Mentally ill Virgin Islanders remain incarcerated and waiting for psychiatric treatment, including one man who was recently sent back to jail only two days after being released, and another who has remained in a jail cell for three weeks because he’s too sick to communicate with his attorney.
“The jail is not a mental ward, the jail is not a mental hospital,” St. Thomas Magistrate Judge Henry Carr III said during a recent advice of rights hearing, which was held via video conference. “I know we’re doing the very best we can under the circumstances, but this can’t continue.”
Magistrate judges territorywide have expressed increasing exasperation with the government’s inability to help those in need of urgent psychiatric treatment, including some who could pose a danger to themselves and others if they are released from jail without care.
Gov. Albert Bryan Jr. said during a recent press conference that “we’re seeing increased instances of individuals with behavioral health issues are becoming victims of their illnesses and are running afoul of the law, sometimes with fatal instances.”
Judge Carr was speaking in regards to Glenville Canonier, 61, who was arrested on Oct. 22 after he was seen removing trash from receptacles in front of Green House restaurant, defecated on the sidewalk and exposed his genitals.
Jail psychiatrist Dr. Leighman Lu — who retired on Aug. 31 after 23 years of service but has agreed to keep working until Bureau officials can find a replacement — examined Canonier and concluded that his actions were a symptom of his illness.
“Obviously this man needs some help, he can’t just remain in jail,” Carr said.
But Territorial Public Defender Paula Norkaitis said the jail’s mental health coordinator, Ruth Warren, determined “he’s still not stable. He would not understand advice of rights if it was given today. ”
“It’s been a long time, hasn’t it?” Carr asked at the time, noting that it was Canonier’s fourth scheduled court appearance.
Norkaitis agreed, and Assistant V.I. Attorney General Brenda Scales said she’s unsure how prosecutors intend to proceed, but they’re uncomfortable releasing him back to the streets in his current condition. Facing a maximum sentence of 90 days, Carr said authorities can’t keep him incarcerated indefinitely.
The territory does not have an inpatient mental health facility, so prisoners with behavioral and psychiatric problems must either remain in jail or be sent to an off-island treatment facility. But many who are too ill to be arraigned are released without treatment, only to be re-arrested as their underlying symptoms haven’t been addressed.
Prisoners in acute psychiatric distress should be admitted to Schneider Hospital for stabilization, and Carr asked why Canonier couldn’t be admitted involuntarily so he can receive proper care.
“I don’t believe it’s a possibility,” Scales said. She reviewed the statute regarding involuntary hospitalization and “it’s our understanding that a family member needs to move for his admission.”
“There’s no family member?” Carr asked.
“I don’t think so,” Scales said.
Canonier’s case echoes several others, including Dennison Bellot, 56, also known as “Silver Fox,” another well-known vagrant in Charlotte Amalie. Bellot is homeless and indigent, with a deep gravelly voice and a long rap sheet.
Bellot was arrested Oct. 13 and charged with trespassing at a woman’s home. In court, he identified himself as “Demon Dracula,” so Carr ordered Lu to examine and treat him so he can be found competent to stand trial and be released on a $100 unsecured bond. But after two weeks without an evaluation, Lu appeared in court again, and Carr again noted he can’t keep individuals in jail indefinitely when they face short maximum sentences.
“I don’t know how many people that Dr. Lu can see when he’s on retirement,” Carr said, literally throwing his hands up in frustration. “You want me to continue the defendant in custody on a trespass charge?”
Territorial Public Defender Frederick Johnson said there’s “no reason he can’t come back to BOC or do a mental health evaluation after he’s released.”
“I would have no objection to him being released if I knew he had been cleared by Dr. Lu,” said Scales. “We would want to wait until we have clearance from Dr. Lu that he’s not a danger to himself or others.”
Carr made the difficult decision to release Bellot from jail, but implored him to seek help from the Health Department. Bellot was released on Oct. 31 and arrested again only two days later for petit larceny.
Yet another man facing similar challenges is Glasford Smith. Like Bellot, Smith is 56 years old, homeless, and has a long criminal history on St. Thomas, including a Jan. 2019 incident where he used a rock to strike a University of the Virgin Islands security officer, who shot Smith in self-defense.
Smith was arrested again on Sept. 21 and charged with disobeying an order from police to leave the gazebo at Emancipation Garden, where he’d been sleeping.
On Sept. 23, a corrections officer told Hermon-Percell that Smith was in the midst of a mental health crisis and was refusing to leave his jail cell, so she ordered him to be evaluated and treated.
Smith remained in jail for more than a month waiting for treatment, and Carr ordered the case dismissed on Oct. 30.
It’s unlikely he will be freed from jail, however, as Johnson said he’s received notice Smith violated his conditions of release in a previous criminal case with Judge Renee Gumbs-Carty, so “he’s still going to be accountable to Carty’s court under the revocation of probation.”