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An Alpena man’s journey through illness and court

News Photo by Julie Riddle Alpena defense attorney Denise Burke, who represents many people with mental illnesses, discusses the role of police and the courts in getting needed treatment for people in crisis.

ALPENA — David Hainsworth was off his medications and manic the day he talked to several children as he walked past their Alpena home in December 2019.

The man offered them a ride to school, the children told their bus driver, according to the police reports, court records, and interviews with people involved in Hainsworth’s case from which this story is drawn.

Hainsworth — who lives just down the street from the children — didn’t touch them, make threatening gestures, or own a car.

A day later, police arrested Hainsworth, who has several forms of diagnosed mental illness.

Police had intersected with Hainsworth at least once before, when a local business banned him the previous year because of his unusual behavior.

Police knew who he was and what he needed, and the incident with the children could have — and should have — ended differently, said Denise Burke, Hainsworth’s attorney.

When the behavior of a mentally ill person brings them to the attention of police, it’s in the hands of the criminal justice system to decide if that person needs help or a jail cell.

Often, court officials say, the two options go hand-in-hand, and the court system is the best way to get someone with a serious mental illness they help they need. The court eventually ordered Hainsworth to take medication after the bus stop incident.

And mental illness is not always an excuse for criminal behavior. Hainsworth’s own statements to police made them worry the children were in jeopardy.

But a stint behind bars may not be the best way to address behavior that’s linked to mental illness, Hainsworth’s attorney said.

“People get scared of something they don’t know,” Burke said. “Mental health is a huge problem. People are sitting in jail when, really, they should be getting treatment.”

‘PEOPLE THINK I AM WEIRD’

“When I am manic, I try to go everywhere and talk to people,” Hainsworth told a medical examiner after he was arrested, according to court records. “If I’m in a manic stage, people think I am weird and a criminal.”

At the time of the incident, he had stopped taking medication to treat the symptoms of schizoaffective disorder and other mental illnesses. He had been off his medication and manic for some time, taking long walks around town, including in the middle of the night, according to his mother’s account in court records.

Hainsworth declined to speak to The News for this story.

As he walked toward his 1st Avenue home, he crossed the street and spoke to several children waiting for a school bus in their driveway.

Seconds later, the bus pulled up, and Hainsworth walked away.

When the bus driver asked about the man, the children reported he had offered them a ride to school, according to police reports.

“The kids acted appropriately,” Burke said. “The bus driver acted appropriately. From there, it got out of control.”

The officer who was called to investigate suspected the man may have been Hainsworth, whom the officer had frequently seen walking in the downtown area, according to police reports obtained by The News through the Michigan Freedom of Information Act.

Police put out a press release that night, alerting the community to be on the lookout for a stranger offering rides to children.

Alpena Police Department Chief Joel Jett did not reply to requests for comment on this story.

The next afternoon, when dropping off the same children, the bus driver saw Hainsworth walking toward his home. She told the children to run inside and tell their parents.

Hainsworth was arrested that evening. The Alpena County Prosecutor’s Office requested a charge of attempting to accost a child for immoral purposes.

Hainsworth was also charged with trespassing. He had been kicked out of a local coffee shop the year before because he wore a ski mask into the restaurant, frightening customers. The day of the bus stop incident, he went back to the coffee shop and asked to shake the manager’s hand.

“I thought it would be, ‘We don’t want you here,’ not, ‘We will have you arrested,'” he told the examiner.

Hainsworth, 38, has received inpatient treatment for mental illness numerous times since he was in his 20s.

Though he had been manic because he hadn’t taken his meds, he never offered the children a ride, Hainsworth told police.

By his account, he felt pride as he walked around town, mulling over the possibility of paying off his house using disability money.

When he saw the children, he crossed the street to tell them they would be OK if they didn’t do well in school because they could get disability money, he told police.

‘WE HAVE TO TAKE A LOOK’

It was a “misuse of prosecution and police authority to arrest a person they know is mentally ill, not seek treatment for him, keep him locked up, and interview him for long periods of time when he is clearly manic and not on his medication,” Burke said in a motion to have the charges against Hainsworth dismissed.

The Alpena County Prosecutor’s Office filed a response contending the “defendant himself has acknowledged looking at child pornography within the last four months and that when he is intoxicated, he has urges that are difficult to control. He further indicated he was intoxicated the night before the incident with the children.”

Hainsworth’s statements were made during a police interview in the Alpena County Jail, after he had been put on mood-stabilizing medications. According to the medical examiner, he was cooperative but anxious during the interview, repeatedly asking for reassurance and crying at times.

According to a search warrant provided to The News by Burke, Hainsworth told police his computer contained child pornography he collected as part of a research project. Police seized his computer to search for the alleged images.

No record of any such images is included in police records, and child pornography charges were never filed against Hainsworth.

Alpena County Prosecutor Cynthia Muszunski, who would not comment on Hainsworth’s case, specifically, said the presence of mental illness doesn’t mean people can’t commit a crime.

“Being creepy is not criminal,” she said. “If you are creepy and you break the law, then we have to take a look at that.”

She said charging people is the only tool a prosecutor has to protect the community. Without the weight of the court behind her, she can’t make someone with mental illness take their medication or seek counseling, Musznski said.

Hainsworth eventually agreed to plead guilty to a reduced charge of attempted stalking. At his sentencing in November, he was ordered to take medication and participate in a court-ordered treatment regimen in lieu of a jail sentence.

‘A GAP SOMEWHERE IN THE SYSTEM’

The same treatment could have been ordered the previous spring, when Northeast Michigan Community Mental Health petitioned the Alpena County Probate Court to have Hainsworth admitted to inpatient care because he had stopped taking his medication, Burke said.

At that time, a psychologist at Community Mental Health reported Hainsworth had a history of verbal and physical aggression when off his medication.

The psychiatrist, noting Hainsworth usually took his medication when ordered by a court to do so, recommended therapy and outpatient treatment, court records show.

Judge Thomas LaCross denied the petition, according to Burke.

LaCross would not comment on Hainsworth’s case, but said he makes decisions about involuntary treatment by consulting with mental health professionals.

All such decisions begin with a presumption that a person is mentally competent, he said.

Two previous petitions for involuntary treatment for Hainsworth were granted by the Probate Court in 2018.

Hainsworth’s mother doesn’t understand why the court couldn’t require him to go back on his medication early in 2019, when he showed signs of instability.

“There’s a gap somewhere in the system,” Carol Hainsworth said. “Do you just wait until the person is really manic and then something bad happens?”

Since his sentencing, Hainsworth receives monthly antipsychotic injections from Community Mental Health and is stable, but he doesn’t take long walks anymore. After the police called him a predator, he’s worried people will recognize him and judge him, Carol Hainsworth said.

Not all cases of mental illness intersecting with the criminal justice system are like Hainsworth’s.

According to Muszynski, many such cases involve clear criminality in the form of violent behavior. Others are diverted away from the courts by police officers who take people in crisis to the hospital or talk them through the crisis instead of escorting them to jail.

But Hainsworth is among the many people who wind up in jail when they could have been helped somewhere along the way, Burke said.

“I don’t know that you have to feel sorry for him or be scared of him,” she said. “I think we just need to be aware that there’s a lot of people that have mental illness. And people need to get them help.”

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