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When mental health and criminal justice intersect: The case of the man charged with going on a rampage smashing car windows

Justin Jaleel Caterson is no stranger to the local court system - or to one of the two judges that are now overseeing the cases against him for an alleged two-month rampage in which he went around three Boston neighborhoods smashing car windows.

However, the resolution of an earlier case in which he was charged with breaking into a BPL branch and then transferred into one of Boston's three special "mental health courts," suggests that even when it tries, the system may not be able to help everybody - assuming he is found guilty on the new charges.

Around 12:30 a.m. on Sept. 28, 2021, Justin Jaleel Caterson was arrested inside the BPL Connolly branch, 433 Centre St. in Jamaica Plain, by an officer and a police dog investigating an alarm.

Caterson was arraigned later that day in West Roxbury Municipal Court on a charge of breaking and entering in the nighttime. Judge Catherine Ham released him on personal recognizance, according to court records.

At a hearing on Dec. 14, 2021, Judge Kathleen Coffey ordered a mental health evaluation, after which she concluded Caterson was eligible for the West Roxbury court's Recovery with Justice program.

West Roxbury is one of three Boston Municipal courts with a dedicated "mental health court" for "defendants who have serious mental illness or co-occurring mental health or substance use disorders," with the goal of helping defendants break a cycle of confinement by "providing intensive social services and mental health treatment."

Participation requires enrollment into a medically-based treatment program for at least three months. Court records show Caterson enrolled in the Boston Outpatient Assisted Treatment (BOAT) program at Boston Medical Center, which is set up specifically for people going through the Boston Municipal Court system.

In addition to her work in West Roxbury, Coffey serves as BOAT's project director - and she has also helps oversee the other two Boston Municipal Court mental-health sessions and a special homeless court at the Pine Street Inn.

Court records show that between February, 2022 and June, 2023, Caterson attended both BOAT and monthly reviews of his progress in West Roxbury court.

On June 27, 2023, Coffey dismissed the library break-in charge against Caterson upon his successful completion of the BOAT program.

But then, starting in January, the Suffolk County District Attorney's office charges, Caterson began breaking car windows, starting, prosecutors say, on Jan. 5 on Vancouver Street on Mission Hill.

On March 28, Boston Police officers arrested Caterson near the Stony Brook Orange Line station in Jamaica Plain, about two hours after they say he had smashed a window on Jamaica Street. In between, police and prosecutors say, were a couple dozen other incidents of car windows being smashed in Jamaica Plain, Mission Hill and Roxbury.

Later in the day, he was arraigned in West Roxbury court on charges of possession of a burglarious instrument - a specialized device meant specifically for breaking car windows - possession of a dangerous weapon (brass knuckles), trespassing and resisting arrest.

Coffey was the arraignment judge that morning. She ordered him held at the Suffolk County jail in lieu of $250 cash bail.

He is scheduled for a pre-trial conference in West Roxbury court on April 28.

Separately, police obtained an arrest warrant for Caterson on March 24 in Roxbury court on charges of breaking and entering a vehicle in the nighttime, larceny under $1,200 and two counts of vandalism, according to court records.

He was arraigned March 29 - the day after his West Roxbury arraignment.

Judge Maureen Flaherty increased his total bail to $500.

He is scheduled for a pre-trial conference on the Roxbury charges on May 14. Prosecutors say they will file additional charges against him for 14 car break-ins on Mission Hill on March 19.

Innocent, etc.



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Do you know if Caterson has been referred for another mental health evaluation? In particular, wondering if there's any question about whether he's competent to stand trial.

Voting closed 32

According to the court dockets.

Voting closed 27

Do you have any idea how long you have to wait to see a doctor for mental health appointment in person through referral by your PC at the top hospitals in the world in Boston? Or ahywhere here? And it takes not just one appointment to diagnose, stabilize, and achieve the best medication ritual. And if this guy gets priority with free health insurance over me, then that is fucked up and wrong. No patient suffering from untreated depression, addiction and other suicidal brain chemistry should have to wait because they have to have PC first, then wait months before you can sit down with a specialist.

Voting closed 26

Thanks for all the background, Adam. We certainly wouldn't get an article anything like this from the Globe, even though this is kind of reporting this city needs. Repeated crimes like this demand justice. No one wants to see Boston slowly morph into SF, when it comes to car break-ins.

Voting closed 59

This was one guy, not an organized gang. SF has organized gangs breaking into cars - see Mark Roper's videos for how that all works.

Voting closed 24

Yeah, I saw his video leaving book-bags with cameras in the back seat to see where they're taken. It was fascinating.

I just meant the fear that if BPD doesn't aggressively go after car thieves, it could devolve into an SF situation.

Voting closed 30

I slightly understand your thought regarding car thieves, however I think you are missing the point of the article. The issue with this person appears to reflect more than an issue of someone committing larceny for profit. Rather his issue seems to have been identified as being connected to his mental health. And I think that Adam was pointing out the difficulty of dealing with that inequity within the legal system, even when the system has a design to identify and try to address it.

That's my take on the reasoning behind the article. I may not be right but I'm certain it isn't about car theft that if left unchecked will have is devolve into S.F.

Anyway really good article, and details.

Voting closed 35

For seriously mentally ill people? A percentage of people simply can't function in the real world due to serious mental health issues. They often end up homeless. It's cruel and sadistic for our society to allow this. Several recent events involving obviously seriously mentally ill men setting themselves in fire in front of the Israeli Embassy and in from of the Trump trial Manhattan court. obvious psychosis, most likely schizophrenia spectrum.

Voting closed 24

Blame Ronald Reagan, 40th President of the United States.

Here's an interesting article covering the subject although it focuses on "Homelessness".


Long story short; Not every community bothered to start a community mental clinic.

Voting closed 13

(I know it's not generally a polite thing to ask, but the article title raises the issue.)

The use of a specialized window-breaking tool indicates this wasn't a spur-of-the-moment thing and that there's at least some minimal competence involved. Burglary to fuel a drug addiction, maybe?

It's fine if the answer is "we don't get to know, that's for the courts and the treatment program to know", but I'm curious if it's already public. (Although frankly, if the cycle goes on too long, at some point I think the veil of privacy should be dropped.)

Voting closed 32

Where do you draw the line between diminished mental capacity and responsibility? What is the next step best suited for preventing a law breaker from committing future crimes?
I’m sure I don’t know the answer. I leave it to professionals who may have a clue.

Voting closed 20

When mental health and criminal justice intersect

In this case, it results in disaster.

Voting closed 16