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Gregory says courts, hospitals failed him

Office was closed after second incident involving alleged vandal

State Rep. Jim Gregory’s Hollidaysburg office was vandalized Jan. 22, and in the following weeks, Gregory said he believes the courts and health care sector failed to keep him and his staff safe.

“As a result of not feeling safe, and in light of circumstances that were out of my control, I had to close my office until safety measures could be installed,” Gregory said.

Located at 324 Allegheny St., Hollidaysburg, Gregory’s office is slated to remain closed for an unknown period of time as surveillance cameras and other safety upgrades are added to the premises, he said.

“My office will be reopened very soon to serve the people of Blair County,” he said. “For the sake of my constituents, the sooner, the better. We hope it will be days and not weeks.”

After a medical and mental health evaluation at the request of law enforcement, Hollidaysburg resident Joseph Fox Jr., 30, was charged with reckless endangerment, vandalism, harassment and criminal mischief, for his alleged role as the vandal of Gregory’s office. But, Gregory said he didn’t feel enough measures were taken to ensure Fox could not repeat his offense or escalate the situation.

“I believe what I’m experiencing is a failure in Blair County to acknowledge there are people who need to be tended to with medical services,” he said, “because of a failure of our health care delivery system in Blair County to recognize folks in need of help as well as (a failure in) our court system preventing those people from affecting our community.”

Accountable

Police charged Fox with harassment Feb. 17 for another incident, which Gregory confirmed involved his office.

Although Gregory did not go on the record to discuss the details of the second incident, he did confirm it prompted him and his staff to close their office.

Magisterial District Judge Paula Aigner handled the preliminary arraignments for both of Fox’s cases, but she was not available for comment.

On the first set of charges, stemming from Jan. 22, Aigner set Fox’s unsecured bond at $50,000; however, no bond is listed on the court documents for the Feb. 17 incident.

Blair County District Attorney Peter Weeks said his team requested Fox be detained after the second incident, but the request was denied.

“We need to get back to holding criminals in Blair County accountable and keeping the citizens safe,” Weeks said. “In this case, we have allegations of repeated harassment that has escalated, and I do believe it is a safety concern for those victims.”

For Gregory, the series of events inspired him to consider how people with potential mental health issues are handled locally.

“Right now, our health care system in Blair County is failing a lot of people,” Gregory said. “I feel like the approach to addressing mental health issues within the county has affected me and my sense of safety for myself, my constituents and my staff.”

Rather than address the specific failings of providers to adequately address mental health care locally, Gregory said he would like to see the system change and recognize a “mental health care crisis” within Blair County as a result of several factors, including the pandemic.

“To me — as a victim and my staff having been traumatized — there is a need on the part of our local hospital to recognize there are folks who are struggling, and they are struggling mightily these days,” Gregory said. “We need to have a serious, high-level discussion among all the stakeholders in Blair County about what needs to change.”

‘Heightened level of concern’

The Blair County Court system has worked with law enforcement throughout the years to help people struggling with mental health receive the care they need, Weeks said.

Law enforcement personnel have the ability to refer a person for a mental health evaluation, which is conducted by medical professionals, he said.

“Sometimes mental health steps in, sometimes they don’t, but I would say there is a good partnership there,” Weeks said. “I believe Blair County does have the tools and resources they need to (handle increased numbers of mental health cases).”

Gregory said one improvement measure Blair County Courts could take is ensuring all parties involved in a criminal case are notified when court proceedings take place.

When Fox attended his preliminary hearing for the Jan. 22 incident, Gregory said his office wasn’t notified until after the hearing occurred.

“I want to believe this was just human error in the lack of notification about the hearing,” he said. “We need to do better.”

Violent acts have increasingly targeted politicians in recent years, and it might be time to address how the nation moves forward, Gregory said.

“There is a heightened level of concern from anybody in these types of positions,” he said. “I don’t believe we shouldn’t take a look in the mirror and decide, ‘is this the kind of political atmosphere we want to have?'”

Mirror Staff Writer Ike Fredregill is at 814-946-7458.

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