Mental Health Evaluation Ordered for Jackson Inmate

Prisoner’s screams fill Teton County Jail

Jeremiah Sinarski, 47, currently sits in Teton County Jail awaiting a mental health evaluation that will determine whether he is fit to stand trial at the Teton County Courthouse pictured above. (Courtesy photo from Wyoming County Commissioners Association website)

By Alec Klein

Special to the Wyoming Truth

JACKSON, Wyo.—The screaming is so fierce, it sounds primal: “You’re terrible! You’re all terrible!”

It’s the howling of an inmate suffering from mental illness.

In recent days, the prisoner has been yelling and cursing at no one and everyone at all hours of the day and night in the Teton County Jail, sources said yesterday. And now, a local judge has ordered a mental health evaluation of the inmate, who has been in and out of Jackson jails, other sources said and his attorney confirmed.

Jeremiah Sinarski, 47, is awaiting a “fitness to proceed evaluation”— a mental health evaluation required of the criminal justice system. That evaluation was requested on July 19 by his attorney, Elisabeth M. W. Trefonas, the Teton County public defender. The law requires that it be done within 30 days. In the meantime, Sinarski waits in the county jail, wailing inconsolably.

But the timeline for his evaluation doesn’t address the broader dilemma facing Jackson and other parts of Wyoming: Should Sinarski be hospitalized rather than imprisoned? Where could he be placed, other than in the general jail population, while he waits? Even more, what can authorities do, given that there is a perennial shortage of beds at the Wyoming State Hospital?

Pictured above is Teton County Sheriff Matt Carr. (Courtesy photo from Teton County Sheriff Office’s website)

The latter question isn’t specific to Wyoming. People with mental illness are often incarcerated, leaving them with little to no treatment, and the problem has become so entrenched that it’s earned its own name, known nationwide as “warehousing” the mentally ill.

“From Maine to Nevada and in between, state legislatures and department of corrections officials have been forced in recent months to grapple with the fact that the care provided to mentally ill prisoners has been substandard at best and life-threatening at worst,” according to a report of the American Civil Liberties Union.

Sinarski has been diagnosed as bipolar and schizophrenic with hallucinations, according to his attorney. In addition, he grapples with alcohol abuse and addiction, said Trefonas, who also serves on the board of advisors of the Wyoming Truth. He’s been admitted to various rehab centers and the state hospital as well. But there’s much more nuance to who Sinarski is than his struggle for his health.

While he wasn’t available for an interview, given his incarceration, his attorney noted that he does have bouts of clarity. He also has a sensitive side, especially when it comes to the care of wild life. And he’s kind, intelligent and funny—indeed, so funny that when he makes his attorney laugh, Trefonas said, “I have to remind him: I’m not laughing at you.”

There was a time when Sinarski was in better health, when he worked as a construction worker who helped to build such recognizable local places as the Loaf ‘N Jug gas station and St. John’s Hospital.

But his slow descent into schizophrenia and addiction is etched into the various violations recorded over the years in the court docket.

In his most recent arrest, court records show that, on June 5, officers were dispatched to the scene of a car accident. Sinarski was wearing a hooded black coat as he walked away from a damaged tan Oldsmobile. He couldn’t walk in “straight lines.” With “bloodshot watery eyes” and “slurred speech,” he admitted to consuming beer, and he was arrested for driving under the influence of alcohol.

Sinarski was sentenced to 180 days. But by that time, he had already served 22 days, so the rest of the sentence was suspended and he was released on June 27. He was placed on probation for two years.

Elisabeth M. W. Trefonas, the Teton County public defender, represents Jeremiah Sinarski who is awaiting a “fitness to proceed evaluation”— a mental health evaluation required of the criminal justice system. (Courtesy photo from Trefonas Law, PC website)

It took less than two weeks for him to violate probation. On July 6, Sinarski was found at Smith’s Grocery Store just a couple of miles from downtown Jackson, where he was “yelling and cussing and throwing things in the checkout area of the store, causing a disturbance,” according to court records.

Sinarski was also in the act of purchasing a six-pack of beer at about 10 p.m. An officer was dispatched to the scene, and when the officer asked Sinarski what had happened, Sinarski “began yelling about his frustrations with the people of the Jackson Hole community,” according to the probable cause affidavit.

What that frustration was about isn’t clear, and Sinarksi might be forgiven his discontent with some of the people of Jackson Hole, but he couldn’t get a pass for possessing alcohol and failing a breathalyzer test; he admitted he had been drinking beer since noon that day.

He was promptly booked in jailed.

Sinarski has careened into the law on many other occasions. In 2017, for instance, police said the Jackson resident was arrested about 16 times in the span of a year. Many of the arrests were for public intoxication. Sinarski’s prior scuffles with the law have become so notorious—and problematic—that it’s gotten him banned from many local businesses in Jackson Hole. Erratic behavior isn’t good for the state’s resort mecca.

It hasn’t been good for the jail, either. Prison guards say they are doing the best they can for Sinarski, sources said, while they wait for his mental health evaluation. Teton County Sheriff Matt Carr couldn’t be reached for comment.

And yet, what’s happening with Sinarski isn’t an isolated case. Last year, Dennis Gross, another frequenter behind bars, had spent over nine months in the Jackson jail after being arrested for allegedly lighting a fire and stopping firefighters from putting out the flames, according to police reports. In another case, Riley Sills, a Teton County resident, was jailed for half a year before gaining admittance to the state hospital.

In Gross’ case, he had been diagnosed as bipolar with mania and episodes of psychosis, court records show. He was released from the Teton County Detention Center and hospitalized after the Wyoming Truth last year sought all the records in his case.

Trefonas, the public defender, represented Gross as well. As it turns out, the two men shared more than the same attorney. Gross and Sinarski have been drinking buddies and, given their frequent stints of incarceration, they’ve crossed paths in the Jackson jail.

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