BEVERLY — For nearly a year and a half, Jonathan Jutras has been held without bail at Middleton Jail, awaiting trial on charges he indecently assaulted three boys last year at a Beverly playground.
While in custody, he’s contracted COVID-19 and a persistent skin infection, and has been the target of bullying and exploitation by other inmates.
Jutras, now 20, is on the autism spectrum and has been diagnosed with bipolar and attention deficit hyperactivity disorders. He also has chronic lung issues and a congenital hip condition — the result of having been born three months premature, his mother said. Hip surgery scheduled last year has been postponed, leaving Jutras with difficulty walking, she said.
Virtually everyone who has heard his story has agreed that Jutras doesn’t belong in a county jail.
But no one seems able to agree on an alternative.
His case points to the lack of options for those with disabilities who are charged with committing crimes, in individuals frequently caught in a legal limbo: incapable of standing trial or resolving their cases due to their lack of competence, but still considered a risk to public safety if released.
Unable to stand trial
According to his mother, Jutras didn’t speak until he was 8. He functions, at least emotionally, at the level of someone half his age — closer to the ages of the three boys he is accused of sexually assaulting at the Gage Street Playground on the evening of May 11, 2019, by pulling down one boy’s pants and by rubbing his clothed crotch on the faces of two other boys.
He told police after his arrest that he was playing a game of “Truth or Dare.”
Police and prosecutors say it was more than that, charging him with three counts of indecent assault and battery on a child.
Since his arrest, two evaluations have concluded Jutras is not competent to stand trial. The Essex District Attorney’s office told a judge that it was not challenging those findings, though it is not dropping the case, citing concerns about public safety. Jutras also faces probation violation proceedings in four earlier cases.
Because Jutras is not competent to stand trial, his attorney has been unable to challenge the evidence in the case or raise other questions, such as whether Jutras was criminally responsible for his behavior at the time of the incident.
The situation has led to acrimony and recriminations between the two people key to any decision on where Jutras ends up: his mother, who is her son’s legal co-guardian, and his court-appointed attorney. Each side blames the other for Jutras’ current situation.
Jessica Parisella, who shares the role of guardian with another son, Jordan Parisella, said the proposal originally put forward by Jutras’ attorney and the Department of Developmental Services, to place Jutras in a “forensic” group home for mentally disabled men charged with serious crimes, would put her son at risk and keep him from receiving services he needs.
Jutras’ attorney said that type of setting, while not ideal, may be the only option available for someone facing the type of charges Jutras is facing — and that he’s at far greater risk of harm inside the county jail.
“No, he does not belong in Middleton (Jail),” said his attorney, Grace Edwards, “and I’ve been trying to get him out for a year.”
Edwards hoped to convince a judge to send Jutras to the forensic group home operated by Turning Point, a Newburyport-based private agency that contracts with the state to provide placements for disabled adults.
To do that, she needed the cooperation of his guardians.
And Parisella was vehemently opposed to the idea of sending her son to live in that home, where he would share living space with felons more than twice his age in a setting where, she believes, he would receive none of the appropriate services.
While the dispute played out, the spot was given to someone else.
State officials acknowledge they are sometimes forced to look far from someone’s home to find an appropriate placement.
The situation is not uncommon. People with developmental or other disabilities in the criminal justice system often end up being “warehoused” in jails because there is nowhere else for them to go.
Appropriate programs for disabled adults involved in the criminal justice system “are few and far between,” said Marlene Sallo, executive director of the Disability Law Center.
Because of his disabilities, Jutras has been receiving services from the Department of Developmental Services.
“We’ve been begging DDS to help put him in an appropriate group home,” said Parisella, who has also been in contact with elected officials.
But Jutras’ record, including charges in which Parisella and her other son have been named as victim and the current charge involving sex offenses, is complicating that.
“Nothing’s perfect in life,” said Edwards, who believes that a forensic group home, even with older men with more serious criminal records, is still safer than the Middleton Jail for Jutras.
“He is where he is because of his mother,” Edwards said.
Parisella, meanwhile, said Edwards isn’t doing enough to advocate for Jutras. Her son, she said, “had no idea he was doing anything wrong.”
She fears Jutras will now be forever tagged with the label of sex offender, permanently limiting his options for therapy, housing and other services.
She also blames DDS for going back on a promise to provide respite care for Jutras on the weekend he was arrested.
Christopher Klaskin, a spokesman for the state agency, said he cannot discuss specifics of what he acknowledged is a more complex case than most. But he said the agency’s policy is generally focused on finding “appropriate placements that ensure the safety and well-being of the individual as well as the community.”
Parisella has also reached out to Sen. Joan Lovely’s office.
Lovely did not address the specifics of the Jutras case but said in a statement that she’s concerned about providing support for those with intellectual and developmental disabilities who enter the criminal justice system.
“Formerly incarcerated individuals, especially those with intellectual and developmental disabilities, who come out of this system will face enormous obstacles in reentering society,” Lovely said, “so the commonwealth should take appropriate steps to help this especially vulnerable population. Doing so is in their best interest and in society’s.”
