With a deadline looming, a mentally ill man accused of breaking windows at the U.S. Attorney’s office in Buffalo nearly a year ago has been sent to a psychiatric hospital.
Jones Woods, 61, arrived at a federal prison psychiatric facility in Massachusetts from a private prison in Ohio on Jan. 16, according to court documents. The transfer came after U.S. Magistrate Judge Michael Roemer in December gave prosecutors an ultimatum: Get Woods out of jail and into psychiatric care by Jan. 31 or I’ll dismiss the charges against him.
Roemer found Woods incompetent to stand trial last June and signed an order in August putting the Department of Justice in charge of restoring his mental fitness. By December, Roemer had lost patience after hearing that mentally incompetent defendants, due to bed and staff shortages, were waiting as long as 10 months for transfer to psychiatric hospitals run by the federal Bureau of Prisons.
“The problem is this is happening all over the country and the government, the attorney general, seems to take the position, well, that’s as good as we can do,” Roemer said during a December hearing when he set the deadline. “And … that’s just the way it is, that we all have to live with this delay. And it’s maddening.”
Roemer established the deadline after Assistant U.S. Attorney Sean Eldridge told the judge that the Bureau of Prisons had projected a January transfer date for Woods. The prosecutor couldn’t provide a firm date. In October, Eldridge had told the judge that Woods might not get a bed until April or May; in November, the prosecutor had said that the defendant likely would be transferred in February.
“I’m not minimizing what he did, but, basically, he threw a brick through a window, and we’ve got to be getting close to whatever sentence he would have possibly served, right?” Roemer said during a November hearing. “Mr. Eldridge, somebody needs to pay attention to this.”
“Judge, we are paying attention to it,” the prosecutor responded. “We are absolutely — ”
“Well, better attention,” Roemer interjected.
Eldridge did not respond to a request for comment.
Woods is accused of twice tossing rocks through windows at the U.S. Attorney’s office in downtown Buffalo a year ago. Ten minutes after appearing in Buffalo City Court following the first incident, he returned to the U.S. Attorney’s office and again threw rocks through a window, according to charging papers. Woods told police that he knew he’d go to prison if he returned, an FBI agent wrote in an affidavit.
Charged with depredation of property, Woods faces a maximum penalty of 10 years in jail and a $250,000 fine, but that’s not likely, according to Martin Vogelbaum, his court-appointed lawyer. Vogelbaum said he shares Roemer’s worry that Woods might spend more time in custody than he would have faced if he’d been competent and pleaded guilty when charges were filed.
“Absolutely, that’s a genuine concern,” Vogelbaum told Investigative Post.
Under the law, the Bureau of Prisons has four months to determine the likelihood that competency can be restored in the foreseeable future, Vogelbaum said. Bureau officials have said that nearly 80 percent of mentally incompetent defendants achieve competency after treatment.
Fewer than 400 federal defendants nationwide are found mentally incompetent each year and assigned to the Bureau of Prisons for treatment. Judicial threats to dismiss charges for failure to provide treatment have been rare even as wait times have ballooned, Vogelbaum said.
“Fewer than 20, I think, is accurate,” Vogelbaum said.
Vogelbaum filed motions asking that the government either get him into a psychiatric hospital or dismiss charges.
“It seems to be the case in these cases that the only way that you get faster results is by pressing the matter,” Vogelbaum said.