NEW YORK (PIX11) — In a year filled with news stories highlighting the tragic intersection of crime and a growing mental health crisis in New York City’s subway system, one case involving a chronically mentally ill defendant continues to stand out.
His name is Martial Simon. He’s 62 years old and accused of shoving 40-year-old Michelle Go into the path of an oncoming train in January at the Times Square subway station. The attack was random and unprovoked.
Simon, facing second-degree murder charges, remains in custody on a psychiatric hold.
“This was a senseless, absolutely senseless act of violence,” NYPD Commissioner Keechant Sewell said at the time.
In her first broadcast interview, Josette Simon says she believes her brother, Martial, never should have been out on the street in the first place. Josette told PIX11 News he has spent the last 25 years struggling with serious, well-documented mental illness.
“To leave him out, just put him out – I don’t even know what to say. I’m asking myself what was the voice that he heard that made him push that woman,” Josette said.
Josette, who lives out of state, blames a system that she says cycled Martial in and out of short-term psychiatric care.
“It’s like, here is the pacifier. Now you’re on your own. OK now, next, next. Not trying to solve the problem. They dropped the ball, no matter how I look at it. How do you let someone like that out in the street? What do you expect them to do?” Simon said.
Aside from a statement released just days after Michelle Go’s death, her family has not commented publicly about the case or Martial Simon. That statement read in part, “Her life was taken too soon in a senseless act of violence, and we pray that she gets the justice she deserves.”
PIX11 News took a close look at the underpinnings of New York’s psychiatric care safety net, and the numbers are startling.
According to the New York State Office of Mental Health, the number of combined local hospital and state psychiatric center beds has dropped steadily over the last decade, from 4,889 in 2012 to 4,121 in 2019 – right before the COVID-19 pandemic.
That leaves New York City, a population of 8.5 million, with just 4,130 inpatient psychiatric beds.
In so many news stories, you often hear about a suspect being brought to Bellevue Hospital for a psychiatric evaluation. A majority of the beds at Bellevue and other local and private hospitals across New York City are typically used to only stabilize someone experiencing a mental health crisis on a basis of short-term treatment and release.
There’s no telling just how many people with mental health issues might be better off in long-term, inpatient psychiatric care settings.
PIX11 News recently met 24-year-old Tyshawn Miles, who’s homeless, deep in the Times Square subway station. He said he’s been homeless since January, the same month police say Martial Simon pushed Michelle Go to her death.
Miles rattled off a list of psychiatric medications he’s supposed to be taking but admitted he does not take them regularly.
“I can’t remember. The shelter that I’m at is not monitoring my medication,” Miles said.
Earlier this year, Gov. Kathy Hochul announced plans to invest more than $27 million annually – with hopes of a federal match – to restore at least 1,000 inpatient psychiatric beds across the state.
“Why aren’t there more beds available? If someone does need psychiatric care, where are the beds?” Hochul said during her announcement in February.
A spokesperson for the governor told PIX11 News the administration is committed to addressing those experiencing a mental health crisis.
“This commitment is reflected through state investments in community based mental health services, supportive housing to increase Medicaid reimbursements for psychiatric beds, and for two new dedicated inpatient units at psychiatric centers in New York City,” the spokesman said.
Rashaun Williams voluntarily takes his psychiatric medication as a resident of a mental health supportive housing unit. He says it’s not for everyone.
“I was actually diagnosed in 1995. If you don’t monitor, and not just monitor but give them proper treatment, then you got what we have right now,” Williams said.
State Sen. Brad Hoylman said that given the depth of the crisis, only the federal government can help New York address what’s happening on its streets and in its subway stations.
“At least a third of folks who are struggling with homelessness need psychiatric care,” Hoylman said.
New York City’s daily shelter reports show a population of more than 63,000 people. That amounts to more than 20,000 needing psychiatric care.
Hoylman has been pushing for the federal government to pause its half-century national ban on offering Medicaid support to states for long-term psychiatric beds.
“There was a movement back in the 60s and 70s to defund larger psychiatric institutions because, frankly, the conditions in many of them were deplorable,” Hoylman said. “But that’s not a reason why we shouldn’t address this now in the present because of the crisis on our streets,” Hoylman said.
Josette Simon says she sees the tragic irony of her brother’s situation. “I think what they are going to do now is to lock him up with everybody else,” Josette said.
Martial Simon has been deemed unfit to stand trial for fatally pushing Michelle Go to her death. But prosecutors are still pursuing their criminal case.
Josette says she still worries her brother will not get around-the-clock supervision in a long-term, state psychiatric facility.
“We need not to let these people out because they are not in control. I watched my brother. It’s a sad thing. I’m trying not to cry today because it’s his birthday. I’m not to cry,” Josette said.
A spokesperson for the federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services told PIX11 News that even if the feds approve New York State’s reimbursement application for inpatients psychiatric bed costs, the state is expected to cap stays to an average of 30 days.
That means fewer permanent beds for the mentally ill who may be a danger to themselves or someone else in between their short-term psychiatric visits to local hospitals.