AUGUSTA — The former girlfriend of a Pole accused of murdering her brother on Thanksgiving morning says Maine’s failing mental health system was to blame for the tragic event.
Justin Butterfield, 34, who is charged with the intentional or knowing or depraved indifference murder of his brother, Gabriel Damour, 38, is expected to say he was not in a criminally responsible state of mind at the time of the crime, according to his lawyer.
Yaicha Provencher told a Maine State House press conference Monday that she was never made aware of a state law that would have imposed a strict surveillance schedule on Butterfield to help her manage his illness.
Four years ago, Butterfield began showing signs of a brain disorder that would later be diagnosed as schizophrenia, Provencher said.
He suffered from paranoia, visual and auditory hallucinations, she said.
Butterfield has been hospitalized eight times since 2019, she said, seven times at St. Mary’s Regional Medical Center in Lewiston.
In October 2018, Provencher called local law enforcement officials to report that Butterfield was having a psychotic episode.
Authorities told him they did not believe he was suffering from psychosis.
“And I had to continue living in my prison,” she said.
Butterfield’s psychotic state continued until he assaulted Provencher because he believed she was working with a nefarious imaginary organization that intended to harm her and the two children in the house. former couple, she said.
He was arrested, but not hospitalized, and released from jail on bail, she said.
Although bail conditions prohibited her from visiting their home, it meant little to Butterfield, who was still delusional, she said.
His psychosis continued through January 2019, though he “barged into the sheriff’s department with bizarre behavior,” Provencher said.
Butterfield was first hospitalized for his brain disorder but was released days later, she said.
“What was he supposed to do when he came out?” she says. “Did a man in this psychotic state have to find resources there to help him with something he thought he didn’t need help with?”
Butterfield was hospitalized twice more in less than a month with no long-term treatment plan upon his release until his friend, Nate Howard, showed staff members video footage of Butterfield and insisted. that he was likely to hurt someone, Provencher said.
Even then, she said, he was released without a long-term plan or supervision.
No one had told Provencher about a state law passed in 2010 that offers involuntary hospitalized patients a so-called graduated treatment program.
Under this law, sponsored by the senator at the time. John Nutting of Leeds, superintendent or chief executive of a psychiatric hospital, commissioner (of the Department of Health and Social Services), manager of an ACT team, doctor, enforcement officer laws or the legal guardian of the subject patient may obtain an order from the Maine District Court to admit a patient to a graduated treatment program under certain conditions, including that the patient has a serious mental illness and persistent or poses a risk of serious harm.
This also applies if the patient is unlikely to voluntarily follow the treatment plan.
During his four-year battle with Butterfield’s disease, Provencher wondered on Monday, “How could this not have been discussed?” How come his support team doesn’t know and asks the hospital to put him on this plan because if I did I would have and I think his team would too.
Butterfield has been hospitalized four times since April, she said.
He led Bath Police on a high-speed chase and set fire to a building in which he believed children were being tortured, Provencher said.
Butterfield was speeding through traffic, then fled on foot and hid in the water overnight, needing to be rescued. He was then taken to hospital.
“I just named three things that put him at risk for himself and others. I called the hospital with others with more power than me. And I even spoke to the social worker who would weigh in on the decision to give him a white paper,” Provencher said. “This decision to give him a white paper was denied. What does it take to have a white paper? What does it actually take to ask the court to place him in a (gradual treatment program)? Why drive to endanger , arson, and possibly involuntary suicide by hiding in freezing cold water don’t he meet the criteria? I’ll tell you what not to do: telling people over and over, “He’s going to hurt someone.” ‘one, kill someone.
“So what do you need? It took a man, who was a loving family man, brutally killing his brother. He took her from homelessness to help her because he loved her. And is that still enough? Is he finally entitled to treatment or is he thrown in prison, prosecuted and punished for the negligence of others? »
Nutting, who hosted Monday’s press conference, said the state is not taking advantage of federal funds earmarked for long-term care programs for patients and providers are not implementing a program that could save lives. lives.
He said the program includes patient housing and intense community support systems. Similar programs exist in 48 states, he said.
“These laws have dramatically increased compliance with the treatment plan,” Nutting said, especially for patients who have anosognosia or are unaware they have the brain disease.
“The problem with the state of Maine, compared to other states, is this failed mindset, in my opinion, and other opinions, that we had 15 hospitalizations, and you are going to release them crossing your fingers. And the 16th time, they will understand on their own that they need to be under treatment. And that won’t happen. It’s cruel. It’s inhumane.
With each psychotic episode, the patient experiences further brain damage, Nutting said.
Hospital beds are full of short-term patients who return repeatedly because they are not on a long-term treatment plan, Nutting said.
“There are still many medical professionals in Maine who don’t know the law exists because the department hasn’t told them and isn’t promoting it,” he said.
Last year, the Maine Legislature unanimously passed a bill to strengthen and expand the use of the progressive treatment program.
But unless it’s embraced by the state and promoted as a treatment for people with serious biological brain diseases, such as schizophrenia, it will continue to be underused, Nutting said.
“It’s almost like they’re ashamed of the law,” he said of the department that oversees the program.
Other states with comparable populations have nearly four times as many patients in their court-ordered program as the roughly 80 people in Maine’s graduated treatment program, Nutting said.
“And thank God we have 80,” he said, “but there are hundreds and hundreds of people with biological brain disease who are circulating again and again in our prisons and hospitals unnecessarily .”
In 2017, then-Attorney General Janet Mills commissioned a task force to investigate why (there were) a high number of violent interactions between law enforcement and sufferers. biological diseases of the brain.
“One of the key recommendations in 2017 from this task force was to increase the use of the PTP program,” Nutting said.
But there are fewer people on that program now than in 2017, he said.
Federal funds available in Maine to treat biological brain disorders have gone untapped, Nutting said, despite repeated pleas from family members at public hearings hosted by DHHS.
A successful example of the Nutting-led program is Gardiner’s son Jeanne Gore, who also spoke on Monday.
Gore, coordinator and co-chair of the steering committee of the National Shattering Silence Coalition, said she spent 13 years seeking to help her son.
During that time, he disappeared, joined a religious cult, was imprisoned twice, was homeless, assaulted by Vermont police, and hospitalized 43 times.
Only then, she said, was she able to get him into a phased treatment program.
Gore said her son, like Butterfield and more than half of people with schizophrenia, suffers from anosognosia.
Early interventions like this have been shown to lead to 77% fewer psychiatric hospitalizations, she said.
It also reduced homelessness among that population by 74%, resulted in 83% fewer arrests and 87% fewer incarcerations, she said.
“That’s what saved my son’s life,” she says.
Since 2013, he has only been to the hospital twice, and each time for a short stay to adjust his medication, she said.
“My son is a great example of the successes we can have,” Gore said. “He is an accomplished musician who lives independently in the community.”
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