Jail Release Option Lost For Human Services’ Client

The front entrance of the Caledonia County Courthouse includes fencing as a precaution to keep people from getting too close to the building as brickwork along a decorative band is deteriorating. (Photo by Dana Gray)

ST. JOHNSBURY — A man deemed too dangerous to return to his most recent Northeast Kingdom Human Services-monitored residence in Burke remains jailed following a decision that he does not have a mental illness.

Brian Hawkins, 44, has been held in the Southern State Correctional Facility in Springfield since mid-July, and officials have been trying to find a different place for him to live since.

He was taken into custody by Vermont State Police at a Burke Green Road property on June 27. Hawkins is a client in the NKHS Intellectual and Developmental Disability program and had been living in the Burke residence under 24-hour supervision by NKHS staff. He was charged with crimes that day for alleged behavior that included getting on a tractor and striking the operator after the operator refused to give him a ride to Newport. Additionally, he was accused of slapping his NKHS caregiver and stopping a vehicle on the road, getting into the vehicle and telling the driver to take him to Newport.

For just over two weeks after his arrest, Hawkins stayed at Central Vermont Medical Center in Berlin, but that option ended when medical staff communicated they did not want to keep Hawkins in their emergency room any longer because there was no medical reason for him to be there and Hawkins was being disruptive, affecting the care of other patients.

NKHS Senior Program Director Deb Spencer-​Tanguay has been struggling to find a place for Hawkins to live since he was taken into custody. A return to the Burke house is not a viable option because NKHS officials believe a higher level of supervision is needed, and there isn’t sufficient staff in place to handle Hawkins. Employees quit at the prospect of caring for Hawkins.

“We lost another person last week because the fear of working with Mr. Hawkins is great,” said Spencer-​Tanguay in a hearing on Monday in Caledonia Superior Court.

Spencer-​Tanguay said she is working on a plan to locate Hawkins in a different Caledonia County residence that she believes would be suitable. She referenced an effort to place fencing around the property. She said she didn’t know how soon the option would be available because the property in question is tied up in a foreclosure action.

“Unfortunately, your honor, the property continues to still be detained within the court system and the owner is unable to get that property released to him which creates a situation where we’re not able to develop the environment so that it can be a safe, secure environment for Mr. Hawkins to live and a place where he can live in the community,” said Spencer-​Tanguay.

Judge Michael Harris said he would connect with the judge involved in the property case and see about an expedited ruling.

A separate track that could have led to Hawkins’s release from jail hit a wall with a recent psychiatric evaluation by Dr. Alisson Richards, a psychiatrist and director for the Vermont Psychiatric Care Hospital. The results showed no mental illness is to blame for his behavior. Had a significant mental illness been found, there was a possibility Hawkins could have been sent to a psychiatric facility.

Judge Harris referenced Dr. Richards’ 17-page report in the hearing on Monday.

“Her opinion is that it’s the intellectual disability that’s the primary reason for the behavior,” he said, “Though there may be mental health conditions those aren’t really the primary cause of the behaviors.”

The next step in the court process is a hearing to discuss Hawkins’ competency for prosecution regarding the alleged crimes. The expectation is that he will not be found competent, which will mean the charges will be dismissed, but the issue of his placement will remain.

A different state agency, Disabilities, Aging and Independent Living, could then perhaps come into play with additional options for non-jail placement.

In order for that alternative to become possible, Deputy State’s Attorney Tom Paul will have to establish before the judge that Hawkins does present a danger to himself and others.

“The only way the state can get an order out of this court directing Mr. Hawkins to the custody of the commissioner of the Dept. of Disabilities, Aging and Independent Living would be to find that Mr. Hawkins has either inflicted or attempted to inflict serious bodily injury,” said Paul.

“It’s very evident that Mr. Hawkins does have an assaultive and aggressive behavioral history and the state would then attempt at the hearing to prove that Mr. Hawkins attempted to inflict serious bodily injury either on the driver of the farm tractor, the folks in the motor vehicle or the (NKHS) caretaker.”

Paul said the report shows a long history of living struggles for Hawkins. He’s lived in eight different residences in the last seven years.

“I’m not surprised they’re having a hard time finding a place for him,” he said.

Hawkins appeared for the hearing by video from a room inside the Springfield jail. He spoke out multiple times, telling the judge he wants out of jail.

Judge Harris said everyone would like to see him freed from jail.

“All of us want to get him out, but we don’t have the ability to have a safe place,” said the judge.

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