A St. John woman has had her latest criminal case dismissed, but it remains unclear whether she and others struggling with mental illness will get the help they need given the territory’s lack of treatment facilities, staff and diversion programs.
Charisma Turnbull, 32, has been arrested eight times since 2011, and police officers on St. John are familiar with her outbursts and apparent symptoms of mental illness.
Her latest arrest came just after 2 p.m. Tuesday, when officers responded to reports that Turnbull was causing a disturbance on King Street in Cruz Bay.
An officer warned Turnbull to stop harassing businesses, according to a probable cause fact sheet.
Turnbull nodded and mumbled something the officer couldn’t understand. Officers began to head to a business to interview a complainant, but “heard some citizens yelling that ‘Charisma’ is causing havoc,” so officers responded.
Police said they saw Turnbull yelling at the restaurant’s staff, “spitting, and throwing water in the direction of an employee.”
Police stopped her in front of another restaurant “and told her that she will be arrested if she continues harassing businesses. Ms. Turnbull did not comply and started yelling and cursing the officers to ‘Get from here, leave me alone, I ain’t talking to you,” according to the fact sheet.
Officers handcuffed Turnbull — who struggled to get away — and police subsequently notified a shift supervisor about the use of force by officers, according to the fact sheet.
Police returned to the initial business and spoke with the complainant, who said Turnbull was knocking down signboards and pulled a mirror off a Jeep Renegade parked nearby.
Turnbull threw the mirror at the complainant, who said it struck her feet and ankle, and she exercised her right to make a citizen’s arrest.
The arresting officer added in the fact sheet that, “I have known Ms. Charisma Turnbull to have a mental ailment. Also, while on duty we usually receive multiple harassment complaint calls about her.”
Police charged Turnbull with simple assault, disturbance of the peace, and interfering with an officer. Unable to post bail, Turnbull was kept in jail on St. Thomas.
V.I. Police have been repeatedly forced to arrest Turnbull when her behavior becomes a danger to herself or others, but her mental illness means she cannot stand trial or assist in her own defense, and she’s eventually released.
In the latest case, Turnbull was too unwell to appear in court for her advice-of-rights hearing via video conference Wednesday, so it was continued.
On Friday, Territorial Public Defender Julie Todman stated that she was advised by the Virgin Islands Bureau of Corrections that Turnbull “was unable to appear because she is still not mentally stable,” according to an order filed by Magistrate Judge Paula Norkaitis.
Assistant V.I. Attorney General Brenda Scales told Norkaitis that the complainant did not want to proceed with the charges, and Norkaitis dismissed the case and ordered Turnbull to be released from jail.
Turnbull was previously arrested on Jan. 31, 2021, for simple assault and destruction of property. Magistrate Judge Henry Carr III complained at the time that he could not “keep her in jail forever,” when the Health Department was unable to find a bed in a treatment center. “Jail can’t be a warehouse for mentally ill persons,” he said.
Judges are acutely aware of the territory’s growing mental health crisis — and have been sounding the alarm for years — calling on the executive branch to fulfill its mandate of providing public health and social services.
“What’s clear is that the Virgin Islands is lacking in proper care for the mentally ill or troubled population, and that population is growing each and every day. And so, the court expresses its hope that this situation will be addressed by those with the power to do so, because the court doesn’t have the power to do so,” St. Croix Magistrate Judge Ernest Morris Jr. said on Jan. 24 at a hearing for 29-year-old Jahmila Greenaway.
Like Turnbull, Greenaway has been repeatedly arrested when the symptoms of her untreated mental health issues become unmanageable.
“This is where Miss Greenaway ends up every time she has a breakdown,” Morris said. “Many other jurisdictions have created courts that deal with these types of issues, mental health courts, and perhaps it’s time that the Virgin Islands should invest in such.”
Gov. Albert Bryan Jr. declared a state of emergency on mental health three years ago, but the Health Department is still unable to provide prompt inpatient treatment and other forms of critical care for the community’s most vulnerable members.
While some are shipped off-island to private facilities in other jurisdictions, others are released to the streets without treatment.
“I know a young lady that was arrested two and a half weeks ago, and this is the fifth time she has been arrested and she continues to be released,” Sen. Kurt Vialet said at a committee hearing Wednesday. “All of her incidents are a direct result of her behavioral health issues.”
Deputy Health Commissioner Renan Steele said a mental health court system could be put in place streamlining the process of connecting inmates with mental health services.
But without more employees and facilities with available beds, the department cannot provide those services.
“We have case managers carrying a caseload of 100 plus patients,” Steele said.