By Julie Manganis
---- — DANVERS — Immediately after attacking a female staff member at a Department of Youth Services detention center earlier this month, Philip Chism appeared to be “psychotic,” according to documents released Tuesday by a judge.
Chism is charged with first-degree murder in the slaying of Danvers High School teacher Colleen Ritzer, 24, of Andover, who was allegedly followed into a school bathroom by Chism and attacked last Oct. 22. He is also charged with raping her twice and robbing her.
During the attack earlier this month, Chism, 15, was “yelling, screaming incoherently (and) foaming at the mouth while being restrained by staff,” according to the petition to have him committed to Worcester Recovery Center and Hospital for 30 days of mental health evaluation and treatment.
The petition was among additional documents that were unsealed by Salem Superior Court Judge Howard Whitehead in response to a motion filed on behalf of the Salem News and Eagle-Tribune. Last week, the judge released a motion by prosecutors outlining their concerns about security at the Worcester facility and other documents related to Chism’s hospitalization.
The judge also unsealed, at the request of the newspapers’ attorney, a transcript of a hearing conducted on June 10 at the judge’s bench, out of earshot of a reporter.
During that hearing, the transcript reveals, prosecutor Kate MacDougall discussed her concerns about the security at the Worcester facility, and a Department of Mental Health attorney attempted to reassure the court that Chism is receiving “constant one-to-one observation.”
Chism had been held at the DYS Metropolitan detention center because he is legally a juvenile, though he’s being tried as an adult on the murder charge.
The petition for commitment, signed by psychologist Kenneth Rogers on June 4, describes the June 2 attack on a woman described as a clinician at the Dorchester facility, where, prosecutors say, he crouched out of view of observers and followed her into a locker room, armed with a pencil.
Under a section titled “specific examples of risk behaviors/recent incidents,” Rogers wrote: “On June 2 (2014), he attacked the unit clinician, first strangling, punching and stabbing her. Once pulled off her, he was out of touch with reality, screaming, yelling and moaning incoherently for about two hours even as he was taken away by ambulance to the (emergency department) of (Boston Medical Center).”
It also says that Chism’s mother told officials that prior to the June 2 incident, he had no psychiatric history or history of substance abuse.
MacDougall had urged Whitehead to impose a series of recommendations for the staff at Worcester State, including not allowing him to be alone with female staff.
She had also expressed that concern to officials at DYS after learning that he was being held there in November.
“Frankly, I had voiced concerns to DYS in November that what happened would happen,” argued MacDougall. “And it did.”
During the June 10 hearing, MacDougall also described Chism as “someone who appeared utterly calm and fine in the moments leading up to this event,” which was apparently recorded on video surveillance. “And I am concerned that this is someone who, when he’s doing well, can cause people to let down their guard.”
The prosecutor also described instances in which defendants in custody after a finding of dangerousness were released on day passes from the Worcester facility.
And, she said, the hospital may have a secure “perimeter,” but that within the facility patients are free to move around from room to room and floor to floor — and that Chism could have access to female patients and staff under those circumstances.
MacDougall said the Essex County Sheriff’s Department, which has not relied on Worcester State for custody of defendants before, shared the same concerns about Chism’s potential freedom within the facility, or any future privileges he could receive.
“I’m not trying to punish Mr. Chism for something for which he has not been convicted,” MacDougall told the judge. “I’m just — I’m very concerned for the safety of staff.”
Lester Blumberg, the Department of Mental Health attorney who appeared on behalf of the hospital, told the judge that the agency “fully appreciates the concerns the DA has raised.”
He told the judge he could not comment on the examples offered by MacDougall of defendants being allowed to leave on day passes, but said the only place Chism would be discharged to would be the custody of the sheriff.
Blumberg also said that no one at the hospital under a court-ordered evaluation is allowed access to the community except in a medical emergency.
But he acknowledged that the facility is not comparable to Bridgewater, where patient rooms are locked. Instead, only the exits to the Worcester facility are locked.
Chism is also being housed in an adult unit, Blumberg said, out of concern that he could otherwise have access to other adolescents.
Staff bathrooms at the facility are locked, said Blumberg, and Chism has his own bathroom.
At night, he is guarded by a staff person stationed outside of his room, and if he needs to use a bathroom outside of his own, he is escorted.
“So there is rarely an instance where he’ll be alone with anyone, except staff members,” Blumberg told the judge. “And we understand the concerns around gender of staff, and to the best of our ability, we’re going to maintain him on one-to-ones with male staff.”
The judge questioned whether Bridgewater would be an option; Blumberg said that due to Chism’s age, his agency believes he would be better suited in a facility that can provide “child trained clinicians.”
Ultimately, the judge said he has no authority to order any specific conditions of Chism’s custody. “My recommendation has absolutely no legal weight,” said Whitehead. “I just think it’s beyond my authority to take action.”
The judge redacted a section of the petition that refers to statements allegedly made by Chism, as well as a preliminary diagnosis, at the request of his attorney. Whitehead agreed that Chism’s privacy interest and right to a fair trial outweigh the public’s interest in those details.