After being stitched up at a St. Cloud hospital, Jensen returned to the jail and a MEnD nurse recommended he be put on a 10-minute suicide watch, jail records show. A day later, MEnD staff lifted the order, according to the sheriff; even though his record shows that Jensen was soon making disturbing comments, there is no record that a mental health professional ever assessed him. Weeks later, Jensen stole a razor issued to his new cellmate. Soon after, he was found dead in the shower with a large gash in his neck.
Leonard, citing patient privacy laws, declined to comment on Jensen’s care.
In 2011, Leonard’s license was put on conditional status by the Minnesota Board of Medical Practice due to unprofessional and unethical conduct, prescribing a drug for other than medically accepted practices and improper management of medical records. His license restrictions were lifted in August after he completed courses in chronic pain management, records management and professional boundaries.
Jim Franklin of the Sheriffs’ Association says inmates with mental illness are the most vulnerable people under a sheriff’s responsibility, a burden already heavy with dangerous and unstable people.
Until about three years ago, a county jail was mostly the province of the county sheriff — who usually deferred medical issues to a public health nurse. Since then, Franklin and his staff have pressed for standardized, mandatory training in mental health care.
Still, Franklin admits that training is inadequate, with jailer certification at the association’s Jail Academy requiring just 11 hours of core education on suicide awareness and mental health. “We need to have 40 hours just on that issue, but we don’t have the funding,” he said.
Additionally, state corrections inspectors have little authority to punish a jail for neglect.
After the 2007 suicide of Kyle Raymond in the Olmsted County jail, for example, an inspector only sent a “letter of concern” to the county sheriff, even though records showed that jailers had tried to cover up their negligence and surveillance video showed that deputies had falsified their logs.
Last year, Raymond’s family settled a negligence suit for $900,000 and the deputies have been fired.
To this day, Sheriff Lindgren defends his jail and medical staff. He points out that after Holscher’s death, the county spent $10,000 to modify the cellblocks where an inmate might find a way to kill himself.
“Holscher was not a ‘suicide watch’ because he told the nurse he was not suicidal,” the sheriff said.
“Yes, we’ve had two suicides, but we’ve also had several ‘saves,’ and that needs to be recognized by the public,” he said. “We try our best to treat our inmates with dignity and respect — 365 days a year and about every 20 minutes.”
After Holscher’s death, Lindgren said he ordered an internal jail review. It concluded that the jail staff followed proper procedures.
And John Schropfer, who was returned to the Itasca County jail last month, is finally in treatment and receiving medications for bipolar disorder. He has a court appearance next week.
His mother, Mary Hennen, asks a question that has nagged her since that anxious day at the hospital in Duluth.
“What will we say to another mother who has to bury a child because there was a failure in the system?”
Paul McEnroe • 612-673-1745