Civil commitment leaves Hennepin County offenders languishing

Mentally ill inmates wait months for evaluation, treatment

Civil commitment leaves Hennepin County offenders languishing

See also: Hennepin County court gap cycles out mentally ill offenders

Eugene Arthur Gates lost three months of his life to a pack of cigarettes.

On an October evening in 2010, Gates walked into a convenience store in Bloomington. He wanted the smokes, but he didn't have any money, and when the attendant explained why this was a problem, Gates lost his temper.

In the years prior to anti-psychotic medications, Minnesota's mental health system focused on long-term institutionalization
courtesy of the MN Dept. of Human Services
In the years prior to anti-psychotic medications, Minnesota's mental health system focused on long-term institutionalization
Judge Jay Quam believes that the civil commitment system needs to be reformed
Craig Lassig
Judge Jay Quam believes that the civil commitment system needs to be reformed

"Don't you know who I am?" he demanded. "I'm Bill Gates!"

Eugene, who has nothing in common with the Microsoft billionaire other than a last name, spat a mouthful of hot coffee at the attendant and ran out the door.

Police found him yelling at another employee outside the shop, holding the cigarettes and a stash of 5-Hour Energy drinks he had grabbed off the counter. The officers told Gates that he could face charges, but Gates had no intention of going quietly. After being handcuffed, he spat at an officer and a paramedic. He was eventually charged with fourth-degree assault and brought to the Hennepin County Public Safety Facility in downtown Minneapolis.

Gates suffers from a severe mental illness. The diagnosis is Schizoaffective Disorder, a condition that, without treatment, manifests in delusions, paranoia, and violence, according to his doctors. In addition to Bill Gates, he claims to be the owner of the Kansas City-based Gates Bar B.Q. franchise, and tells judges and guards of plans to open a restaurant in the Mall of America.

In short, there was no way that Gates was going to be found competent to stand trial for the minor assault charge.

If the civil commitment process had worked properly, someone might have noticed this right away, and scheduled a competency evaluation that would have eventually kicked his case to the mental health court, where he could get treatment.

But no one did notice—at least no one in a position to do anything about it—and because Gates couldn't make bail, he spent the meantime in a jail cell. By the time Gates was transferred to a hospital for treatment, more than 90 days had passed.

This is not how the civil commitment system is designed to work. In fact, after Gates sat in jail for months, his condition might have grown considerably worse by the time he finally received treatment, says Al Poncin, his defense attorney in mental health court.

"Psychiatric treatment delayed is very bad because you never quite get back to where you were," Poncin explains. "There is some kind of long-lasting mental health ramification."

But Gates's case is far from isolated. In Hennepin County, a combination of strapped resources, bureaucracy, and an increase in criminals referred to the mental health commitment court has made it the norm for offenders to sit in jail for months on end while they wait for the system to start working.

"It is a real issue," says Mike Freeman, Hennepin County attorney. "I think society—and primarily the state Legislature—has ignored the real need for mental health treatment and options for beds. We simply have to have these things. And the Legislature has known about it for a long time, but they just don't want to pay for it."

The problem touches everyone in the system. The longer mentally ill offenders languish in jail, the more guards are tasked with acting as de facto nurses, which can lead to attacks and more criminal charges.

"The more mentally ill people that find their way into the system that aren't treated promptly, the more difficult it's going to be for the jail," says Judge Jay Quam, who presides over the mental health commitment court. "The more difficult it's going to be for everyone—especially the people who are mentally ill."


As recently as 50 years ago, Minnesota's mental health system resembled something like an Authoritarian regime. In the age predating antipsychotic medications, the focus was on institutionalization, and patients were afforded little or no civil liberties. Experts in the system today still tell horror stories of men committing their troubled wives or children just to get rid of them.

Once committed, the patients would be filed into the Anoka State Hospital like cattle.

"Back in the '60s, they had, I think, 1,600 patients up there," says Donald Betzold, a former state senator who helped reform Minnesota's civil commitment laws. "Basically, you got committed, they sent you up there, and you stayed forever. People weren't getting out."

Over the next two decades, philosophies toward the mentally ill evolved. The country moved away from long-term institutionalization, and focused on treatment plans that moved patients back into their communities.

