Saugerties man’s bad, bad weekend show’s systems flaws, says police chief

 

cop SQSaugerties Police Chief Joseph Sinagra is pointing to a series of incidents involving a village resident as an example of serious flaws in the county and state mental health infrastructure.

David B. Pollack, 24, of 110 Partition St. was arrested by Saugerties police three times between Friday, Feb. 19, when he was arrested and taken for a psychological evaluation following an incident at the local Price Chopper, and Feb. 21, when he allegedly barged into a neighbor’s apartment claiming to have a gun. It was not until the final arrest that Pollack was finally taken off the streets and jailed on $1,000 bail.

“The police should not be dealing with that,” said Sinagra. “We’re not trained psychologists, psychiatrists, social workers — that’s who should be dealing with it.”

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Pollack, who lives alone in a Partition Street apartment, is well known to Saugerties police. Since May, Sinagra said, Pollack “had contact” with town police on 26 occasions. On six of those occasions, cops transported Pollack to HealthAlliance Hospital for evaluation under the state’s mental hygiene law. According to Sinagra, issues with Pollack included a panoply of low-level quality-of-life offenses ranging from standing in traffic yelling at cars, to shoplifting to creating disturbances in local businesses. The incidents, Sinagra said, seemed to have abated in recent months.

“He was quiet for awhile, but something happened this weekend,” said Sinagra. “I don’t know if it was a substance abuse issue, or a change in medication or a failure to take some required medication, but something happened.”

Pollack’s wild weekend began around 1:30 a.m. on Feb. 19 when he walked into Price Chopper, went to an employee break room and grabbed a smock and nametag. Sinagra said Pollack then began wandering around the store until he came across the manager stocking shelves. When questioned, Pollack insisted that he was the manager and was working. By the time police arrived, Pollack had locked himself in the break room and refused to come out. Pollack allegedly told police that he was the store’s manager and demanded that they leave. When members of the Saugerties Police Emergency Response Team and a K-9 unit forced their way into the room, they found Pollack standing on a table. Sinagra said that the cops recently issued body-cameras captured Pollack executing a back flip off the table, landing on the floor then screaming that officers had hurt him and demanding to know why they had flipped him off the table. Pollack was taken into custody and transported to HealthAlliance’s Broadway campus for a mental health evaluation.

Nine hours later, police said, Pollack was back at Price Chopper “acting bizarre” and causing patrons to fear for their safety. After Pollack refused management’s demand that he leave the store, police were called. This time, Pollack was arrested, charged with trespassing and arraigned in village court. Following his arraignment, Pollack was released on his own recognizance with orders to appear in court at 6 p.m. on Monday, Feb. 22. Pollack never made it.

According to police around 1:38 a.m. on Monday morning cops were called to 110 Partition for a report of a man with a gun. When officers arrived, they found Pollack in a neighbor’s apartment. The neighbor reported that he and a friend had been sleeping when he awoke to find Pollack, who lives in an adjoining apartment, inside. When the resident demanded he leave, he told police, Pollack moved his hand to his waistband and said he had a gun. Sinagra said that police discovered that Pollack was unarmed, but not before some tense moments.

“If he had put his hand in his waistband when officers arrived, he could have been shot and killed,” said Sinagra. “Then I would have an officer suffering for the rest of his life because he shot an unarmed man and I’d have a whole community outraged because an unarmed man was shot.”

This time, when Pollack was hauled into court for arraignment on misdemeanor charges of trespassing and third-degree menacing, the judge set bail at $1,000 and Pollack was sent to the Ulster County Jail.

 

Sinagra said that the events of the weekend highlighted serious holes in New York State’s “Kendra’s Law.” The legislation, passed in 1999 in the wake of two highly publicized incidents in which diagnosed schizophrenics pushed people onto New York City subway tracks, allows for involuntary commitment to a psychiatric facility for up to 72 hours provided the patient meets certain criteria. The goal is to get mentally ill people who may pose a danger to themselves or others into a hospital setting where they can be stabilized on medication and connected to treatment services. But, according to Sinagra, Pollack’s case illustrates the law’s shortcomings. Anyone hospitalized under Kendra’s Law can leave or refuse treatment as long as medical staffers believe they are able to care for themselves and don’t pose a public safety risk. Sinagra believes that’s how Pollack was able to check out of the HealthAilliance facility just hours after his first arrest.

“I don’t believe that he was there long enough to make that evaluation. There’s a big difference in how someone presents themselves over a 24-hour period and how they appear after one hour,” said Sinagra. “A lot of these guys know what to say — ‘I don’t want to hurt myself, I don’t want to hurt anyone else’ — and they’re out the door without anyone looking at the bigger issues.”

Sinagra also questioned whether hospital staff arranged for appropriate follow-up care following Pollack’s release. A county-run program, Mobile Mental Health, can perform follow-up visits and provide other services to people recently released from an involuntary commitment. But Sinagra said it was unclear if they were even contacted regarding Pollack.

Sinagra added that medical privacy laws made it virtually impossible for police to get information regarding the status of people, like Pollack, that they must deal with regularly.

“We’re left in the dark yet we’re the ones left holding the bag,” said Sinagra.

Sinagra said that since he spoke out about Pollack’s case he’s received a flood of calls and e-mails from people around the county, most with mentally ill relatives, confirming his belief that there are loopholes in the law and its administration that allow vulnerable people to fall through the cracks. Sinagra said he planned to meet next month with a group of local, state and county mental health stakeholders to discuss possible solutions.

“There was a complete breakdown in the system,” said Sinagra. “Now you took a person with a mental health issue and put him in jail, where he doesn’t belong because there wasn’t another option.”

There is one comment

  1. Bart Friedman

    It was a few decades ago when the mental hospitals were closed, emptied and the patients released to their homes and streets. Society dealt with this problem by imprisoning the emotionally disabled when they “acted out”. These persons wound up brutalized and forgotten in the system if they didn’t have loving families or health insurance. You must only imagine what life is like in a prison for a mentally disabled person, but the fact remains that the mentally ill are dealt with by our police departments and jails. How in the world can the police not have training in handling the “mentally ill”? The very act of criminality is a mental aberration. Police must be adequately trained to identify and deal with the mentally ill and social services must integrate with police work. Happily, our department didn’t kill this person as might have happened in other communities or other circumstances. I’m glad this issue is before the public.

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