• Thu, Sep 19 - 4:35 pm ET

Cops Heartlessly Jail Man With Functionality Of 9-Year-Old For A Week Without Meds Or Contact With Parents

You would think that if and when a developmentally disabled person commits a crime, the police would have certain procedures in place to make sure that person was treated humanely and fairly. Apparently this isn’t the case with the Bergen County police department, however, considering they locked up a man with the functionality of a 9-year-old for almost an entire week, without his medication and without notifying his parents (and legal guardians) at all.

Walter Bartolomucci is a 28-year-old man from New Milford, New Jersey, with developmental disabilities. He has the mental functions of a tween and has to be reminded to do even simple chores like brushing his teeth or washing his hands. His mother, Joanie, sees to his day to day care and claims that his disabilities are obvious from the moment you speak to him:

“You can see that, clearly, that he was special, and it wasn’t taken care of properly,” she said. ”Special needs — they need to be treated differently.”

Walter was arrested for shoplifting and assault after some of his friends put him up to stealing a video game. When he was confronted by store clerks he became scared and tried to swat the guy with his bag.

Understandably, Walter’s parents were frantic when he didn’t come home on time. They were eventually told where he was, by a family friend, but even after contacting police they were kept in the dark and not allowed to bring him medication for his nervous condition. Walter’s bail was set at the insane amount of $50,000, which was too much for his family to pay, so he sat in a cell for six days, finally being released without explanation or bail just this Tuesday.

Walter’s remarks about the experience are short but heartbreaking:

“Some of the guards know about my special needs, some of the guards treat me mean.”

Now, the Bergen County police department claims he was of sound enough mind to be held, but I don’t buy it. In cases where someone is delayed enough to be considered under legal guardianship at age 28, I think at the very least, and I’m talking bare freaking minimum, the parents should be informed of what’s going on. They should also be allowed to bring his freaking medication to the jail. It would be even better if they had a solid plan in place, like they do with juveniles, so a guy with the mind of an elementary school child doesn’t have to spend almost a solid week jailed with adult-minded criminals.

As the mother of a 9-year-old myself my heart breaks for this family. I’m happy Walter is safe at home, and I hope they get some answers. I ALSO hope the Bergen County police department learns a lesson here and implements some changes so this doesn’t happen again.

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  • Emmali Lucia

    Who are these “friends” he hangs out with? Why would they talk him into stealing a video game? And why the HELL did no one contact his parents? I would be PISSED if I were his parent

    • Blueathena623

      I’m not sure where the “no contact” thing is coming from. Even in the article it says that he was arrested on Wednesday, actually taken to jail very early Thursday, and his parents found out where he was at 11pm on Wednesday. I don’t know when exactly the robbery/assault happened, but the headlines are making it seem like the parents didn’t know where there kid was for a whole week, when really it was a few hours. It would still be awful not to know where he was, but still.

  • Emil

    I think it is a little premature to call the police officers “heartless.” They do not do an IQ test on everyone they arrest. Also, if you read the original article he did not just “swat” the clerk with a bag because he was frightened. He hit a woman with a backpack as well as his open hand. Have you ever been hit by a 28 year old man? It hurts. If this man is incapable of refraining from stealing and assaulting people, why was he allowed to go shopping without supervision? I certainly don’t know these parents but I question if their side of the story isn’t a little bit biased and I would like more information before I jump to judging the police officers.

    • disqus_YI9N0ss4FL

      It wasnt heartless to initially arrest him and take him in. WHat’s heartless, is setting a 50k bail, and detaining a very obviously mentally ill person for 6 days. A VERY similar thing happened to my 35 yr old brother (he has the mental capacity of about 11, lives with my mom) where his “friends” told him to steal something. He was arrested, the cops spoke with him, immediately called my mom and sent him home. It is EXCRUCIATING for my brother to go 24 hrs without medication. After 6 days, he probably would have been completely traumatized and needed a few months of hospitalization.

