AUGUSTA — The former girlfriend of a Poland man charged in the murder of his brother Thanksgiving morning said Maine’s failed mental health system is 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 claim he was not in a criminally responsible state of mind at the time of the crime, according to his lawyer.
Yaicha Provencher said Monday at a press conference at the Maine State House that she had never been told about a state law that would have put Butterfield on a strict monitoring schedule to help manage his illness.
Four years ago, Butterfield began to exhibit signs of a brain disorder that would later be diagnosed as schizophrenia, Provencher said.
He experienced 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 Butterfield was having a psychotic episode.
The authorities told her they did not believe he was experiencing psychosis.
“And I had to continue to live 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 him and the former couple’s two children, she said.
He was arrested, but not hospitalized, and was released from jail on bail, she said.
Although bail conditions barred him from going to their home, it meant little to Butterfield, who was still delusional, she said.
His psychosis continued until January 2019, despite having “barged into the sheriff’s department exhibiting bizarre behavior,” Provencher said.
Butterfield was hospitalized for the first time for his brain disorder, but was discharged just days later, she said.
“What was he expected to do when he got out?” she said. “Was a man in this psychotic state expected to find resources out there to help him with something he believed he didn’t need help with?”
Butterfield was hospitalized two more times in less than a month with no long-term treatment plan at release until his friend, Nate Howard, showed staff members videotape footage of Butterfield and insisted he was likely to hurt somebody, Provencher said.
Even then, she said, he was released without a long-term plan and supervision.
No one had told Provencher about a state law that was passed in 2010 that provides patients who were involuntarily hospitalized with a so-called progressive treatment program.
Under that law, sponsored by then-Sen. John Nutting of Leeds, the superintendent or chief administrative officer of a psychiatric hospital, the (Department of Health and Human Services) commissioner, the director of an ACT team, a medical practitioner, a law enforcement officer or the legal guardian of the patient who is the subject of the application may obtain an order from the Maine District Court to admit a patient to a progressive treatment program upon certain conditions, including that the patient suffers from a severe and persistent mental illness or the patient poses a likelihood of serious harm.
It also applies if the patient is unlikely to follow the treatment plan voluntarily.
During her four-year struggle with Butterfield’s disorder, Provencher wondered Monday: “How could this have not been discussed? How was it that his support team did not know of this and demand the hospital put him on this plan because, if I knew, I would have and I believe his team would, too.”
Butterfield has been hospitalized four times since April, she said.
He led Bath police on a high-speed chase and burned down a building in which he believed children were being tortured, Provencher said.
Butterfield was speeding into traffic, then fled on foot and hid in the water overnight, having to be rescued. He was then taken to the hospital.
“I just named three things that put him in danger to himself and others. I called the hospital along with others with more power than me. And I even spoke to the social worker that would be weighing in on the decision to white paper him,” Provencher said. “That decision to white paper him was denied. What does it take to be white papered? What does it actually take to petition the court to put him on a (progressive treatment program)? Why doesn’t driving to endanger, arson and possibly unintentional suicide by hiding in frigid cold water meet the criteria? I’ll tell you what doesn’t: Telling people over and over again, ‘He’s going to hurt somebody, kill somebody.’
“So what does it take? It has taken a man, who was a loving family man, brutally killing his brother. He took him in from homelessness to help him because he loved him. And is it enough yet? Does he finally get allowed his right to treatment or does he get thrown in prison prosecuted and punished for others’ negligence?”
Nutting, who organized the Monday press conference, said the state is not taking advantage of federal funds earmarked for long-term patient programs, and providers are failing to implement a program that could save lives.
He said the program includes patient housing and intense community support systems. Similar programs exist in 48 states, he said.
“These laws have greatly increased treatment plan compliance,” Nutting said, especially for patients who experience anosognosia, or lack of awareness that they have the brain illness.
“The issue with the state of Maine, compared to other states, is this failed mindset, in my opinion, and others opinions, that one has had 15 hospitalizations, and you’re going to release them with your fingers crossed. And the 16th time, they’re gonna figure it out on their own, that they need to be under treatment. And it isn’t going to happen. It’s cruel. It’s inhumane.”
With each psychotic episode, the patient suffers further damage to the brain, Nutting said.
Hospital beds are full of short-term patients who are cycling back repeatedly because they are not put on a long-term treatment plan, Nutting said.
“There are still many medical professionals in Maine that don’t know the law exists because the department has not told them and is not promoting it,” he said.
Last year, the Maine Legislature passed unanimously a bill aimed at strengthening and increasing the use of means progressive treatment program.
But unless it is embraced by the state and promoted in treatment of people with serious biological brain illnesses, such as schizophrenia, it will continue to be underused, Nutting said.
“It’s almost like they’re ashamed of the statute,” he said of the department that oversees the program.
Other states with comparable populations have nearly four times the number of patients in their court-ordered program than the roughly 80 people in Maine’s progressive treatment program, Nutting said.
“And thank goodness that we have 80,” he said, “but there are hundreds and hundreds of biologically brain diseased people cycling over and over and over again, in our jails and hospitals unnecessarily.”
In 2017, then-Attorney General Janet Mills commissioned a task force to study the reasons why (there was a) high number of violent interactions between law enforcement and those with biological brain diseases.
“One of the critical recommendations in 2017 from that task force was to increase the use of the PTP program,” Nutting said.
But there are fewer people in that program now than in 2017, he said.
Federal funds available to Maine aimed at treating biological brain disorders have gone untapped, Nutting said, despite repeated pleas from family members at public hearings held by DHHS.
A successful example of the program spearheaded by Nutting is the son of Jeanne Gore of Gardiner, who also spoke 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.
Over that time, he went missing, joined a religious cult, was jailed twice, was homeless, was assaulted by police in Vermont and hospitalized 43 times.
Only then, she said, she was able to get him into a progressive treatment program.
Gore said her son, like Butterfield and more than half of people who have schizophrenia, suffers from anosognosia.
Early interventions like this has been found to result in 77% fewer psychiatric hospitalizations, she said.
It also has decreased homelessness among that population by 74%, has resulted in 83% fewer arrests and 87% fewer incarcerations, she said.
“It’s what save my son’s life,” she said.
Since 2013, he has only been to the hospital twice, and each time for a short stay to adjust his medications, 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.”