Alleged murderer Aaron Schaffhausen
Jeff Wheeler, Star Tribune
Mental health checkups or helping the prosecution?
- Article by: PAM LOUWAGIE
- Star Tribune
- September 18, 2012 - 10:35 PM
The lawyer for a man accused of killing his three daughters in River Falls, Wis., is asking a higher court to prevent jail mental health workers from approaching the man in his cell.
Repeated visits from a worker violate Aaron Schaffhausen's constitutional rights, his defense attorney argued in appeal papers this week.
Jail deputies are already documenting everything about Schaffhausen -- including when he eats, sleeps and uses the bathroom -- in case it's needed in the criminal case against him, defense attorney John Kucinski argued in the appeal. If Schaffhausen ever speaks to a mental health worker, Kucinski questioned whether that information would remain medically confidential if the case ends up focusing on Schaffhausen's mental status.
Schaffhausen was considered a suicide risk when he entered the St. Croix County jail in July, court papers said. A judge agreed last month that a mental health worker could continue to approach Schaffhausen in a limited way as part of the sheriff's duty to provide health care to jail inmates; if Schaffhausen doesn't respond the worker is to leave.
Kucinski argues that Schaffhausen, 35, is no longer a suicide risk and has invoked his rights to remain silent and have an attorney present. Until Schaffhausen initiates communication, the defense attorney wrote, the thrice-weekly approaches from a mental health worker violate those rights because the worker is employed by the sheriff's office and therefore is an "agent of the state."
Schaffhausen was charged in July with three counts of first-degree intentional homicide in the slayings of his daughters, 11-year-old Amara, 8-year-old Sophie and 5-year-old Cecilia. A divorced carpenter living in Minot, N.D., he shared legal custody of the girls, who lived with their mother in River Falls. He faces the possibility of life in prison on each homicide charge.
Prosecutors have made it clear that they believe that the mental health conversations with Schaffhausen would be initially protected as confidential medical information, Kucinski acknowledged in the appeal document. But he argued that the sheriff's office has "full knowledge that his mental status may be the primary issue later in the case," the document says.
He cited an e-mail from a sheriff's office sergeant directing all jail deputies to document Schaffhausen's behavior, visits, interactions with medical and mental health staff, his eating and his bathroom and shower times, among other activities. "The defense is seriously perusing the insanity defense and our documentation may potentially mean a huge difference in this case," the e-mail says.
Kucinski argues the prosecutor, law enforcement and jail staff are working together to collect information that can be used against Schaffhausen.
Calls seeking comment from a Wisconsin Department of Justice spokeswoman weren't returned Tuesday afternoon.
The St. Croix County attorney representing the sheriff's office, Donald Gillen, said in an interview that Schaffhausen's right to remain silent applies to interrogations, not mental health visits.
"This is not a police interrogation, this is a mental health therapist checking on his mental status and suicide risk," Gillen said. "This man is on suicide watch. He's in a suicide cell. We're going to check on him to see if he has any mental health needs. To do otherwise would put ourselves at risk to a lawsuit for deprivation of his Eighth Amendment right to medical treatment."
A hearing on other evidentiary issues in the case is set for Thursday afternoon in Hudson, Wis.
Pam Louwagie • 612-673-7102
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