    • Emil

      But how do you know he was “very obviously mentally ill.” It may be a very situation from that of your brother (which sounds like it was handled appropriately). I just don’t think it is fair to judge the police officers based on this information.

    • whiteroses

      If an adult has the mental capacity of a tween, it’s very hard to miss. It might not be immediately apparent, but it becomes obvious once you speak to them for even five minutes. If he’s as developmentally delayed as the parents say he is, it would have been extremely obvious to the cops before they put this guy into a jail.

      The fact that they put him in a jail with people who are of average intelligence and left him in there for 6 days tells me that it really is heartless.

    • Emil

      I’ve spent some time working in jails and a lot of the inmates seemed to have the mental capacity of a tween and they were still held responsible for their actions. I’m not saying that the cops were right but suspect that, as the original article suggests, the reality is not so clear cut.

    • Rachel Sea

      I think the parents letting the cops know makes it pretty clear. Choosing to ignore that, and choosing to refuse him his meds is a crystal clear violation of his civil rights.

    • Wendy

      Everyone in jail “is innocent” and “needs to call” someone (their mom). And everybody who’s in jail has a mother who thinks their baby “doesn’t belong there” for various reasons. And people try to get drugs in to prisons all the time; saying painkillers and such are needed as a futile attempt to get them in and sell them is not new. I’m not shocked the man inside and the family outside did not get their requests properly attended to. Everybody in there has a reason and is a special case. Sometimes it’s valid. Sometimes it’s not. I’m sure as hell glad it’s not my job to decide which is true and which isn’t.

    • Rachel Sea

      Prescription meds are prescription meds. Any moron with a desk reference can look up to see whether the pill in the bottle matches the label, and inmates don’t control their meds, they are dispensed.

    • Wendy

      I know that. But do you think that at your average local jail (not big prison) has someone there who does that on staff at all times? I’m guessing not. It just kind of seems like the sort of thing where the blanket policy is “no” or at least “not until so and so comes back Monday morning and can look at it.” I know I am coming off as heartless here; I don’t mean to be. I don’t know how jails work personally, but I know how government systems work…and it’s usually a blanket no.

    • Rachel Sea

      They must have systems in place. It is a no-question violation of civil rights to refuse someone access to their meds. If it were routine for jails to do so, the ACLU would be suing all of them all the time.

    • Kelby Johnson

      Medications in jail are distributed by the guards. There is a guard (actually many guards) there 24/7. If someone has a mental disorder, there is most definitely a way to get them the medication they need. Even if for some reason they couldn’t accomidate them because of the weekend, 6 days is a hell of a lot longer than a weekend. There is usually a doctor and a couple nurses on staff at the jail. They are usually there Monday thru Friday and they decide if the medication is high risk (the inmate takes it in the nurses office) or low risk (it is delivered to the cell by the guards) and that only takes one visit or someone talking to the nurse on your behalf.

      There is absolutely NO excuse that this man did not have his medication that he needs daily.

    • Wendy

      A tween isn’t exactly slow. It might actually be kind of hard to miss. When you’re putting them in jail and arresting them and such, you’re not asking them to read or solve math problems. He can make functional sentences to be at “tween level.” And, as Emil says, many prisoners have lower mental capacity. It’s sad but true. Also, when they first arrested him, it’s hard to tell drunk/high from delayed mentally. Now, granted they had time and allegedly the parents telling them. But maybe there weren’t options in the county for mentally ill prisoners once they did know?

    • pamtroisi

      They detained him, not for the shoplifting, which he does have a history of but for the assault he perpetrated on the store employee during the course of the robbery. He is violent and can not be allowed to continue to roam freely unsupervised.

    • Blooming_Babies

      I have one unanswered question and one serious problem. Would the police have access and know that this man was under the legal guardianship of his parents? If so it was handled wrong from the beginning, if not then when the parents made contact and explained that he had prescribed medication and a guardianship why were accommodations not made. Arresting him was the right thing to do, everything after that is right to be in question.

