Richard A. Happ may leave the Minnesota Security Hospital in St. Peter 15 years after killing his parents. The state Department of Human Services says he should be allowed to leave the hospital and live at a licensed, state-operated residential facility in West St. Paul.
Dean Stuewe, the cousin of killer Richard Happ and the nephew of Happ’s victims’, his parents Richard H. and Angela Happ. Dean has been passionate in opposing Happ Jr.’s release from St. Peter. ] GLEN STUBBE * email@example.com THURSDAY, February 27, 2014
Dave Happ knew his brother’s time in lockup wasn’t going to be a life sentence.
As soon as a Carver County district judge adjourned court 14 years ago, Happ started preparing for the day when his older brother, Richard, would be released from the Minnesota Security Hospital in St. Peter.
Just before midnight on March 24, 1999, Dave, then 27, had watched in horror as Richard A. Happ, then 30, had stabbed their parents to death with a butcher knife in the kitchen of their Waconia home, then threatened him as he fled outside to call police with a mobile phone.
Now, the state Department of Human Services (DHS) says, Richard should be allowed to leave the hospital and live at a licensed, state-operated residential facility in West St. Paul. He is considered at low risk to reoffend, has gained great insight into his mental illness and “is at a point of being ready to move on,” according to a finding of fact and recommendation report.
Dave Happ couldn’t disagree more.
On Friday, he and his first cousin, Dean Stuewe of Chaska, with the support of the Carver County attorney’s office, will be back in a courtroom to fight Richard’s provisional discharge.
The recommendation that Richard Happ, now 45, be released also contains cautions. In the report, the psychologist representing Carver County Human Services also raises concerns that Happ isn’t symptom-free, that his psychosis wasn’t sufficiently addressed in a risk assessment report and that his history of substance abuse before commitment was substantial.
Because of Happ’s history of mental illness, the county attorney’s office said in the report, “if [a release] goes badly, then it will go very badly,” and that’s why it’s fighting the discharge.
“I’m very worried they will have him heavily medicated and roll the dice,” Dave Happ said. “The people releasing him may not be around in two, three or five years. There is no culpability.”
If a panel of three Dakota County District Court judges denies Carver County’s appeal, Carver County could petition the state Court of Appeals.
The West St. Paul facility has 24-hour care and awake overnight staff, the recommendation report said. A representative from the facility said in the report that it has a good relationship with Happ and that he has attended its monthly peer-monitoring group. The representative also said the facility can provide safety for the public and assist in Happ’s adjustment into society.
Stuewe, the Happ brothers’ cousin, said he visited Richard at the security hospital last year. He said Richard’s speech seemed very deliberate, “as if he was telling me what I wanted to hear,” he said.
When he went to St. Peter, Stuewe said he believed he had an agreement to look at his cousin’s medical charts, but hospital staffers told him Richard had changed his mind, he said.
“He would tell me that ‘they’ say he’s ready to leave the hospital, but he never said ‘he’ is ready,” Stuewe said.
‘People can and do recover’
Discharges of people indefinitely committed to the security hospital for being mentally ill and dangerous take place far more frequently than for those committed to the state’s sexual offender program.
While only one out of nearly 700 people has ever been released from the sex offender program, 111 other people treated at the state hospital have been provisionally discharged the past two years.
DHS Deputy Commissioner Anne Barry declined to comment on Happ’s case. In general, she said, the department “is required by law to meet the mental health needs of those committed to our care in the most integrated setting possible.”