After Cristobal Abreu was arrested when he allegedly stabbed a Hialeah SWAT officer with a large barbecue fork in December 2009, doctors deemed his mind too ravaged by mental illness to stand trial.
For years, he bounced around mental-health facilities.
Then a stay at a Miami Gardens assisted-living facility, where funds for his medications ran out and his mental state deteriorated, ended last month when the 72-year-old Abreu was shipped without a judge’s permission to Jackson North Medical Center.
Then last week, a Jackson caseworker — again, without permission from the court — sent him to an ALF in Little Havana.
Abreu promptly escaped.
“I’m free! I’m free,” he yelled as he shuffled away from the San Martin de Porras facility on Tuesday, according to lawyers and court personnel who described the episode over two days in court this week.
Abreu’s ping-ponging treatment drew the ire of Miami-Dade Circuit Judge Ellen Sue Venzer, who has now ordered hospital and state-contracted mental-health administrators to court Friday to explain what happened.
“The system is broken,” Venzer said angrily in court this week, adding: “What would have happened if Mr. Abreu had decompensated and gone out and hurt somebody else in our community?”
Abreu’s escape was short-lived: Police quickly detained him, committing him back to Jackson Memorial Hospital for an involuntary psychiatric evaluation.
The unusual episode underscores what mental-health advocates in Miami-Dade’s criminal-justice system say has been a recurring problem: “incompetent” defendants are often shuffled between facilities without the knowledge of the court tasked with supervising them.
ALFs mostly house the elderly and other people with mental-health issues or disabilities. It is not unusual for incompetent defendants, usually nonviolent ones, to be placed at an ALF in a residential neighborhood.
“The people in the social services arena have to recognize that a court order is sacrosanct,” Miami-Dade State Attorney Katherine Fernández Rundle said Wednesday. “I really understand the judge’s ire. She has the absolute right to be livid with everyone in the system.”
Subpoenaed to appear before the judge on Friday: representatives from Jackson, the South Florida Behavioral Network, which contracts with the state to manage cases of the mentally ill defendants, and the New Horizons Community Mental Health Center, which monitored Abreu’s case.
A lawyer for the Florida Department of Children & Families will also appear.
“It sounds like all these different agencies are treating these individuals like hot potatoes,” Venzer said in court Wednesday.
Abreu was initially arrested in December 2009 on charges of attempted murder and aggravated battery of a law enforcement officer. The attempted murder charge was later dropped; the SWAT officer was not hurt because the knife pierced his shield.
During a jailhouse interview with a psychologist, the incoherent Abreu admitted that he sometimes hears voices and sees visions of “flowers [and] gold diamonds.”
The court determined that Abreu was incompetent to proceed to trial, meaning he could not assist his lawyer in defending the accusations.
After stays in several other facilities, Abreu wound up in November at the Graceful Gardens ALF, 18101 NW 47th Ct.