Public Safety

Man identified who was found in Iowa River

Would an access center have helped man who didn't want to stay in a homeless shelter?

A Johnson County squad car. (file photo)
A Johnson County squad car. (file photo)
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IOWA CITY — The new access center planned in Johnson County might have saved Mohammad Saadi Albaghdadi’s life.

But the homeless man died Tuesday, when his body was pulled from the Iowa River near the Burlington Street Bridge in Iowa City.

It took until Thursday to identify him as a 42-year-old who’d had some problems with the law and who, court records indicate, didn’t want to stay at Shelter House, the Iowa City homeless shelter.

Instead, he preferred to sleep in parking ramps and visit the University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics for his medical needs, according to a probation violation report prepared for the court.

That report recommended that Albaghdadi’s probation be revoked — he received a deferred sentence on a domestic abuse charge — and that he be placed in a residential correctional facility.

That didn’t happen, with the court on July 12 instead ordering him to participate in the state’s domestic abuse program and pay more than $500 in fines and court costs.

Five days later, he somehow ended up in the river, where pedestrians on the Burlington Street Bridge saw a body in the water, and the Johnson County Sheriff’s Department water rescue squad put boats in the river and found him.

Four days before that, Albaghdadi had been cited for public intoxication. He pleaded guilty.

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Officials — and relatives — didn’t want to comment on Albaghdadi’s circumstances or speculate whether the planned access center might have helped him.

But the idea of the center — with the working title of the Behavioral Health Urgent Care Center — is to give police a place to take people in crisis instead of having to take them to jail or an emergency room, the only options now available.

Johnson County supervisors last week agreed to buy land for a Behavioral Health Urgent Care Center.

The center would offer services such as sobering and crisis stabilization units, as well as a low-barrier homeless shelter, meaning someone would not have to be sober to stay the night, a requirement for most homeless shelters.

Elley Gould, jail alternatives administrator for Johnson County, said it would be inappropriate to comment on “one person’s circumstances.”

“However, I will say that the philosophy of the Behavioral Health Urgent Care Center, and really all of the great services within Johnson County, is to meet people where they’re at and ultimately help them in their times of need,” Gould said.

The Iowa Legislature this year, as part of a mental health bill, approved the creation of six access centers in the state. The centers are intended to provide short-term assistance to people in crisis as an alternative to expensive psychiatric hospital beds, which often are in short supply or at capacity.

Madison Arnold of The Gazette contributed to this report.

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