Transcript sheds light on Brattleboro school scare
By Susan Smallheer
Staff Writer | April 04,2013
BRATTLEBORO — A recently released transcript of a hospitalization hearing of a Brattleboro man — whose release from the Brattleboro Retreat in late January triggered a Windham County-wide school security alert — shows the judge found the man did not fit state standards for mental illness.
Judge John Wesley ruled that “K.G.,” despite being held against his will, first at Brattleboro Memorial Hospital’s emergency room and then at the Retreat, did not meet the strict definition as outlined under state law.
Calling it a “difficult case,” Wesley said the state had not “met its very high burden of proof.” The state has sought to have K.G., hospitalized involuntarily.
But while Wesley said K.G. did not meet the definition of mentally ill, he urged the 25-year-old man, who suffers from depression and Asperger’s syndrome, to seek mental health help.
“(He) is a 25-year-old man, who has, since he was 15, been diagnosed as being on the autism spectrum otherwise known as being susceptible to Asperger’s syndrome,” the judge ruled. “As such, as indicated by both Dr. McGee and Dr. VanTuinen’s testimony and heartbreakingly supported by (his) mother’s testimony, he has trouble with social interactions. He has some tendency toward isolation.”
“The court can only hope that this court or any other court in this state never has to confront a circumstance again where we’re talking about somebody who it is claimed by the state is needing emergency mental health attention and has to wait for a week before the state can find a place to give the person the emergency mental health attention,” Wesley stated.
The Brattleboro Reformer had gone to court to have the transcript of the Jan. 25 hearing made public, citing intense public interest and widespread concern after Brattleboro schools sent out a warning message on a Sunday evening, alerting parents to increased security measures.
At the time, the school district and town did not give a specific reason for the vague warning, which prompted at least half of the children in the school district to stay home.
Last month, Ira Morris, assistant attorney general assigned to the state’s mental health cases, said he had called the Brattleboro police after K.G.’s hearing, in which Wesley had set the man free.
Morris said in an interview last month that he made the call out of concern that K.G., posed a threat to the public, and that recent court decisions all but mandated that he make such an alert to public officials.
K.G. reportedly made threats to kill himself and “take others with him,” according to Wesley’s ruling. Brattleboro officials worried in the weeks following the Connecticut school shootings that K.G. lived near a school.
“He’s done nothing to indicate that he has had any intention to act on them and, in particular, he has not acted aggressively or in a hostile fashion or in a violent fashion by any behavior,” the judge noted.
His behavior while being held was “quite astonishing,” the judge noted, since he obviously believed he wasn’t mentally ill and he was being held against his will.
While K.G. was being held, he was “calm, was lucid, was a gentleman and that behavior has continued throughout his hospitalization at the Retreat ever since,” Wesley added.
“There is no indication, as there was none at Brattleboro Memorial Hospital, that (he) acted at all aggressively or hostilely,” Wesley said.
The transcript was released after the Vermont Supreme Court on Friday ruled in support of Wesley’s decision in February to release the transcript at the newspaper’s request. The court denied K.G.’s attorney’s, Jack McCullough of Vermont Legal Aid, request for a stay.
“The court concludes that it supports a find that non-disclosure of the hearing transcript — under the specific and unique circumstances presented here — would be contrary to the public interest,” the five justices wrote. Plus, they said, K.G.’s court file had been made public to newspapers covering the case because K.G.’s attorney had failed to file an appeal or stay on the stated deadline.
“The court notes in particular the fact that the case file has already been disclosed, which both diminishes the privacy interest in non-disclosure and increases the public interest in obtaining a complete picture of the underlying matter rather than the potentially misleading understanding that may result from the partial record contained in the case file.”