Mar 232011

By Linda Kor —

In an effort to address the ongoing public intoxication issue in Holbrook, Navajo County Attorney Brad Carlyon held a public meeting that included the participation of Holbrook Police Chief Mark Jackson, Sheriff K.C. Clark and representatives of various community resources on March 17.

The issue was addressed as a concern for public safety, as well as public health. Although Jackson clarified that the effort was not targeting one nationality, it was apparent that the majority of the problem involved Native Americans.

“Part of the problem is that relatives transport their family members here (from the reservation) to get intoxicated, then pick them up later. These individuals drink at home, too, and the family just gets tired of dealing with it. This puts a strain on law enforcement, as it constitutes 70 percent of our calls. Some relatives pick them up the next day, others after a couple of weeks. During that time they get into trouble, such as panhandling and shoplifting, and get hurt or cause traffic accidents when they wander into the street,” explained Jackson.

He noted that the problem has been an ongoing concern in the community for the past 100 years and he doesn’t expect that it will ever go away entirely. According to Jackson, 90 percent of the intoxicated people the officers deal with are male, approximately 30 to 40 years of age, and have a blood alcohol content of .20 percent. Only rarely do they have mental health issues.

The officers don’t always arrest or even cite individuals who are intoxicated and causing problems simply because of the strain it would put on the court system. Instead, they have them pour out the alcohol if they have it with them, then have them transported to Community Bridges for detoxification. The problem is that there is no law stating that they have to remain at the facility and many leave soon after coming through the door.

While these individuals come here from throughout northeastern Arizona and parts of New Mexico, many of them are the same people coming back time and time again.

“This morning before I came here I dealt with 10 drunks. You begin to know them by name. They hang out in the alleyways behind Giant, Walt’s and Safeway, primarily, and sometimes behind Woody’s,” stated Jackson.

The chief noted that the condition of these individuals also causes a strain on medical services. Jackson estimates that the local ambulance service averages at least one ambulance trip to Winslow each day with an intoxicated individual suffering from an ailment usually related to their condition.

Ed Gonzales of Community Counseling Centers stated that despite the transient nature of these individuals, very few of them are actually homeless. “We don’t have a large homeless population, but families get fed up and send them out of the home,” he explained.

Justice of the Peace Evelyn Marez was also present at the meeting, and informed the group that the problem with sentencing these people is that they don’t have money for the fines and don’t return for public service, resulting in a warrant, meaning more cost to the courts and no resolution to the problem.

Marez recently implemented a way for the community service aspect of her sentences to be carried out immediately. When she sentences individuals to service, she has them begin immediately at the justice court, cleaning the parking lot or the building. This prevents those sentenced from having excuses as to why they couldn’t show up for their community service. “This helps them as well to take care of the sentencing immediately. I issue an average of 40 warrants a week related to these problems. I’m hoping this will cut back on that,” stated Marez.

With that concept in mind, it was decided to consider having other services available to individuals immediately after they are released from custody. Marez often sentences individuals who have been arrested for incidents related to intoxication to receive treatment either through Community Bridges, Community Counseling Center or Catholic Charities, but they never go there. She does not make referrals to Indian Health Services, since there is no transportation to that facility, which is in Winslow.

Gonzales agreed that many times they get a referral from the courts at CCC, but the individual never shows up, resulting in yet another warrant.

Sheriff Clark suggested another alternative. “What if we bring the screening for treatment to the justice courts?” he asked.

It was agreed that representatives from CCC and Community Bridges would be on hand on scheduled days to assist individuals who are sentenced to treatment in an effort to assist them onto a pathway to a better life.

In the event that there is no space immediately available at the treatment facility, Marez can make a stay at the Bread of Life Mission mandatory until treatment is available.

The mission is available to those in need, but in order to be allowed to stay there, the individual must be clean and sober for 24 hours. “If individuals come to us who are drunk, we call for the detox van, or drive them or direct them to the detox center,” stated Cherise Merrick, director of the mission.

“If they are court ordered to stay at our facility, then they have to remain on the property until their treatment date,” stated Merrick.

In a continued effort to address the problem, Carlyon, Marez, Jackson and Commander Matt Searles with the Navajo County Jail will travel to the Na Nihzhoozhi Center, an alcohol and drug detoxification facility in Gallup, N.M., as soon as a visit can be arranged. The facility operates under a traditional Native American method of treatment that may be more appealing to Native Americans looking for treatment. Carlyon hopes that the visit will provide some insight into how to help these individuals overcome their addiction.

Carlyon plans to arrange another meeting with those present after the visit to the Gallup facility. He hopes that more parties will want to become involved in the effort to control the problem and assist these individuals struggling with alcoholism.