    • keelhaulrose

      Normally someone of this mental degree is getting some sort of state assistance on some level, and it should put a flag on their file, so to speak, if a background check is run. We had similar precautions on the residents of our special needs homes in case our residents wandered off.
      A lot of people will get their special needs children, including adults, fingerprinted so the information will come up in such a situation.

    • Blueathena623

      The more I read about this guy, the more sorry I feel for him, because his parents are a couple of shmucks. One article says he is always with his mother, except she was having surgery that day, and her husband was with her (cue angelic harps). Another article says the cops were called at 7:41 pm. The article linked here says the parents didn’t find out until 11pm. And he has a history of shop lifting.
      I know very little about what happens at a crime scene or whatever or how people are processed or whatever, but I don’t think its that insane that it would take 3 hours to contact the parents. Don’t they have to talk to witnesses and stuff? Make sure no one is hurt? I don’t even know how long it would take to get to the police department and get finger prints or whatever to see if he is in the system as disabled.
      My point being, the parents seem to be ignoring some important details, so I wonder what else they are leaving out.

  • Gangle

    That is horrible. I lived in a neighbourhood where we had a young man with similar developmental disabilities, and he was causing a nuisance hanging around and bothering shop girls and women in the park. While it was admittedly a little frightening he was harmless and never threatened anyone, but I guess he was having some fairly confusing urges and was having trouble grasping the appropriate way to handle these feelings. Luckily the police beat officer was fantastic. He would respond to the call-out immediately and come pick the guy up, drop him at his frantic (and probably humiliated) mother and gave the guy a lecture about how to treat women. It lasted only a couple of weeks before the guy figured it out, and it was unsettling at the time, but I appreciate that he did not deserve to be afraid and locked up.
    This man broke the law, yes.. but what did locking him up achieve, except to frighten him and make him wary of police?

    • Wendy

      If your behavior is dangerous, you should be locked up. Period. They can sort out the why and your mentality later. Why should the women in the park be “threatened” by someone with “fairly confusing urges” for a “couple of weeks?” If it had progressed, and it easily could have, is a woman less raped because it’s by someone who doesn’t really understand why what he’s doing is wrong? I so do not get this mentality.

    • Wendy

      And before you all jump on me, I have dealt with VERY dangerous mentally ill students before at my school. I understand that all people have rights. But I believe that your rights end where someone else’s rights to safety begin. If a special needs person stabs you, you’re just as dead as if they had been “ordinary.” It doesn’t really matter to you if they understood what was happening. I’m sorry the guy was in jail for so long before it got sorted out, but I think jail was the right place to start.

    • Emil

      I know, all too well, what it is like to be terrified in the presence of someone with special needs who happens to also be violent. It is refreshing to hear that someone thinks I have a right to safety.

    • Wendy

      Likewise :)

    • Gangle

      I think I actually stated that this guy wasn’t a threat and not at all violent.. he would ask women inappropriate questions like what their bra size was and if they would go on a date with him etc. As I said, the cops would pick him up immediately. He would be in trouble with them, he would get a ride to the police station, but rather than muscling him into a prison cell and refusing to let him speak with his mum they immediately alerted his parents so they could help deal with the situation.
      Also, there is a WORLD of difference between a mentally ill person and a person with a mental disability. Please don’t lump them into the same category just because different people frighten you.
      I don’t think I once said that people with developmental disabilities have the right to be violent towards anyone. They don’t. But in the story above, the guy stole a dvd and then panicked. I think the cops were pretty extreme.

    • Amber

      The police didn’t take him to jail because he didn’t do anything illegal, not because he was handicapped.

      Being a gross creepy who asks nasty questions is rude but it’s not a crime. If he had put his hands on one of these women, I’m pretty sure they would have reacted, much, much differently.

    • Gangle

      I am sure if he physically assaulted anyone it would have been a lot different.. but making calling his mother straight away a priority would still have happened, especially since the officer for that area knew the guy. I live in a different country from most of the posters here, so perhaps things are handled slightly differently.