In 1982, Hennepin County lost a precedent-setting Supreme Court case to a patient named M.D. Vickerman, who alleged his due process rights were violated by the court. After this decision came the Hennepin County Civil Commitment Defense Project, a team of experienced defense attorneys paid by the county and selected by the bar association to represent mentally ill people who can't afford counsel.

Throughout the 1980s, Minnesota's civil commitment system continued to see landmark reform. The Legislature passed the Minnesota Commitment Act, which established a platform of civil rights for the mentally ill.

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9 comments
t.tholetim
t.tholetim

Minnesota also does not mandate any advocacy for criminal & civil cases a like, in any aspect of the Minnesota Judicial system sanction by the Federal "United" States of America government.

t.tholetim
t.tholetim

P.S. Its like how everyone forgets Charles Lindbergh turned to join the German Nazi's for monetary reasons. That's a fact of the Little Falls, MN natives life. What's more evil, being honest & telling people what actually is happening & going to happen or masking plans & actions in fake to reality poetry, likewise to, "We the people,.."

t.tholetim
t.tholetim

Minnesota practices a different capital punishment. One likewise to the degenerate Thomas Jefferson, claiming, "We the people,..." to veil in a cloak of fancy linguistics to mask their Demonic Actions. If your "diagnosed" with a " severe" mental "illness", your sanctioned by the State of Minnesota to a life long, cruel & unusaul, torturious death by lethal injection of chemicals that cripple the human body as a whole. Lambs to the slaughter as it were. When people ask me, "Tim, do you think its more dangerous to take up residency in Texas or Minnesota?" I answer, "It will always be more dangerous to be a resident in Minnesota, U.S.A., than any other state in the Union." & you all can take that to the federal reserve "bank".

t.tholetim
t.tholetim

Fuck you, (The writer of this article, that is) & all your "Civil" commitments.

t.tholetim
t.tholetim

Fuck you, (The writer of this article that is) & your "civil" commitments.

Prizm2500
Prizm2500

It disgusted me to read about Ahmed Hassen and Edgar Coleman. These parasites of society should just be shot in a field and left to rot. They add no value to society- all they do is use up resources and degrade the quality of life of people that have to interact with them.

