Amid vandalism spree, Burlington Police frustrated by ‘lack of options’ for mental health cases

BURLINGTON, Vt. — A vandalism crime spree in Burlington has exposed frustrations by both city police and a state’s attorney that the status quo for dealing with mental health-related calls is not ideal for public safety or for helping to change the perpetrators’ behaviors.

On Aug. 12, Micael Bizuneh, 31, allegedly vandalized at least 18 cars on Grant Street, according to a BPD press release. Bizuneh has been accused of similar incidents in recent months, causing much damage.

“In total, over the past four months, Mr. Bizuneh has allegedly caused many tens of thousands of
dollars of damage to the personal property of more than one hundred people throughout Vermont,” the police report states.

The vandalism occurred as the city is having an intense public safety debate related to City Council’s decision in 2020 to reduce the police force by 30 percent. While acting Burlington Police Chief Jon Murad has said the department needs about 100 officers to effectively police the city, the council set the cap at 74.

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WHAT NOW?” Mental health experts and police leadership alike say there should be a better response system when dealing with crimes related to mental health.

The vandalism Bizuneh is accused of includes “keying vehicles,” or using keys or rocks to scratch off paint. The department claims Bizuneh may have damaged more than 80 vehicles.

“Over the past several days, Bizuneh was suspected of having vandalized approximately 50 vehicles in Middlebury, approximately 25 vehicles in Vergennes, and approximately eight vehicles in Bristol,” the police report states.

Bizuneh’s other run-ins with law enforcement date back to August 2019, when he was evaluated by psychiatrist Dr. Jonathan L. Weker. At the time Welker concluded that Bizuneh “was not competent.”

A story in the Barre Montpelier Times Argus in March offered details of the mental health evaluation. Weker concluded that Bizuneh “experiences symptoms of schizophrenia,” including paranoid thoughts that the federal government is pursuing him.

“Weker said Bizuneh has reported he believes the FBI has hired psychics to torture him and has planted listening devices in vehicles,” the report states. “The psychiatrist said Bizuneh damaged property so that he could draw attention to himself because he knew doing so would force the FBI to back off or risk being discovered.”

Murad said the recent vandalism is an example of law enforcement not always having the best options for dealing with mental health-associated crimes.

“I’m frustrated by the lack of options for addressing this kind of serious, recurring criminal
behavior,” Murad said. “The men and women of the Burlington Police Department are very good at finding and safely apprehending people, even at risk to themselves. But in cases like this, jail is not the best answer. Although it temporarily keeps people and property safe, it doesn’t get at the causes of Mr. Bizuneh’s behavior.”

On the health services side, Chittenden County State’s Attorney Sarah George said the current system needs work.

“Mr. Bizuneh’s circumstances are yet another example of our mental health system refusing to
exercise its statutory authority and instead relying on police and prosecutors to provide mental
health services to individuals in great need,” she said. “Until the Department of Mental Health fills the void, the criminal legal system will continue to try, and will continue to fail. These people need significant services, not jail.”

The Vermont Department of Mental Health, which is familiar with Bizuneh, has stated that “they felt his behaviors were not the product of his mental illness.” The department “did not support efforts to hospitalize Mr. Bizuneh at this time.”

Murad said that jail does serve an important purpose, at least in initially getting perpetrators off the streets.

“In cases like this, we need more access to custodial mental healthcare, where people can be helped even as they are safely prevented from continuing to victimize innocent Vermonters, and prevented from putting their own wellbeing and the wellbeing of others at risk,” the police chief said.

The suspect is accused of 18 counts of felony and misdemeanor vandalism and was held on $1,000 bail.

Michael Bielawski is a reporter for True North. Send him news tips at bielawski82@yahoo.com and follow him on Twitter @TrueNorthMikeB.

