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By Nancy West, InDepthNH.org
CONCORD – Andrew Butler was beaming his trademark smile Friday morning after being released from the New Hampshire Hospital, happy to be heading home to Hollis after almost five months in the Secure Psychiatric Unit at the men’s prison even though he hadn’t committed a crime.
Butler, 21, said he was pleased to finally be going home with his father, Douglas Butler. He was looking forward to seeing his friends and his dog, Brownie. But first, father and son were going to Shorty’s restaurant for a Mexican-style lunch.
“I’m fine. I’m happy to go home,” Andrew said, looking around at the sunny morning before him as he walked away from the state’s psychiatric hospital. “It’s beautiful outside. Haven’t seen this in a while.”
Andrew was transferred back to the New Hampshire Hospital last week, but his father said he didn’t know whether the move and Friday’s release were related to Andrew’s recovery or a petition his lawyer filed in federal court arguing his civil rights had been violated by being held in the prison unit.
Attorney Sandra Bloomenthal filed a petition in late April in U.S. District Court demanding Andrew be transferred to a certified psychiatric hospital instead of being held in prison. She argued that he shouldn’t be held in prison because he hadn’t committed a crime.
Bloomenthal said in the petition that Andrew was locked down 23 hours a day and tasered at the Secure Psychiatric Unit. “The treatment he has received is cruel and unusual punishment without having been convicted of a crime and with no pending criminal process,” Bloomenthal wrote.
In the state’s response, Senior Assistant Attorney General Lynmarie Cusack said the federal court lacks jurisdiction, the petitioner has no standing, and the action is barred by the Eleventh Amendment.
State officials say it is legal to hold men and women in the prison psych unit even if they haven’t committed a crime if they are deemed too dangerous to themselves or others to be safely housed at New Hampshire Hospital.
Andrew told InDepthNH.org during a recent interview that he has been diagnosed as schizophrenic. He said his problems surfaced last summer after he took a hallucinogenic drug with friends in Vermont.
After being hospitalized in Vermont, Andrew went home to Hollis and was committed to the New Hampshire Hospital after Hollis police took him into custody when they found him running in the woods and punching trees. Those charges were dropped.
Douglas Butler is worried that Andrew may have suffered from post traumatic stress disorder while being held in the prison psych unit with individuals who were deemed incompetent to stand trial, not guilty by reason of insanity and with convicted criminals who are mentally ill.
Andrew, a popular athlete at Hollis Brookline High School, said that he became depressed after his leg was injured while running when he was a student at the Worcester Polytechnic Institute. He lost his partial scholarship during his last semester and dropped out, Andrew said.
His friends and supporters have raised money for him, signed a petition to get him released and held a pilgrimage walk from the prison to federal court in Concord last month to support him.
“I do appreciate all the support I’m getting from him (his father) and my friends and the love they are showing and the Butler walk thing, that surprised me,” Andrew said during the recent interview.
On Friday, Andrew said he is still doing 500 to 1,000 burpees a day. He credits his exercise regimen for helping him feel so much better. A burpee is a squat thrust performed in four steps starting in a standing position then moving to a squat position with one’s hands on the ground.
Andrew was civilly committed to the New Hampshire Hospital for two years and transferred to the prison after an outburst his father blamed on over-medication.
Douglas Butler said Andrew has an appointment with mental health providers in Nashua on Wednesday. He also hopes to get another opinion by taking Andrew to the McLean Hospital in Belmont, Mass.
“Andrew’s out now. He wants to get off the medication,” Douglas Butler said.
For today, father and son were enjoying each other’s company.
“It’s great to have him home. He’s a lot of fun,” Douglas Butler said. “He’s happy. It’s really, really nice.”