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.