Trouble at home
Jutras has had run-ins with police since his teenage years, incidents his mother says are the result of his autism, bipolar disorder and ADHD.
She pointed to one incident when he was found with a group of middle-schoolers at a Burger King near their home in Beverly.
“He just follows,” Parisella said. “He doesn’t have friends. If you say ‘hi’ to him, then you’re his friend. He doesn’t understand the difference.”
Other times, his violent outbursts at home have led to calls to 911, sometimes by family members and sometimes by neighbors.
Sometimes, responding officers could calm Jutras and de-escalate the situation. Other times, he would be arrested and charged. Nearly all of his cases involve allegations of violence toward his family.
As a student, Jutras had an individualized educational plan and some structure to his life. But after finishing high school, he began passing his days with television, video games and visits to the nearby playground to shoot hoops.
“He needs to be in a group home with some structure,” Parisella said, and not “home all day with nothing to do. He has autism. He needs structure and a routine. And I need to work.”
Behavioral therapist Don Martel has been working with Jutras for the past several years.
Martel once ran programs for Turning Point and has held administrative roles at other private providers that provide services to disabled adults. He has proposed starting a new program to serve young adults like Jutras.
That proposal, Edwards charged during a hearing last month, is the real motive behind the objections of Jutras’ mother and brother.
Edwards suggested that there were “reprehensible” motives behind the Parisellas’ decision, later explaining in an interview that she believes Martel has offered employment to the family if he is granted funds to start a new program.
Martel vehemently denied that accusation, saying that he simply wants what is best for Jutras. If there is another appropriate program available, Jutras should go there, he said.
He also credits Parisella, a single mother who grew up in an unstable and often chaotic home, with doing a remarkable job raising her three sons, one of whom has now graduated from college. Her youngest son is attending college. Jonathan is her middle child.
In the months leading up to his most recent arrest, Jutras had spent most of his time hospitalized. His medications were adjusted multiple times.
Parisella and Martel say DDS had promised Jutras a bed in a Saugus “respite” program after his discharge in May 2019. Relying on that assurance, Parisella said she went ahead with plans to take her youngest son, at the time a high school student, to a sports tournament in Pennsylvania.
Then, she and Martel say, DDS withdrew the offer and told them the respite bed was no longer available.
Instead, Jutras was told to stay home in the Simon Street apartment, where his brother would supervise him.
That proved to be impossible, and on a Saturday night, Jutras slipped out of the apartment.
That night, Beverly police spotted Jutras playing basketball with younger children and spoke to him about it, according to a police report.
A short time later, one of the boys, who had gone home, told his mother that Jutras had pulled down a boy’s pants.
Jutras was questioned and arrested.
Based on his growing record and the seriousness of the new charges, the Essex District Attorney moved to have Jutras detained as a danger to the public.
“My son looks bad on paper,” Parisella acknowledged. “I will never deny that, but he’s not as bad as the paperwork is making him seem.”
The DA is willing to consider an alternative to jail for Jutras, but “until we are presented with a specific location and details, we don’t have a position,” said spokeswoman Carrie Kimball. “We believe he needs to remain in Middleton until an acceptable alternative is presented.” To be acceptable, the program would have to be secure, she said.
The prosecutor assigned to the case told a judge last month that she would want the boys and their families to be aware of any change in Jutras’ status.
Soon after his arrest, the Parisellas went to Probate and Family Court to obtain legal guardianship of Jutras, giving them the power to decide what type of care he is provided and potentially giving them a say in his criminal court case. A Salem District Court judge, however, has found that creates a conflict due to their dual role as guardian and victim in some of Jutras’ earlier cases.
In a Sept. 29 decision, Salem District Court Judge Randy Chapman concluded that “the core issue was a breakdown in communication between the parties, specifically defense counsel and the defendant’s guardians.”
Chapman concluded the Parisellas “are in a clear conflict of interest and cannot continue as guardians with regard to the current criminal matters.”
The judge said in a written order that even if the Parisellas are acting in good faith, their position “effectively continues to keep (Jutras) incarcerated, with no immediate hopes for release,” said the judge.
“The conflict of the victims holding the keys to the defendant’s cell is palpable,” Chapman wrote.
The judge said he’s powerless to do anything about the situation, saying it is up to a judge in the Probate and Family Court to decide on the status of the Parisellas as guardians.
Last week, Edwards and an attorney who was appointed in the probate court went in front of a judge asking to have a guardian appointed for the purpose of coming up with a placement for Jutras — effectively cutting Parisella and Jonathan’s other guardian, his brother, out of making any decisions related to his court cases.
During a followup hearing Friday in Salem District Court, Jutras, appearing via video from Middleton Jail, tried to speak up several times. Edwards repeatedly told him not to say anything. His microphone was then muted.
Parisella has been told by DDS there might be a placement available for her son at a group home, but not until January. It’s similar to the one proposed by Martel.
Until then, she will continue to worry, she said.
Courts reporter Julie Manganis can be reached at 978-338-2521, by email at email@example.com or on Twitter at @SNJulieManganis.