By Ed Runyan
Stefanie Romeo, 30, a woman arrested 25 times in various Trumbull County locations since 2001, spent 88 days in the Trumbull County jail this winter awaiting trial on a December felony-assault charge.
During negotiations Friday with a Warren prosecutor, Romeo offered to spend another 18 months there to avoid being sent to a state mental hospital for about two weeks and then released into the public.
Traci Timko Rose, assistant Warren law director, says she thinks the reason is that Romeo prefers jail to being homeless and doesn’t want treatment.
But after three months in the jail, Timko Rose felt it was time for her to leave, reduced Romeo’s charge from felony assault to misdemeanor assault, accepted her guilty plea and made arrangements for Romeo to be taken to a state mental hospital.
Though Trumbull County Probate Judge Thomas A. Swift said mental-health proceedings are confidential, jail officials confirmed that Romeo left the jail Friday.
Romeo has been charged with more than 100 offenses since 2001, mostly involving trespassing at businesses, but her charges usually escalate to making threats, profanity, spitting, sometimes physical violence. Police are a common target.
Once, she was arrested with a concealed steak knife. In 2009, her grandmother, who walks with a cane and lives in Liberty, said Romeo assaulted her and threatened to kill her.
Romeo’s behavior has gotten her evaluated at least twice for mental-health issues, most recently this winter as a result of the December arrest that stemmed from a report from a police officer at the Trumbull County Job and Family Services office in Warren saying Romeo assaulted him.
The evaluation showed Romeo was competent to stand trial and not insane at the time of her offense.
Susan Lightbody, probate-court magistrate, said individuals committed to Heartland Behavioral Health Center usually stay around nine days. The court orders about 175 Trumbull County residents per year to the facility to receive treatment.
The cost is about $550 per day, compared with about $60 per day for the county jail.
Timko Rose said Romeo is among the people who present a challenge for law enforcement and prosecutors because of their mental-health issues, which lead to frequent arrests.
With few resources to help the mentally ill, many spend much of their time in the county jail.
Lightbody said Heartland decides whether to accept a person for treatment and decides what type of treatment he or she should get when they leave. In most cases, the person is sent to a step-down program for a few days and then released back into the community.
Romeo has “burned her bridges” with most of the mental-health agencies in the area, Timko Rose said, so it was difficult trying to find an agency last week that would work with her.
Kim Connor of Compass Family and Community Services of Warren talked with Romeo on Friday, and it’s possible the agency will help Romeo through its Intensive Community Treatment Team after Romeo returns to the community, Timko Rose said.
If that isn’t successful, Timko Rose imagines Romeo will continue the cycle of arrest and incarceration for years to come.
“It’s sad, really sad,” Timko Rose said. “To me, that’s not a good use of our jail.”
And contrary to the common belief that mentally ill people are “OK as long as they are on their meds,” Romeo was extremely uncooperative and threatening last week during two hearings in Warren Municipal Court, despite nearly three months in the jail, receiving medication every day, Timko Rose said.
“She’s no better for her time in the jail. She was medicated, yet remains unstable.”