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WCAX Investigates: The Face of Mental Health Care in Vermont

Published: Apr. 7, 2021 at 6:52 PM EDT|Updated: Apr. 7, 2021 at 7:01 PM EDT
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BURLINGTON, Vt. (WCAX) - A 29-year-old man with meth, marijuana, cocaine and fentanyl in his system drove a stolen car the wrong way on Shelburne Road in South Burlington and slammed into another car head-on. His name was Adrian Moore. He died and the woman he hit was hospitalized. That was the breaking news headline. When you dig deeper into what led to his death, you find more. We investigate what roles social service, mental health and prison systems in Vermont played in creating and unleashing what his sisters call a monster.

“I have a 16-month-old and a 10-year-old who loved Adrian so much,” Katharine Moore said.

“Adrian was my older brother and he had always been like a best friend to me,” Ariel Farley said.

“I am a mother of three and I do outreach work for the homeless,” Alicia Moore said. “He’s one of the reasons I do what I do.”

Adrian’s sisters were devastated their brother was dead and horrified about how they found out.

“To find out on the news that my brother was dead that way-- it was horrible,” Katherine said.

“It just portrayed him as, you know, a careless criminal trying to kill, you know, who was an addict,” Alicia said.

Adrian was homeless, but they say he should have never been out on his own. Vermont’s social service, health care, court and prison systems knew he had mental health issues, was violent, suicidal, addicted to drugs and a documented danger to himself and those around him, but released him anyway.

“He had nowhere to go, basically, saying help me,” Alicia said.

“And when he did ask for help, he was denied it,” Katherine said.

Or treated like a violent criminal.

“And then he was a monster. They treated him like a monster,” Alicia said.

Those are serious accusations, but the sisters say they have proof. They provided me thousands of Adrian’s records they received from the Vermont State Psychiatric Hospital, the Brattleboro Retreat, the Rutland Regional Medical Center, the UVM Medical Center, the Howard Center and the Southern State Correctional Facility. I went through all of them. Here’s what I learned.

Adrian Moore has a long history of mental health issues. His schizophrenia, hallucinations and delusions run in his family.

“Our [biological] father was schizophrenic. Our father’s brother was schizophrenic and our grandfather,” Alicia said.

Adrian’s adult medical records suggest his chronic post-traumatic stress disorder stems from physical abuse he endured as a child.

Adrian was first put into foster care when he was 18 months old because his biological parents were addicted to drugs and neglected their children. When Adrian was 3, he and his sisters were adopted together. At 12, his adoptive parents sent him back to foster care because he’d become too violent. A year later, he began experimenting with drugs. He tried to take his own life by hanging himself. School was a constant struggle. He was in special education and dropped out just before his 18th birthday.

In the years that followed, he attempted suicide again and was in and out of treatment for mental health and substance abuse issues.

He got into legal trouble, too, arrested for nonviolent crimes including trespassing, disorderly conduct, theft, drug possession and violating terms of probation. At 21, he began serving what would end up becoming his longest prison sentence, at the Southern State Correctional Facility. That’s where his sisters say his state of mind deteriorated and he became increasingly violent.

“Adrian was only supposed to do about 18 months. What ended up happening was because he kept getting assault charges. And so what was supposed to be a year to 18 months ended up almost five years,” Alicia said.

In the reports provided to the sisters, I found one that shows Adrian spent nearly three of those five years in solitary.

“You create a monster when you stick somebody in a cell in solitary confinement by themselves,” Alicia said. “That became his life. It was literally a nightmare.”

I reached out to the Vermont Department of Corrections to learn more. The DOC claims inmate records are designated confidential.

In the records collected by the sisters, I discovered Adrian was officially designated as “Seriously Functionally Impaired” due to his mental health challenges, but his sisters say he was repeatedly treated and punished like a violent and defiant criminal in the general population.

When Adrian disobeyed a command, he was often pepper-sprayed, pushed to the ground, handcuffed and shackled while in the prone position, and strip-searched. In several of these cases, corrections officers recorded the encounters on video cameras. I requested those videos and was told they don’t exist.

His sister Kate then requested the exact same videos. Corrections admitted it has some of them, but wouldn’t release them. Interim Commissioner Jim Baker agreed to be interviewed for our story, but won’t discuss Adrian’s case.

“The entire facilities have cameras. Everything is videotaped inside a facility,” Baker said. “Anytime someone who has the authority to use force has to use force, it’s never a pretty scene. The options we have for force don’t look like the options on the outside, and so pepper spray is used, and people are handcuffed, and people are restrained.”

Reporter Céline McArthur: Why are inmates strip-searched?

“Inmates are strip-searched because they can bring contraband into a facility,” Baker said. “Look, strip-searching is a very humiliating process and even as the commissioner of Corrections, every time I talk about it I feel uncomfortable talking about it.”

Baker also said changes were made to how segregation is used with inmates over the course of the past five or six years.

“People have recognized that how long you put someone in segregation and isolate them is damaging to their well-being,” he said.

Céline McArthur: In terms of the length of time, would three out of five years in segregation be considered too much?

Jim Baker: That would be way out... I mean, that would be way out of order. And if that is the case of an individual, then I think folks inside the system would be taking a look at the underlying issues of why that is.

Herb Sinkinson is a retired probation and parole coordinator. He didn’t know Adrian and was not involved in his case, but isn’t surprised by what I’ve learned.

“There were a lot of people on probation and parole and in correctional facilities that had very, very serious mental health issues,” Sinkinson said. “When I had three at the same time, I kept wondering if I’m going to read about something that happened in the paper, on the front page the next day, you know, involving one of them.”

“There’s so much more to the story,” Alicia said. “It needs to be told because this is not just... The way that Adrian died could have been avoided.”

In our next report, we find out what happened after Adrian was released from prison. Share your thoughts and experiences on this story on our WCAX Facebook page. You can also send us direct messages there or at news@wcax.com.

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