Images courtesy of Burlington Police Department and Public domain
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11 thoughts on “Amid vandalism spree, Burlington Police frustrated by ‘lack of options’ for mental health cases

  1. The mental health people aren’t going to do anything but talk. They already said that “they felt his behaviors were not the product of his mental illness.” The department “did not support efforts to hospitalize Mr. Bizuneh at this time.” So what good are they to have around?? NONE. The police are trained to handle it. What will the mental Health worker going to do when a criminal is firing a gun, or welding a knife around. are they trained to handle it ? NO
    DEFUND THE POLICE yells Burlington liberals, take away the money give it to us. !!! Do you really think a Mental health worker will stand up to a criminal? Someone who doesn’t care about their own life isn’t going to care about yours.Police put their life on the line, mental health workers don’t.

    • So no criminals had mental health issues that went unaddressed over a lifetime, before they committed a crime? Just put it all on the police to handle the endgame fail of our society to help those who don’t fit in, are bullied, demonized and stereotyped…
      Yeah.
      That’s worked sooooo well, hasn’t it?
      You would have made a perfect guard at Auschwitz – its the prisoners who are crazy and need to be fixed.
      Yeah – and now again in 2021 redux.
      And the blind shall lead the blind.
      We’ve become a nation and world of narcissists.

  2. Not all the mentally ill are living on the streets in Burlington, a lot of them have great jobs on the City Council.

    • Richard nails it..
      And I’m not joking, I bet he’s not either.
      I’m following Dr. Ryan Cole who is telling us that we don’t have a flu pandemic but instead we have a Vitamin D Deficiency Pandemic.
      This is true and not new for all of us that follow this stuff. Vermont knows better than most people that drinking milk is falling out of favor. BUT also go do a search
      “Mental Health and Vitamin D deficiency” and go have a look at that…
      Being thinking of THAT as you read and hear him and not about the flu..
      Just as there are high functioning drug addicts, high functioning alcoholics…
      We also have high functioning people in our society that are truly not playing with a full deck.. to put it kindly.
      And further.. Lets begin talking about the failure of Deinstitutionalization.
      Who remembers this?
      I remember it clearly.
      I knew RNs down in Massachusetts that were watching mentally ill people being released in the their Johnny’s from mental institutions back then and we were told they’d take their meds and be fine..
      How’d that all work out for us? and them?
      Hugs, Free Stuff, Therapy Dogs, Safe Spaces and allowing these people to wander free and do whatever they want to while forcing society to endure and fund the mayhem is NOT kind or civilized.
      Here is the link for Ryan Cole, he’s talking about Covid here. But consider that he’s talking about the crisis of the lack of vitamin D and then read about what the means *besides* being prone to catching illness.
      https://granitegrok.com/blog/2021/08/must-watch-dr-ryan-cole-if-you-are-mid-level-range-vitamin-d-you-will-not-die-from-covid

  3. Until State’s Attorney Sarah George herself becomes a victim of this kind of attack, she will continue to act out her actual role as a Public Defender. A person of limited means who commits certain crimes in Chittenden County will actually have the opportunity to be represented by TWO public defenders. Elections have consequences. One would at least hope that anyone who had their property damaged by this psychopath wont be voting for her. As the expression goes: “a conservative is a democrat who’s been mugged”.

  4. I guess we need to look at what ‘mental illness’ is being deemed as in a world where insanity is the norm, and those of us who just say no to it, are deemed insane.

    “Mental illness” is weaponized to control, label and pigeonhole anyone who does not accept INSANE policies that CREATE more ‘mental illness’ by their very nature.

    Are we in a mass psychosis? IS a relevant question to be asked.

    Look up Munchausen by Proxy.

    Who’s REALLY insane?

  5. Anyone remember Deinstitutionalization?
    This was all very predicted, I remember that well. They told us mentally ill people would just go home and take their meds.. nothing to see here folks.

    At what point do we declare that was a failure?
    When we are all locked in our homes in fear of virus AND Crazy people?

    • I was a correction officer in CT when they de-institutionalized the mentally ill by closing several state institutions in the 90s . Where do you think they went ? You got it the jails for us to deal with. They left these people on the streets with no support system or programs to monitor the taking of meds. So much for mental health for thru modern chemistry.

      • Yes James, I remember all this too..
        It was horrifying in how wrong and twisted it was.
        This was one of the most inhumane things I ever saw the government do.
        The nurses that worked in those hospitals knew how bad and dangerous these people were and they let them walk right out the doors.

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