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Will insane armed robber’s case against Bergen jail go to trial?

Photo Credit: Bergen County Sheriff’s Department

ONLY ON CLIFFVIEW PILOT: A legal battle between Bergen County officials and an insane armed robber could finally be headed toward a trial next month, depending on a judge’s rulings later this week.

INSET: Barry Goldberg (undated);
Color photo COURTESY Bergen County Sheriff’s Department

County officials are asking the judge to toss a lawsuit filed against them and officials at the Bergen County Jail by 59-year-old Barry Goldberg, whom a state judge found not guilty by reason of insanity for a series of armed robberies and bank holdups in Hackensack, Bergenfield, Fair Lawn, Fort Lee, Park Ridge and Clifton in 2005.

Goldberg’s attorney wants the judge to order county officials to surrender various jail records, amid what he called an increasingly “complicated procedural posture.”

He insists that county and jail officials, including former Sheriff Leo McGuire, share responsibility for denying Goldberg treatment for his mental illness, even though he clearly “presented a danger to himself or others.”

A trial is set to begin in Hackensack at the end of February.

Besides seeking a summary judgment ending the matter, county officials want to bar an expert witness from testifying should the case go to trial, because the period for exchanging evidence has already passed.

Attorney Benjamin Kelsen, in turn, calls Dr. Marcia Baruch, a clinical psychologist with a background in forensic and correctional psychology, “an integral part” of his case. He points to precedent in which judges ordered the “discovery” period for evidence exchange reopened.

“Generally, the courts will not deny parties their day in court because of the untimely service of expert reports,” he noted.

“Obviously, were the report to be barred, Mr. Goldberg’s case would be adversely affected, and might never be heard on its merits, contrary to the interests of justice,” Kelsen wrote to Superior Court Law Division Judge Mark M. Russello, who is hearing the case.

In addition to his letter to Russello, dated today, the attorney filed responses to county officials’ version of several facts of the case. And although there is some agreement, they take opposing sides on several matters. The judge will have to sort these out before a civil trial can begin.

Police in various municipalities gathered in 2005 amid a series of holdups, some at area Subway sandwich shops, to try and find the man responsible. The same robber struck at two Subway shops in Fort Lee and one in Park Ridge, as well as at CVS pharmacies in Fair Lawn and Clifton and a bank and Hollywood Video store in Hackensack – and possibly elsewhere.

In most of the holdups, records show, the robber pointed a gun at a teller or cashier, demanded money and dashed out with cash. In a few instances, he paid $2 for a soda, then either demanded cash at gunpoint or reached into the register and grabbed a handful of bills, reports show.

Surveillance was set up at various locations, including the Subways in Emerson, Washington Township and elsewhere. Fingerprints were collected and compared. Witnesses also reported seeing a blue Chevy without a front license plate or inspection sticker.

Then one night in August, Sally Beauty Supply in Clifton was held up. The robber took off with $86 after pointing what looked like a handgun. Both he and the getaway car fit the descriptions from previous robberies.

Minutes later, a Clifton police officer spotted the car on Route 46 in Saddle Brook. The gun, found at a bank drive-through near the cosmetics store, turned out to be a plastic toy.

Investigators matched up surveillance photos and lineup identifications from witnesses that all pointed directly to Goldberg. The car was registered to Goldberg’s mother, who lived in a Florida nursing home at the time.

Authorities in the affected Bergen County towns filed detainers with officials at the Passaic County Jail, where Goldberg was being held. He was transferred to the Bergen County lockup four months later.

Goldberg, formerly of Moonachie and River Edge, once was a sales manager at a New York City car dealership, eventually making $125,000 annually during his 12 years in the business. He had worked all his life, sometimes at two jobs. He was known for his love of designer clothing and took vacations regularly.

But business at the dealership went bad and he couldn’t find another job, according to court papers.

Goldberg, who is single, told an interviewer that he ran out of money “to the point that he did not have any food to eat and he had a notice of eviction at the same time he had diabetes and grand mal seizure.” His electricity was turned off.

Then came no fewer than eight robberies that Goldberg admitted.

Bergen County officials say Goldberg regularly saw his lawyer, as well as “a psychiatric social worker and a psychiatrist” during his confinement in the “Mental Health-3E” Unit at the county jail, both before his bench trial and after the verdict. Kelsen, however, contends there were several times he didn’t.

Both sides agree that the inmate received his psychotropic medications regularly. But Kelsen contends that Goldberg was “improperly weaned off” Zoloft, an anti-depressant that “was partially beneficial insofar as it relieved some of his feelings of depression.”

Goldberg eventually wasn’t taking any psychotropic drugs during his confinement in C-2, although he complained that he wasn’t getting low-cholesterol, low-sugar meals that he required because of high cholesterol and diabetes. He was also transferred to the high-security S4 unit.

Kelsen said Goldberg “could only guess” why he was moved. Medication for his physical ailments “was at times unavailable or distributed to other inmates/patients,” the lawyer contends.

He says there were also “lapses” in medical staff coverage and that “filed requests for treatment went unheeded” before his trial. Goldberg was also confined in a cell with a roommate for more than 30 hours at a time – even after a judge found him not guilty by reason of insanity, the lawsuit alleges.

“He was adversely affected by this, with increasing sadness and fleeting suicidal [thoughts],” it contends.

County officials say they can document that the time period never exceeded 21 hours per day. They said he received appropriate care, which also was documented.

In February 2007, Goldberg was diagnosed with a severe form of depression and schizophrenia. Following a bench trial two months later, Superior Court Judge Eugene H. Austin found him not guilty of the holdups by reason of insanity.

In May, the judge ordered that Goldberg be “immediately” transferred to the Ann Klein Forensic Center, a maximum security state psychiatric hospital in West Trenton.

County officials said they couldn’t move Goldberg until his name came up on the Ann Klein waiting list because the beds there were full. McGuire’s staff was finally given a Sept. 25 date, more than four months after Austin’s order. It was a situation, they said, over which they had “absolutely no control.”

For the time being, they kept him in max security in S4 – even though he was found not guilty, the lawsuit alleges.

Goldberg says he was growing increasingly anxious. He “complained to the jail officials on several occasions” and wrote twice to Judge Austin that he should be sent to Ann Klein for evaluation, his suit contends.

On Sept. 25, 2007, Goldberg was transferred there. But during the previous five months at the BCJ, Kelsen maintains, he was isolated and “did not receive substantive psychiatric intervention.” Despite Austin’s order, they “made no alternative arrangement to another facility” or to get Austin to order that Goldberg be placed somewhere else.

They didn’t even explore the possibility of a transfer to Bergen Regional Medical Center, a psychiatric hospital in Paramus with a secure area guarded by county sheriff’s officers, he says.

Kelsen filed the suit seeking unspecified damages in August 2009, contending that jail officials violated his client’s civil rights by being “deliberately indifferent.” This, he says, amounted to “cruel and unusual punishment.”

After three months at Ann Klein, Goldberg was transferred to Greystone, a less restrictive psychiatric hospital. He was classified “legally insane” when he was discharged in October 2008.

Goldberg now lives in Port Jefferson Station, N.Y., where he works for a commercial laundry company.

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