Class Action Suit Filed Against HSC

A class-action lawsuit has been filed against South Dakota’s Human Services Center (HSC) on behalf of the mentally ill in the state who remain incarcerated while awaiting transfer for competency restoration.

On Dec. 20, the courtappointed guardian of Juan Alvarez, Aubrey Archambeau and Joseph Baker filed a class action suit in federal court on their behalf against the administrator of HSC, Jeremy Johnson.

According to the complaint:

• on Aug. 26, Juan Alvarez was ordered committed/transported to HSC for attempted competency restoration;

• on Sept. 8, Joseph Baker was ordered transported to “a residential state mental health facility or facility authorized by statute to provide restorative services” to attempt to restore him to competency;

• and on Oct. 12, Aubrey Archambeau was ordered “immediately” committed and transported to HSC, also in an attempt to restore him to competency.

None of the three has been transported and all remain in jail, according to the complaint.

When an individual charged with a crime is found by the court to be incompetent to stand trial, the justice system seeks to restore their competency so they can stand trial. HSC, the state’s only mental hospital, plays a key role in that process.

Workforce issues cited in October to the Legislature’s Mental Health Services Delivery Task Force in Pierre were reportedly the cause of the current backlog of cases.

The “class” named in the complaint includes all other individuals in South Dakota who currently and in the future find themselves in similar circumstances.

The complaint argues that holding such individuals indefinitely in a jail instead of transporting them as ordered constitutes a violation of the 14th Amendment’s due-process clause, and that the plaintiffs are suffering injury as a result.

The plaintiffs have asked the court to rectify the situation for the class, essentially making the state follow the standards it has set for itself.

On Dec. 20, a summons was sent to Johnson notifying of the lawsuit and giving him 21 days to reply to the complaint or receive summary judgment against him. The suit cannot be filed against HSC, but must be filed against an individual responsible for HSC.

No hearings have been set.

(1) comment

SorrowWolf

As someone who helps people with the restoration of their competency, there are some simple facts/truths, that this article and the lawsuit itself, has seemingly ignored.

1st, the moment one is deemed to not be competent to stand trial, all of the protections provided by the 14th amendment, like a right to a speedy trial, are suspended. That's not just some rule/policy created by HSC, it is simply how the legal system works.

2nd, the core treatment for restoration of compentcy, is really just 2 parts. The first being diagnosis of any mental illness, and then the prescription of medications to treat that mental illness, along with the person being compliant with taking the prescribed medications. The second part, is simply reading, studying, and eventually being evaluated on how the court system works.

All of these things can and should happen within the SD jail system. Jails should be able to give inmates prescribed medications. They should also be able to handle giving inmates reading materials to study. The only part that maybe harder to provide in a jail setting, are the social workers/psychologists meeting with the inmates on a semi regular basis, to preform evaluations. However, I find it odd that the 2 biggest counties in our state, Minnehaha, and Pennington, don't have Qualified Mental Health Professionals, that could meet this need.

Finally, yes HSC and the rest of the SD state agencies are struggling with a workforce crisis. Have been for several years now, but that is not uncommon when financial compensation and benefit packages fail to remain competitive with other private sector job opportunities. The way HSC is viewed by far too many people, is incorrect, I believe. HSC is basically a multi bed nursing home setting. The vast majority of those we care for are deemed a danger to themselves or others. With many of our patients, being unable to care for their own basic needs. Needs like bathing, eating, or taking medications that keep them stabilized. We do have 60 some beds reserved for traditional nursing home patients, but both our admission units, and our long term care units, are closer to nursing homes, than normal medical hospitals.

Now ask yourself, "where do you think is a more appropriate setting for people that have been charged with crimes, a nursing home, or a jail?"

My answer to that, is a jail. Competency restoration tools, and processes, can and should be handled within the corrections setting, imo. We as a state, should stop forcing mental health CNAs, to care for people who have been deemed incompetent to stand trial, imo. People's competency should be restored while in settings that match the person's behaviors/actions. Also, we continue to get new patients that need competency restoration, so perhaps the 3 people named in this lawsuit, have behavior issues, or other reasons they haven't been transferred to HSC, while others have been transferred, are currently working towards restoring their competency, and who have been deemed competent, and are now just waiting for their day in court.

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