    • Wendy

      More details….makes more sense. I get metal disability and mentally ill not the same. But you do know that there is slow process to sexual crimes where the perpetrator sometimes begins with something small at first and then later it escalates. I was thinking of that. Different people don’t frighten me; no one has the right to endanger others, is my viewpoint, no matter the reason.

    • Gangle

      Yes, I do get that. This guy did not get away with his behaviour. It got jumped on. Rather than treating this guy like a hardened criminal, he was treated as someone who seriously needed to be educated in the correct ways of behaving. The behaviour was corrected. And you are right. Nobody has the right to endanger others. I never argued that point. But I do think that a 50k bail and six days in jail without medication and keeping the parents in the dark for this man over the theft of a video game is extreme.

  • Melissa T

    HORRIBLE.

  • EmmaFromÉire

    Aside from the obvious horrific cruelty, it is horrifying that they denied him medication because any sort of meds require time to build up to a level that shows efficacy. Taking a week long break from vital meds can be devastating.

    • Emil

      I’ve never been incarcerated before but I would expect that if I did there would be a good chance I wouldn’t get my regularly prescribed meds right away. From what I understand it just doesn’t work that way. In fact at the hospitals I have worked at it often takes a couple of days to have the medications verified and sorted out and I can only imagine jails would be far worse.

    • disqus_WjKIYzni5a

      Yes but can you imagine…this man is severely mentally disabled, I had an autistic brother and when he didn’t get his meds he would have awful days and everything would bother him 10x more and he’d take it out on other people…you seem to be a normal functioning person mentally so I do think it’s possibly a bit different

    • Emil

      I’m not talking about what should happen I am talking about what does happen. I don’t think the medication reconciliation process in jail is immediate for anyone, normal functioning or not. Thanks for the complement by the way.

    • disqus_WjKIYzni5a

      oh no I wasn’t trying to be rude or sarcastic or anything I agree with you I just mean I would have expected that someone with a more obvious disability would get their meds.

    • Emil

      Don’t worry, I didn’t take it as rude. Just kind of funny because on some days I’m not so sure…

    • Blueathena623

      There has to be some process though. If you had a diabetic or epileptic prisoner, I think you’d face one hell of a lawsuit if they were not given access to their medications ASAP.

  • a

    this happens literally all of the time. the prevalence of individuals with FASD in correctional facilities is astounding. The difference in most of those cases is that many of those individuals do not have parents advocating or going to the media about how wrong it is.

  • pamtroisi

    Umm, this article is full of lies. His parents were notified. They knew exactly where he was the entire time. His father dropped his medication off at the police station before he was transported to the jail. The parents try to down play and excuse his actions. It was more than a video game. It was a back pack full of discs. Also, when he was confronted, he assaulted the store employee. He beat her on and about the head with his back pack and his hands. Because the theft involved a person, it becomes a robbery. The $50,000 bail set is the MINIMUM for this crime. He can’t be out and about physically assaulting people. If his parents are so concerned about his safety, they should not let him out unattended by them. He obviously can’t be trusted, even with other family members. His disability can not give him cart blanch to take whatever he wants and physically assault people. He is obviously a danger to the community. None the less, his mental status was considered and the offense downgraded. His parents need to keep a better eye on him if he is so challenged that he can not decipher right from wrong as they claim. Apparently he has a history of shoplifting and is usually just released. Obviously, he continues to steal because there are never any consequences. Even children of 8 understand that with actions come consequences. Now, he is beginning to become violent. He can not keep being released. Clearly, he is a danger to the community at large and should not be out and about without being supervised by a responsible adult. If he has the mental capacity of an 8 year old, his parents should supervise him as such.

    • rachelxoxoxo

      Thank you! Between her interpretation of this story and the Brian Holloway one, she has proven herself to be incapable (or at least, disingenuous) as a writer.

      I know hating on cops has become trendy and writers will fudge facts to create the most sensational version of events, but if you actually read the story,