Editor’s note: This article was updated with new information on May 6, 2023.
PROVINCETOWN — Jonathan Bridges, the Provincetown resident who is facing felony charges from an incident that brought the Cape Cod SWAT team to the West End, has now been incarcerated for just over two months. In that time, Bridges has been taken to both Cape Cod and Falmouth hospitals; the Barnstable County jail, twice; and Bridgewater State Hospital, twice.
After 30 days at Bridgewater, the state’s medium-security facility for men who are suffering from mental illness and either convicted or being held pretrial, Bridges was sent back to the Barnstable County Jail on April 7. He was there for only four days before being transferred back to Bridgewater.
Bridges is charged with four felonies in connection with the events of Feb. 28. At 9:16 a.m. that day, Provincetown police went to a West End house on a report that Bridges had a firearm — later determined to be a pellet gun — and was expressing suicidal thoughts. The report was classified as “mental health” in the call log.
Bridges was also holding two individuals in the residence. One called 911 and was outside when police arrived and the other, Michael Goff, established communication with the SWAT team and was able to escape by 1:30 p.m., according to police reports.
Bridges was taken into custody six hours later, brought to Cape Cod Hospital for evaluation, then brought back to the Provincetown Police Dept. for booking around midnight, according to police reports. At his arraignment the next morning, he was charged with two counts of kidnapping, one count of assault and battery with a dangerous weapon, and one count of firearm possession.
The maximum sentence, if Bridges were convicted on all four charges and the sentences were stacked, would be 35 years in prison.
The Provincetown police call log indicates that by 12:30 p.m. on the day of the incident, Bay Cove Human Services was on call to conduct a telehealth appointment with Bridges if contact was established. There is no indication that Bridges spoke with a mental health professional before his arrest.
In a live recording of law enforcement communications during the incident obtained by Hyannis News, officers can be heard describing their talks with Goff. On the tape, one officer says, “The roommate states that the suspect is autistic, and also is on some kind of hallucinogenic narcotic.” Officers also discuss Goff’s saying that Bridges had repeatedly expressed suicidal ideation.
At an April 7 dangerousness hearing to determine whether Bridges should be eligible for bail, an assistant district attorney narrated the events of Feb. 28. He said the SWAT team was eventually able to enter the house and detain Bridges “because somehow he had lost consciousness and was no longer an active threat.”
Bridges’s public defender, Henry Curtis, told the court that, at Bridgewater, Bridges had treatment and medication for his mental and physical health, including asthma, nerve damage, and a previously undiagnosed thyroid issue. “He’s perhaps more stable than he’s ever been,” Curtis said.
Curtis also told the court that both he and the D.A.’s office had been in contact with Goff, who said he thought Bridges did not pose any risk to the public. “[Goff] has stated that this case was an isolated episode which he needs treatment for, and not incarceration,” Curtis said.
In the end, Judge Therese Wright allowed the motion for detention without bail. Bridges, who had just spent five days in the county jail, three days at Falmouth Hospital, and 30 days at Bridgewater, was transferred back to the county jail.
Four days later, Bridges was transferred again to Bridgewater, according to Barnstable County Sheriff Donna Buckley. It is unclear who initiated that transfer.
Under a section of state law called 18(a), correctional officers can ask a court to send an inmate to a state mental hospital. But a new subsection, 18(a½), which went into effect last November, allows a prisoner, his legal representative, or a staff person acting at the request of the prisoner to petition the court for a transfer.
The new law also mandates that if a person has been on mental health watch for at least 48 hours, mental health professionals at the jail are obligated to remind the person of their right to ask for a transfer under this subsection once every 24 hours.
Curtis declined to comment on Bridges’s second transfer.
It is likely, however, that Bridges has been placed on “mental health watch” during his incarceration periods at the jail. According to Buckley, “if there are concerns for an inmate’s safety,” the jail implements one of three different levels of watch: 15 minute, 5 minute, or “eyeball watch,” in which a correctional officer keeps eyes on the person at all times.
Buckley repeatedly said that she could not comment on this case, and she did not respond to questions about suicide watch conditions at the Barnstable House of Corrections.
Jim Pingeon, litigation director at Prisoners’ Legal Services of Mass., said that mental health watch is “a whole area that’s very troubling in the current system.” Last December, the state Dept. of Corrections reached a settlement with the federal Dept. of Justice after a 2020 report accused the DOC of civil rights violations for its failure to provide adequate treatment for prisoners with mental health needs. The state prisons agreed to, among other provisions, enhanced documentation of their “mental health watch” practices.
The usual procedure involves placing the person in an isolated cell, removing their clothing and property, and restricting their access to phones and time outside, Pingeon said. “You’re just sitting there, often in a paper johnny, sometimes with absolutely nothing to do, nothing to distract you from your suicidal thoughts,” he said. “The conditions are so severe and the deprivations so steep that people will say, ‘OK, I’m feeling better,’ ” just to return to the general population, Pingeon said.
“A common criticism of jail mental health is that they don’t coordinate with places like Bridgewater to make sure there’s continuous follow-up care,” Pingeon continued. “It isn’t uncommon for the correctional facility to discontinue the medications, particularly, that you may have been on at Bridgewater.”
Pingeon said that this loop — treatment at a mental health facility resulting in a prisoner no longer requiring hospital-level care, and therefore being sent back to a correctional facility, where mental health care is lacking — is a major concern. “There’s no rule that says the jail mental health staff has to give you the same medications you were receiving at Bridgewater,” he said.
On the morning of May 5, with Bridges in the hearing room at Orleans District Court and Judge Robert A. Welsh III presiding, prosecutors from the district attorney’s office asked for a continuance of the probable cause hearing scheduled for that day. The reason, they said, was an interest in “pursuing alternatives to indictment.” Curtis, the public defender, agreed. The hearing is now rescheduled to June 2.
“This could work to your advantage,” Judge Welsh told Bridges.