TWO HARBORS, MINN. – The former “Miracle on Ice” hockey star sat in a locked conference room, rubbing his thumb against the corner of a table as faces on screens debated the danger the court says he poses to society.
Mark Pavelich, 62, appeared before a judge via video feed Wednesday for a hearing to review an order that committed him to the Minnesota Security Hospital in St. Peter. Attorneys for the former Olympian and Cook County discussed a proposal that would move Pavelich, who faces felony assault charges for beating his neighbor with a metal pole, to a less restrictive facility where he could continue receiving mental health treatment.
A court filing said two medical doctors evaluated Pavelich on June 19 and found he “demonstrated many treatment gains.”
The document went on to quote the doctors saying Pavelich “could be adequately treated in a setting that is less restrictive than his current placement … while managing the risk of safety to the public.”
The doctors diagnosed Pavelich with “a potential psychotic disorder due to traumatic brain injuries, with delusions, and an unspecified trauma and stressor-related disorder,” according to the filing.
Pavelich’s friends and family have raised concerns that he exhibits signs of CTE, or chronic traumatic encephalopathy, from repeated blows to the head while playing in the National Hockey League. They said the quiet, solitary man they knew had in recent years become increasingly paranoid and at times almost threatening — possible symptoms of the degenerative disease.
Cook County Judge Michael Cuzzo said Wednesday he needed time to review the arrangement the attorneys were seeking. The order would commit Pavelich as “mentally ill” and no longer qualify him as “dangerous” after a six-month period, as long as Pavelich cooperates with his treatment team and obtains a professional guardian through Lutheran Social Service.
Cuzzo said that while he “certainly has not lost sight of the fact that Mr. Pavelich has made great strides,” the doctors’ report seemed “encouraging but cautious.”
“The procedure for committing someone who is mentally ill and dangerous also protects the public,” said Cuzzo, who added that he plans to make a decision soon.
The St. Peter hospital holding Pavelich is the only facility of its kind in Minnesota, a prisonlike place where officials can assess and treat individuals with severe mental health disorders who are considered a threat to the public. The state’s website describes it as “an inherently difficult place to live and work.”
Stephen Foertsch, who with Carolyn Bruno represents Pavelich, told Cuzzo that Pavelich has expressed interest in moving to Eagle’s Healing Nest, a nonprofit treatment facility in Sauk Centre. If the judge approves a transfer, social workers would ultimately determine where Pavelich would go.
Foertsch asked Pavelich a series of questions during the hearing: Did he understand what was being proposed, with the agreement hinging on his continued willingness to receive treatment?
To each query, the silver-haired athlete replied with a soft “yes.”
Pavelich faces second- and third-degree assault charges for allegedly striking his neighbor after a fishing trip last August near his Lutsen home, leaving the man with two cracked ribs, a bruised kidney and a fractured vertebra. Pavelich accused his friend of “spiking his beer,” according to the criminal complaint.
He was charged with additional felonies for possessing a short-barreled shotgun and firearms without serial numbers. Pavelich’s defense attorney has moved to dismiss those charges, saying the firearms were found during an illegal search.
Court documents said though he initially refused treatment, Pavelich began to take medication and agreed to therapy in March.
In May, Cuzzo wrote that this turnaround made the former hockey player competent to stand trial, though mental illness at the time of his alleged crimes could still serve as a legal defense. An omnibus hearing for that case is scheduled for Aug. 24.