A lifelong cry for help ends in an isolated jail cell

THE BALTIMORE SUN

Deaf, troubled and homeless, 19-year-old Paul Andrew Chapman probably didn't belong in jail.

But he died there, apparently by his own hand. He was found in his cell at the Howard County jail in Jessup at 3:20 p.m. Dec. 20, hanging by a sheet from a window grate.

The young man was in jail for the second time, awaiting trial for allegedly making bomb threats to Howard Community College on a Teletype machine for the deaf.

The bomb threats had only been the latest and most serious incident in a life marked by expulsions from schools, violent behavior and failure, although by many accounts Paul Chapman had been a bright, likable young man with goals. But deafness, emotional problems and family conflicts combined to be too much for him -- or for anyone else.

His parents, no longer able to handle their young, disruptive son, decided in November that he could no longer live at their home in Savage. The social services system had fared little better.

"Every agency had been involved in trying to help him help himself, but he chose not to let it work," said a caseworker with a Columbia agency that locates state services for the disabled.

"He [had] been in the system for a very long time," said the caseworker, who worked with Mr. Chapman for three years and who did not want to be identified.

Others say that Mr. Chapman spent nearly seven months in 1991 jail because the system had no provisions for helping someone with such a difficult combination of problems.

"It's a case study in defendants for whom there doesn't seem to be a place in the system," said Howard County Circuit Judge Dennis M. Sweeney, who had taken the unusual step of writing to Nelson J. Sabatini, secretary of health and mental hygiene, to try to arrange treatment for Mr. Chapman.

"Incarceration was not the answer for Paul Chapman. He needed something more," Judge Sweeney said. "Unfortunately, the last resort is often being picked up and taken to a jail. That's a sad, sad reality for multihandicapped people with men tal illnesses."

Connie Lewis, Howard County's special education coordinator, said that a young Chapman had tried to get himself thrown out of schools by running away, breaking windows and streetlights, and throwing pebbles at other students.

"I can only guess that the kid was crying for help," she said of the turmoil in his final year. "Paul was in a home situation that was unbearable for him. He wanted out and didn't know how to get out."

Others who knew Mr. Chapman also say his family life was unsettling. His father was very ill and his mother worked two jobs. Family arguments were frequent.

Peggy Chapman said difficulties for her son, who had been deaf since infancy, started in early childhood.

At Freetown Elementary School in Anne Arundel County, he was in a class for hearing-impaired students where he displayed behavioral problems. Later, he attended the Maryland School for the Deaf in Columbia, but he was expelled at 14 when he became "very uncontrollable," she said.

Two private schools in New York and Pennsylvania expelled him for disruptive and aggressive behavior.

"He was out of control," Peggy Chapman said. "We're almost 50 years old. We tried everything to help him."

'Wouldn't get it off his chest'

Jane Norwood, who for many years taught Mr. Chapman in a Sunday school class for hearing-impaired students at the First Baptist Church of Laurel, said the young man never discussed the sources of his anger.

"He was angry about something, but he wouldn't get it off his chest. He wouldn't tell anybody," said Ms. Norwood, who herself is deaf.

Mr. Chapman apparently had also been unwilling to take advice from people who cared about him. "I think he just didn't want to listen," she said. "The last time I saw him, I said, 'You and I have to obey the law. There's no way around it.' "

In April 1990, he was admitted to Springfield Hospital Center in Sykesville, where he was diagnosed as having a conduct disorder and placed on medication.

Mr. Chapman was released seven months later after turning 18 and when the hospital changed its diagnosis to anti-social personality, according to a letter from his public defender, Richard Bernhardt, to Judge Sweeney.

Back home, Mr. Chapman's behavioral problems continued. He threatened a neighbor with a knife, his mother said. And when a caseworker arranged for him to stay in a respite home for one day a week -- to give his family a break -- he set a fire in the neighborhood because he became upset and got expelled from the home.

'An engaging person'

But some who knew Paul Chapman say he had another side.

"Once you got around the initial difficulty where he treated you like the enemy, he was an engaging person, surprisingly bright and articulate in his own way," said Mr. Bernhardt, the assistant public defender. "A lot of him wanted to please and wanted to do good, but circumstances did not allow.

"Our system seems to want to pigeonhole people, and Paul never had any particular pigeonhole that he fit into," Mr. Bernhardt said. "More of what he did was an attention-getting thing, his own way of getting somebody to take notice of him and his problems."

Able to communicate by reading lips and using his limited speaking abilities, Mr. Chapman started at Howard Community College last September, carrying a full 12-credit general studies course load.

