The case of the man in the prison jumpsuit

From NH hospital to downtown Greenfield in a stolen car

GREENFIELD — A man arrested in a hospital gown Sunday on charges stemming from his alleged flight from a Keene, N.H., hospital went through the local justice system only to land on Main Street in yellow jail garb and barefoot.

Greenfield police arrested John U. Harrison, 34, of Keene, and charged him with receiving a stolen vehicle and driving without a license after responding to a 10:54 p.m. report of a man dressed in a hospital johnny at the Irving Gas Station on the Mohawk Trail.

According to the report filed by patrolman Cody Guilbault, he and officer Patrick Buchanan were notified en route that the vehicle had been reported stolen, and they arrested Harrison on arrival.

Guilbault quoted Harrison as saying “I stole the car and left the hospital because they were stealing my blood, my DNA” and “I saw the guy run in and leave his car running and I took it.”

Harrison explained he had stolen the car because he was at a hospital in Keene and they wanted to transfer him to a state hospital, according to Buchanan’s report.

Sgt. Steve Tenney of the Keene Police Department said Harrison was in the emergency room of the Cheshire Medical Center in Keene for a mental illness hold and waiting to be committed to the state mental hospital when he fled security and took the car, a Toyota RAV4, near one of the exits.

Harrison was arraigned Monday in Greenfield District Court before Judge Laurie MacLeod and ordered released on personal recognizance.

Later Monday, at 11:40 a.m., Greenfield police were called to Main Street for a report of a barefoot man in a yellow prison jumpsuit in front of the Brass Buckle restaurant.

Greenfield Police Sgt. Mark Williams said the man turned out to be Harrison, who said he was waiting for a woman coming to pick him up.

Monday afternoon Williams said it appeared Harrison was still looking for a ride, but he hasn’t been seen since.

According to a statement from Deputy District Attorney Janice Healy on Wednesday, Harrison’s court-appointed lawyer raised no concerns about his client’s mental health at his arraignment.

“After consulting with his client and speaking with a health provider in New Hampshire, Mr. Harrison’s attorney raised no concerns with the court regarding Mr. Harrison’s competency or mental health condition,” Healy wrote. “Based upon the information that was available to the commonwealth at the time of Mr. Harrison’s arraignment, his lack of criminal record in Massachusetts and the nature of the charges upon which he was arraigned, there was an insufficient basis for requesting that he be held on bail.”

Healy wrote that due to privacy and patient rights the prosecution is often not privy to information regarding defendants’ mental health, especially at the initial arraignment.

The court may order a defendant be examined for competency or criminal responsibility in cases where they are presented with information that a defendant may have significant mental health issues, according to Healy.

Public defender Jason Stelmack said he read mention of the hospital in the police report but had no concerns Monday after speaking with his client.

The police report does not specify why Harrison was a patient.

“I had no issues with his mental clarity and ability, he seemed like he was completely there and he could recollect everything,” Stelmack said. “I didn’t feel it incumbent upon me to ask for any evaluation of my client and him not having any record, ended up being no request for any depth of evaluation.”

Stelmack said he called a number handed him by the district attorney from a call received by the clerk and traded phone messages with someone in New Hampshire, but never reached anyone in person and the messages did not raise any concern.

Harrison’s hospital johnny was removed when he was kept in the Franklin County Jail overnight pending his arraignment. Accused people are usually given their own clothes back for arraignments, but in Harrison’s case jailers sent him to court in the prison garb.

Kevin Brown, assistant superintendent of jail operations, said Harrison’s release in the full jail uniform was accidental.

“He came to the jail in a paper johnny and when they don’t have clothes, obviously we change them over to a jumpsuit and he was brought to court in a jumpsuit, and before he was released he accidentally wasn’t changed over there,” Brown said. “Usually the court has sweatshirts and stuff like that so they don’t stick out like he did.”

Brown said a deputy later found Harrison in Greenfield and replaced half of the yellow uniform with sweat clothes so he wouldn’t stand out. While Harrison supposedly was barefoot after his release, he would not have been brought before the judge or released barefoot, according to Brown.

“We have jail-issue zip-on shoes,” Brown said. “They’re not the fanciest things, so I don’t know if he dumped them himself.”

Whether Harrison faces any charges in Keene would depend on the prosecutors and questions of competency, according to Tenney.

“Likely when he returns to New Hampshire ... the first avenue will be for him to be re-evaluated to see if the committal still stands,” Tenney said. “I’m sure that will be the first priority, getting him the help he needs.”

Tenney said whether Harrison is a danger to himself or others depends on how you look at it, but the public does not need to be alarmed.

“Do I think he’s going to jump on somebody’s back? No,” Tenney said. “He usually just makes people nervous.”

Tuesday, Keene Lt. Shane Maxfield said he was not sure if Harrison had made it back to New Hampshire, but nor were police looking for him.

“We don’t know whether there’s going to be charges forthcoming because we are researching competency issues,” Maxfield said. “Everything on our end is on hold pending review from higher than me.”

You can reach Chris Curtis at:
ccurtis@recorder.com
or 413-772-0261, ext. 257

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