MMZIEMAN47
MMZIEMAN47

RAMSEY COUNTY DOES THE OPPOSITE. I HAD NIECE PUT IN THE REGIONS HOSPITALBY A PROSECUTOR WITH A VENDETTA WHO HAS ALREADY BEEN COMMITTED ANDGONE THROUGH ANOKA TREATMENT PROGRAM AND THEN THROUGH THE COURTSYSTEM AFTER BEING CONFIRMED COMPETENT FOR A 2 MINUTE FLEEING POLICEWHEN SHE WAS ILL AND DID NOT KNOW THEY WERE BEHIND HER. MY NIECE WASWAS IN TOTAL REMISSION AND THIS WAS CONFIRMED BY THE EXAMINATION AFTERHER COURT REQURED HER A ER. CRISIS EXAM THAT STATED SHE WAS IN TOTALCOMPLIANCE OF HER MEDICATIONS AND SENT HER BACK TO HER APARTMENT SHEHAD OCCUPIED (9 MONTHS) FROM HER RELEASE FROM ANOKA TREATMENT FACILITY. MY NIECE WAS DOING THE BEST THAT SHE EVER WAS THE DOCTORS THAT NEW HER STATED THIS ALSO. THE PROSECUTOR COULD NOT FIND A DOCTOR TO ADMIT HER TO THE HOSPITAL. SO HE EXPARTED HER FOR BEINGMENTALLY ILL & DANGEROUS USING THE SAME LAW THE CRIMINAL JUDGERELEASED HER ON. THIS WAS BECAUSE NO DOCTOR WOULD ADMIT HER!THE INVOLUNTARY HOLD COURT ORDERED SHE WAS AS THE DOCTORS STATEDABSOLUTELY NO MEDICAL CARE NECESSARY! THIS HOLD WITHOUT A DISCHARGEDATE CAN CONTRIBUTE TO STRESS AND DEPRESSION, THIS IS BORDERING ONINTENTIONAL INFLICTIOL OF EMOTION DISTRESS! THIS WAS CHARTED DAILY INHER MEDICAL RECIRDS AND SENT TO RAMSEY COUNTY ATTORNEY OFFICE DAILYPER STAFF REPORT. THEY HELD HER THERE FOR 6 WEEKS AT $2600.00 DOLLARSA DAY WITH NO MEDICAL CARE NECESSARY AND AFTER 6 WEEKS SHE DID BECOMEILL AS THE DOCTOR STATED, THEY THEN SENT HER TO ST. PETERS WERE SHE STILL IS AT WITH NO RECORD OF EVER HARMING NO ONE. THE HOSPITAL COSTBILLED TO MEDICAL ASSISTANCE AT THE REGIONS HOSPITA;L WAS $158,000.00.PAYED BY THE TAXPAYERS AND HER INDITERMINE STAY A ST. PETERS HOSPITALCONTINUES TO BE PAID BY THE TAXPAYERS. MY NIECE DOE NOT BELONG THERETHIS IS OUT OF A VERY WELL DOCUMENTED VENDETTA FROM THE PROSECUTORSOFFICE. EVIDENDLY RAMSEY COUNTY PROSECUTORS DON'T CARE WHAT IT COSTTHE TAXPAYERS. AS LONG AS THEY GET WHAT THEY WANT! I AM SURE THEY COULD SPEND THIS MONEY ON SOMETHING MORE PRODUCTIVE LIKE GOING AFTERREAL DANGEROUS PEOPLE ON THE STREETS THEN PICKING A DISABLED MENTALILLNESS PERSON WHO NEVER HARMED ANYONE THAT WAS IN FULL REMISSION.AT LEAST HENEPIN COUNTY HAS REAL SICK PEOPLE IN THERE JAILS AND HOSPITALSAT $120.00 A DAY VERSUS RAMSEY COUNTY JAILING THIS PERSON $2600.00 A DAY.MY NIECE HAD RETURNED TO HER APARTMENT AFTER TREATMENT FOR THEPREVIOUS 9 MONTHS AND HELD THIS APARTMENT OVER 6 YEARS. THE PREVIOUSJUDGE DID NOT HOLD HER BECAUSE SHE NEW SHE WAS NOT DANGEROUS. THEHER RENT WAS $625.00 A MONTH SHE IS ON SOCIAL SEVURITY AND RECEIVEDSECTION8 ASSIST! THE PROSECUTOR WANTED HER LOCKED UP! CLAIMING SHEWAS A DANGER AND BROUGHT IN A DIFFERENT JUDGE TO EXCEPT THE EXPARTE!SO THEY PAID $2600.00 A DAY TO KEEP HER IN THE HOSPITAL AND THE DOCTORSIN THE HOSPITAL TRIED TO GET HER DISCHARGED AND THE PROSECUTIOR SAIDSHE NEEDS TO STAY THERE AND GET STABLE!!! TH HOSPITAL TOLD HER COURTAPOINTED ATTORNEY "THIS IS NOT A JAIL, IF YOU WANT HER IN JAIL PUT HERTHERE"! COURT APPOINTED ATTORNEY REPLIED SHE CAN'T GO TO JAIL!!!!

portia chalifoux
portia chalifoux

The graphic is so disappointingly dehumanizing and only serves to reinforce dismal stereotype. Straitjacket and a featureless face? Is that what people who are suffering with severe and debilitating mental illness inspire as a visualization? Soulless, inhumane and without compassion - the new American way, which the story reinforces.

PaPa
PaPa

How the mentally ill are treated in the court system was reported in an accurate manner but the issue of the costs involved was really not relevant. Apparently what the reporter did not know and failed to follow up with is that once an offender is determined to be mentally incapable of a trial and sentenced to a mental facility those costs are still the burden of the county of committ.

And even if convicted, and sentenced to prison, the mentally ill sent to state mental health facilities such as St.Peter are still the cost burden of the convicting county. Offenders sentenced by the state can even do time in state prisons and later found mentally ill and thus transferred to St. Peter and then have their state time stopped and the county of committ then picks up the costs....which are on a daily rate five times that of prison. The mentally ill will always be the burden of the county, whether jammed up in the county court system or sent to a state facility.

 
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