Homeless man to remain jailed after threatening governor, Jewish community

  • Brian Roberts is led into Concord District Court for his bail hearing as Shira and Rabbi Robin Nafshi (right) of Temple Beth Jacob watch from the front row Tuesday. GEOFF FORESTER photos / Monitor staff

  • Rabbi Robin Nafshi listens to the proceedings at Brian Roberts bail hearing at Concord District Court on Tuesday, December 11, 2018. GEOFF FORESTER—Monitor staff

  • Brian Roberts looks back at his family members during his bail hearing at Concord District Court on Tuesday, December 11, 2018. GEOFF FORESTER—Monitor staff

  • Defense attorney Alexander Vitale (right) confers with Brian Roberts during his bail hearing at Concord District Court on Tuesday. GEOFF FORESTER / Monitor staff

  • Brian Roberts, 38, smiles during his bail hearing at Concord District Court.

Monitor staff
Published: 12/11/2018 6:24:25 PM

Everyone agrees that Brian Roberts has a mental illness.

Roberts, 38, is accused of sending emails threatening the governor and a city synagogue. He suffers from schizophrenia, he hears voices in his head and believes he is being monitored by the government with a GPS tracking device, according to police, lawyers and Roberts himself.

Instead, the debate in Concord District Court on Tuesday centered around whether Roberts should be allowed to return to the community while he receives mental health treatment or if he should stay locked up in the county jail.

“If he’s out in the community, I think he could get into the state hospital faster, and not be stuck in the Merrimack County house of corrections where he is now,” Roberts’s attorney Alexander Vitale said at his bail hearing Tuesday.

Prosecutors say Roberts sent messages to the cia.gov website saying things like, “Going to shoot Gov state of NH no matter what” and “I’d kill every Jew I ever..look at.”

Those threats should not be taken lightly, Senior Assistant Attorney General Geoffrey Ward said. He argued that Roberts is still a danger to himself and others and should remain in jail if he cannot get into the state hospital.

“Folks with untreated mental illness making threats obviously can pose a danger, can carry out acts,” Ward said. “His mental illness should not be considered by the court as something that would somehow make him incapable of committing the crimes he threatened to commit and therefore somehow less of a danger.”

After considering the arguments, Judge Kristin Spath ruled Tuesday afternoon that Roberts would remain in jail without bail on one count of misdemeanor criminal threatening. If he is able to be admitted to the state hospital, Spath said his bail will be converted to personal recognizance. If Roberts leaves the state hospital for any reason, he will be returned to jail.

Vitale had argued that if Roberts were released, he could be placed in a pre-trial services program where his mental health treatment could be monitored and his whereabouts tracked with a GPS device. That way, Roberts wouldn’t have to remain incarcerated for any length of time while waiting for the next development in his case.

Vitale said Roberts has no access to weapons, and is not an immediate threat.

Sitting in an orange jumpsuit in a courtroom Tuesday, Roberts spoke under his breath and wrote erratically on a piece of yellow legal paper. At times, he used his fingers to cover his ears, like he was blocking a loud noise.

He interrupted Vitale on a few occasions, asking to speak directly to Spath. When he did, he said his family members had psychic abilities.

Roberts, who is homeless, was arrested Dec. 4 after the CIA reported it had received a series of six messages containing threats to the governor and the Jewish community.

Roberts said he has no memory of sending specific messages, but that he often sends messages to government sites in order to “ask for help.” Roberts, who is originally from Lancaster, said he has not been able to access medication for his schizophrenia. Staff members at Concord Public Library and the Homeless Resource Center said Roberts used their organizations’ computers daily to access government sites.

After Roberts was arrested, officials said they found an additional 200 messages that had been sent to NewHampshire.gov from his email address containing mostly incoherent text.

Concord police wrote in an email to investigators earlier this month that Roberts had sent more than 2,000 emails to government sites in the past and “is a known nuisance.” He was previously questioned in Seattle by the FBI for similar behavior earlier this year, but no charges were filed.

Vitale argued that Roberts had no intention of acting on his threats.

“They are incoherent, difficult to read, disorganized thoughts of someone who’s mentally ill and suffering from schizophrenia – not somebody who is a danger to society or to himself to warrant being held without bail,” Vitale said.

Just because Roberts is experiencing a mental illness, doesn’t mean he is incapable of inflicting harm, Ward said. Many perpetrators in homicide cases show a similar pattern of behavior, he said.

“What we see is that it’s usually a progression over a month-long plus period of time where there may be ongoing, directed threats,” Ward said. “Most often we see folks are in a downward spiral.”

Sitting in the front row of the gallery Tuesday, Temple Beth Jacob’s Rabbi Robin Nafshi said what she saw made her concerned for Roberts’s mental health.

“He certainly displayed the mannerisms of someone who has mental health challenges,” she said. “Listening to him speak to the judge, it didn’t strike me as coherent.”

Nafshi said she and her congregation are praying that he receives help.

“He’s a young man. We wouldn’t want to see him in the state hospital for the rest of his life,” she said. “If he was able to be a functioning member of society, that’s our hope and what we pray for.”

(Leah Willingham can be reached at lwillingham@cmonitor.com.)

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