Having received his high school certificate in August, he hoped to accumulate enough credits at HCC to transfer to Gallaudet University in Washington.

Regina Willis-Owens, his academic adviser at HCC, said Paul Chapman had been intelligent but needed organizational skills and discipline. Occasionally, she said, he would become frustrated when he wasn't able to express his feelings or make someone understand him, but she never saw him behave violently at school.

Enjoying college life

"He was beginning to make some friends here at college," she said. "I think he enjoyed the exposure to other people, and he seemed to enjoy the college environment."

At HCC, Mr. Chapman was on the student program board and participated in planning parties and other activities.

He tried to start up a sign language club but found there wasn't enough interest, although he taught sign language to a few faculty members on an informal basis.

"He wanted to be able to work and live with people who were deaf," his caseworker said.

"That's what he told me the week before he died."

Mr. Chapman spent most of his last year in jail on charges of breaking and entering, theft, disorderly conduct and making false statements about bombs to authorities.

He was sent to the Howard County Detention Center for the first time last Jan. 22 on charges of breaking into the First Baptist Church of Savage and stealing about $14.

Court records say he also called Prince George's County police on a Teletype machine to say that he had placed a bomb in the pipe organ at the same church.

After 6 1/2 months in jail awaiting trial, he pleaded guilty to breaking and entering.

Judge Sweeney placed him on three years' probation, and he began attending HCC.

But on Nov. 22, Mr. Chapman was back in jail, this time on a disorderly conduct charge, after police arrested him kicking and screaming outside of his family's home.

While in jail, he also was charged with making another false bomb report.

This time, police said, he called Howard Community College on Nov. 25 on a TTY phone and said he had planted three bombs in elevators on campus. He then called back, apologized and said he had removed the bombs, police said.

The disorderly conduct charge was dropped, but Mr. Chapman remained in jail in lieu of $1,000 bail on the bomb charge.

During his time in jail, he was isolated from other prisoners after destroying the sprinkler system and light fixtures in his cell and arguing with guards.

No place to call home

Jail officials tried to place him at Springfield Hospital Center and other residential settings, even calling homeless shelters in an attempt to find a place for him. But the shelters refused to take someone with a history of violent behavior, said James N. Rollins, Howard County corrections director.

Ms. Norwood, his Sunday school teacher, visited him in jail at Thanksgiving and found him to be very depressed.

"I stayed with him for an hour, and he gave me a very tight hug and told me that he only needed some love," she said.

A psychiatrist who interviewed Mr. Chapman had not found him to be suicidal. And neither the physician who saw him Dec. 12 nor the

nurse who saw him Dec. 20, the day he died, found him to be despondent, Mr. Rollins said.

"Had we been able to get him a place, he would have been released," he said. "There's just not enough room out there for people like Mr. Chapman."

Others familiar with Paul Chapman's case agree that he belonged in a group home that combined a high degree of supervision with vocational training and psychiatric counseling. But for a variety of reasons, finding such a setting was impossible.

Public defender Bernhardt discovered that resources for emotionally disturbed, deaf people were scarce. He said several agencies denied placement to Mr. Chapman, saying they could not provide him with enough supervision.

Complicating matters was how to pay for the expensive educational and psychological services.

Mr. Chapman was ineligible for full benefits from the state Developmental Disabilities Administration because the agency had concluded his problems weren't the result of a developmental disability combined with mental retardation.

Mr. Chapman did receive some DDA funding, but not enough to pay the $60,000 annual cost of residential placement.

Mr. Bernhardt eventually found a Texas facility that would take Mr. Chapman -- provided the state of Maryland would pay for the placement.

But state health officials refused to approve the arrangement. The state and county had previously paid for Mr. Chapman to attend out-of-state schools that were suited to his problems, but once he received his high school graduation certificate, he became ineligible.

"There are not services for this type of child once they graduate from the school system," said Ms. Lewis, the special education expert.

"The governor's intention is to bring these kids back to the state, and the majority of kids we have sent out of state are emotionally disturbed."

"What's the sense of bringing them back if there are no services?" she asked.

Just two weeks before Mr. Chapman's death, Ms. Lewis arranged a meeting of state health officials and representatives from private residential agencies to try come up with a solution to get him out of jail. She also wrote to Maryland's U.S. senators, Barbara A. Mikulski and Paul S. Sarbanes.

"Everybody wanted to help, but nobody could do anything," Ms. Lewis said.

NB "Maybe if he had lived longer, something would have happened."

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