If your hospital emergency room were too full to accommodate you when you were sick, would you agree to wait in the Hennepin County jail?

Would you agree to wait for treatment in a 7- by 11-foot segregated cement-block jail cell, with nothing but a mattress and blanket, locked up for as many as 23 hours a day, for 88 days or more, waiting to be seen by a doctor who can diagnose and treat your illness?

Would it make a difference if a court had evaluated you and ordered that you were entitled to medical treatment in a state-run hospital — but you still had to wait nearly three months locked up in that jail cell?

This is not a hypothetical situation for Raymond Traylor, a 28-year-old man with mental illness currently being held in the Hennepin County jail. He is only in the jail because the Minnesota Security Hospital in St. Peter — to which he has been civilly committed — has refused, for 88 days, to readmit him, despite a court order to do so.

Imagine for a moment that Traylor were your son, brother or cousin. Despite his young age, he has been arrested multiple times, mostly for low-level crimes related to his mental illness (such as trespassing or disorderly conduct). Over the course of many years, the state of Minnesota has failed to provide the medical care he is entitled to. Instead of being given treatment, he has been arrested and incarcerated over and over, essentially criminalizing his mental illness.

By its actions, we believe the state of Minnesota is violating Traylor’s constitutional right to court-ordered medical treatment.

Traylor has been civilly committed to St. Peter by the Hennepin County Mental Health Court on multiple occasions, most recently on Sept. 28. He is presumed to be innocent, and due to mental illness he cannot participate in his own defense in a meaningful way.

On Aug. 8, 2016, he was “provisionally discharged” by St. Peter medical staff and released to a community placement program in Bloomington (still under the care and custody of the medical staff at St. Peter in a program funded by the state). Court records show that Traylor stopped taking his medications and became verbally abusive — symptomatic of his illness — and was consequently kicked out of the program.

The medical staff at St. Peter should have immediately taken him back to help him stabilize, but they did not. Instead he was left on the streets. Tragically, this is not the first time the staff at St. Peter improperly released Traylor subject to a provisional discharge. In 2013, he was released from St. Peter and dropped off on a street corner a quarter-mile from the shelter that was selected to care for him. This incident sparked a state investigation into the discharge practices by the facility in St. Peter, as reported in the Star Tribune (“State hires attorney to investigate release of violent mental patient,” Aug. 16, 2013).

On April 4 of this year, Traylor was picked up by the Metropolitan Airport Police, charged with disorderly conduct, a misdemeanor, and brought to the Hennepin County jail. Because Traylor is civilly committed, Hennepin County’s Mental Health Court ordered that his provisional discharge end and that he be returned immediately to St. Peter.

Minnesota law mandates that due to Traylor’s illness and civil commitment, the misdemeanor charge against him must be dismissed. Nonetheless, for the past 88 days, the hospital has refused to take him back and has placed him on a waiting list for hospitalization.

Gov. Mark Dayton personally was asked to intervene and immediately provide a hospital placement for Traylor. Through his Department of Human Services, our governor has refused, so Traylor still waits in the Hennepin County jail, in a locked cell, when there has been no possibility of a criminal conviction. And he has been there almost for the entirety of the 90-day maximum sentence imposed under Minnesota law for a misdemeanor conviction.

We are doing everything we can for him, but the Hennepin County jail is not a treatment facility. Despite the fact that the jail is a professionally managed, nationally accredited facility, no one gets better in a jail.

By state law, we can manage behavior and keep him safe. Traylor is assigned to segregation for his own safety, and he has a mattress, but no bed, because the court has ruled that he poses an immediate danger to himself or others. We cannot provide the level of treatment our courts have ordered the state to provide: evaluation, assessment, diagnosis, new medications and/or dosages or psychotherapy, etc. In 88 days, apart from the jail detention and nursing staff who monitor and check on him 24 hours a day, he has had three visits — all from county personnel.

The state claims its hospitals have too many patients to handle. But in 2015, the Legislature provided more funding to staff 15 additional beds at Anoka-Metro Regional Treatment Center for patients like Traylor — but they are not using them. While the facility is funded for 115 beds, only 80 are in use. And, in truth, the Hennepin County jail also is running over its functional capacity, with dozens of inmates assigned to temporary beds each day.

It can never be legally or morally justifiable to incarcerate someone not accused of a crime. We previously believed that this was a universal truth and inviolable principle in our state and nation, where the rule of law and the constitutional rights of individuals are paramount to the convenience of government. We should not tolerate a violation of constitutional rights for one hour, let alone more than 2,100 hours.

Why is there so little concern for Traylor and the hundreds of Minnesotans like him sitting in jails today, when our courts have ordered that they should be patients and not inmates?

We have a crisis of untreated mental illness in the Minnesota and across the nation. State-run hospitals were closed, and promises to build and fund community placements and small, 16-bed hospitals have never been fulfilled.

We call upon all of the 2018 candidates for attorney general, governor, U.S. Senate and U.S. House, the Minnesota Legislature, and our county boards to make this an election issue. Pledge to fund the mental health treatment beds we need in Minnesota and serve those who are being neglected and ignored, victimized or criminalized, as a result of mental illness.

 

Rich Stanek is the Hennepin County sheriff. Doug McGuire is the attorney representing Raymond Traylor.