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In April 2011, he got an answer. Mike Tessneer, then head of DHS’s huge State Operated Services division, wrote Quam to assure him that psychiatric inmates were being swiftly moved out of jails and into care. He said the Brewer issue had been put to rest, and he described a “marked reduction” in the number of days that inmates remained in jail awaiting treatment after commitment.
But deputies at the jail produced dozens of cases in which inmates were still spending several weeks in jail after commitment orders had been handed down.
As a result, DHS has been stripped of the power to decide when it will open a bed for an inmate who has been committed by a judge. A state law that took effect Aug. 1 requires the agency to offer placement within 48 hours of a commitment order.
“It will be a huge test for us,” said Barry, the deputy commissioner. “But it’s the right thing to do. I agree.”
Yet the new law addresses only one part of the long jail delays. Psychotic inmates can still wait weeks — even months — for a psychiatric evaluation and other steps leading up to a judge’s commitment order.
Last May, Julie Berntson appeared in Quam’s courtroom to close a circle with Derres King.
King, the patient with HIV and eight mental disorders, had been arrested in October 2011. The daily jail log described his steady deterioration and the risk he posed to himself and others.
On New Year’s Eve, a fight broke out inside the jail. When Julie’s husband, Sgt. Bradley Berntson, tried to intervene, King bit him. Two months later, taking a heavy dose of drugs to prevent the transmission of King’s HIV, Bradley Berntson died.
King finally received a court hearing for psychiatric commitment in April 2012 — 191 days after his arrest.
“Mr. King, I don’t blame you,” Julie Berntson said. “I don’t hate you. I forgive you because that is what Brad would do. But I ask that you take advantage of the opportunity that you have been given. And I ask Judge Quam [to] continue to work for the men and women who do this job every day. We have a responsibility to keep them safe.”
She has sued Hennepin County for failing to protect her late husband.
As for Schuler, who stabbed himself in the eyes: He lives in the Twin Cities in a state-funded residential facility, where he receives continuous care and medication. He has hired two attorneys and is suing Hennepin County and its medical contractor for the care he received while in jail.
His mental condition has stabilized, according to those responsible for his care, but his eyesight will never fully recover.
Paul McEnroe • 612-673-1745
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