The Scott County case raises the issue of mental health care in the state’s criminal justice system

A court case in Scott County shines a light on the problem of mental illness and treatment options for those deemed too ill for the criminal justice system.

The court declared the defendant, Anthony Swope, incompetent to stand trial. But instead of receiving treatment in a mental institution, as required by law, Swope remained locked up in the local jail for seven weeks in Shakopee. His mother and legal team say Swope’s condition is getting worse by the day, and now the judge is demanding answers.

Court records show Swope has at least several convictions related to domestic violence. Most recently, the 27-year-old was charged with aggravated assault against staff at Saint Francis Hospital in June. The court declared Swope incompetent to continue in the criminal justice system due to mental illness, including schizophrenia and other psychotic disorders.

Swope’s attorneys argued that the finding should have triggered Minnesota’s so-called 48-hour priority admission law, which says the state has 48 hours to move a mentally ill subject from prison to a state treatment facility. But that never happened. Swope’s legal team claims that 50 days have already passed.

“We all know he has a mental health diagnosis and he’s not getting proper treatment in prison,” Swope’s attorney Kevin Wetherill told FOX 9, Paul Bloom. “And as a result, his condition is becoming more and more symptomatic.” And I think if you sat in this courtroom today, you could see some of that just visually by looking at it.”

Scott County Circuit Judge Colleen King also raised significant concerns about Swope’s lack of treatment in violation of Minnesota’s civil liability law.

Judge King ordered the Department of Human Services to appear in her courtroom Thursday to explain why Swope was not transferred to an appropriate mental health facility for the care he needed and was authorized to receive.

At one point, she scolded the DHS legal team: “We want to treat people with a disease, not make them worse,” she said.

But instead of addressing the underlying issue, state attorneys instead filed complaints and questioned the legal process surrounding the hearing.

Outside the Scott County Law Enforcement Center, where the proceedings were being held, Weatherill commented, “I mean, their approach to this from the beginning is just to dodge, duck and point the finger somewhere else. And, you know, I guess we’ll just have to see how it goes.”

“We work really hard. We are concerned as everyone is trying to get people into treatment as quickly as possible. And we do everything we can to get people who are committed into our facility as soon as a medically appropriate bed becomes available,” responded Wade Brost, executive director of mental health and substance abuse treatment services for the department.

According to DHS, there aren’t enough treatment beds and resources to meet the 48-hour rule because jails are filling up with mentally ill individuals like Swope.

The statewide waiting list just to be admitted to a facility like the Anoka Metro Regional Treatment Center is now 62, with wait times between 6 and 8 weeks.

The space crunch is due to several factors, including the inability to find places in the community for those who are stabilized in treatment facilities so that needed beds remain occupied, staff shortages that risk safe staff-to-patient ratios, and in addition there are some extreme patients requiring additional resources that may further tax the system.

“Everything is disappointing. It’s all disappointing,” Swopes’ mother, Cheryl Heath, told FOX 9. “This is my son. Because people like him need help and they don’t need to be shuffled into a system where they’re just lost.”

Meanwhile, Judge King is keeping the Department of Human Services on alert. She has ordered the department to detail its housing efforts, barriers and what the state has done to provide services to Swope while he is behind bars until next week. She scheduled a follow-up review hearing for Nov. 9 at 8:30 a.m

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