterbrandt, but it does oversee most of the mental health facilities in the territory.
Two facilities exist for adults, both of which are on St. Thomas. Schulterbrandt is a long-term care facility overseen by the V.I. Healt Department; the short-term facility is Schneider Hospital's psychiatric ward.
Three facilities exist for children, only one of which is on St. Thomas, though each serves different kinds of cases, Finch said.
If none of the facilities are able to help a person in the territory, it is difficult to find help for them anywhere, especially if they have a history of aggression, which may be the case with Douglas, Finch said, .
"I know that the facilities don't want to give the impression to their clients that any behavior is OK," Finch said, noting that sometimes law enforcement is necessary.
Douglas has a long history at Schulterbrandt, according to court documents.
The date he was admitted was not available in court documents, but "outbursts" are frequent in logs of his behavior that date back to early 2012, according to records provided by Schulterbrandt staff found in Douglas's case file.
From throwing a box of crayons on the ground to breaking a fellow resident's radio to pushing other residents to threatening to stab members of the staff, Douglas's behavior varies. He also has been known to call his family members, telling them that he wants to leave the facility.
Staff at Schulterbrandt have called 911 in response to his behavior several times, the most recent time being on Oct. 11, when Douglas threw food all over the cafeteria at Schulterbrandt.
"I observed that the Schulterbrandt cafeteria was in a complete mess and food was thrown on the walls, tables, chairs, and floor," V.I. Police Officer Kyle Carty wrote in the probable cause fact sheet.
Images showed food splattered everywhere, including on the pants of one of the staff members. Carty wrote that the food that Schulterbrandt catered, almost all of which was thrown about the room, was worth about $300.
When arrested, Douglas admitted that he had made the mess because he was "mad."
If his case proceeds, Douglas could be acquitted of charges if a psychiatric evaluation finds that he is unfit to stand trial.
Where he will go, either way, is a question, because Schulterbrandt is the only long-term facility in the territory, and there are few other resources for mentally ill people, particularly those with a criminal history.
Staff at Schulterbrandt have tried several times to get Douglas transferred to a mental health facility outside of the territory, but all of those facilities, according to court documents, have rejected him.
Finch said that, for one, most facilities do not want to take an out-of-state patient unless there is a very clear reason why they cannot stay where they are.
Secondly, they do not want to take the hard cases because they expect that they too will struggle to manage the patient if another facility cannot.
"It is a very difficult scenario. When you get into someone that is aggressive, what you have is fewer and fewer facilities that can take them," said Finch.
- Contact Jenny Kane at 714-9102 or email email@example.com.