Posts Tagged ‘Missoula Detention Center’

by Pete Talbot

At first glance, maybe this was something I should have attended. The Helena Independent Record headline read: Insight offered to bloggers.  Gosh, I thought, I wonder why I didn’t hear about this earlier.

Then some of the names in the story caught my eye: Aaron Flint of the Flint Report, Carl Graham of the Montana Policy Institute, Montana Watchdog, the Franklin Center — all pretty much mouthpieces for right wing and Libertarian causes.

Flint, for example, has a radio show on the Northern Ag Network, a conservative station out of Billings.  He has the Flint Report website, too, that carries headlines like: Tester Profits Off Credit Card Companies and Bullock Gets Testy Over Otter Creek.

The Montana Policy Institute out of Bozeman is a Libertarian think tank that refuses to reveal it’s funding sources.  Perhaps you’ve seen MPI President Carl Graham’s guest columns in your local paper on the wonders of a free market economy.  MPI just finished hosting a “Health Care Freedom Panel” with keynote speaker and MPI Senior Fellow Rob Natelson.

There’s Montana Watchdog, another website, that is sponsored by the Montana Policy Institute and presents itself as a news organization with Front Page links to, well, Natelson’s “Health Care Freedom Panel.”

The Franklin Center, based in North Dakota and Virginia (now there’s a strange pairing) bills itself as an organization dedicated to investigative reporting.  The group’s founder and president, Jason Stverak, is the former executive director of the North Dakota Republican Party.

Here’s a line from the end of the IR story:

Also among them was Big Sky Tea Party Association board member Roger Nummerdor, who thinks it might be time to start doing some blogging.

This all happened last Saturday at the Red Lion Colonial Inn in Helena.

And these guys are joined at the hip.  I don’t begrudge some dudes holding a workshop, spreading the righteous word, maybe having a few beers, chewing the fat.  It’s just that they’re so sneaky about it.  You seldom see them flaunting their right-wing credentials.

Heck, they even fooled the IR reporter, who didn’t mention a thing in her story about these guys’ background.  I’m hoping she was fooled, anyway, because if she knew and didn’t mention it, that’s piss-poor reporting.

by Jay Stevens

It looks like the story of the abuse of a mentally ill woman at the Missoula County Detention Center is coming to a close:

Missoula County officials have agreed to pay $490,000 to settle a federal civil rights lawsuit over the mistreatment and abuse of a mentally ill inmate, according to Hal Luttschwager, the county’s risk manager.

I suppose it’s a kind of justice, but it seems weird to have all this settled by money.

by Jay Stevens

An old story has cropped up in the Missoulian today, the case of a mentally ill woman being mistreated at the Missoula County Detention Center. The incident happened back in 2006 — my regular, long-term readers might remember a few scathing posts I wrote, first lambasting reporter Tristan Scott, then Sherriff McMeekin for letting the detention center discipline and training degrade to allow the incident to take place, then some anger over the firing of the whistleblower, Mike Burch, for bringing the incident to the public’s attention.

The latest? A civil rights group representing people with disabilities that investigates “allegations of abuse or neglect” — Disability Rights Montana — released its report on the incident. It ain’t good:

According to the report’s findings, jail staff failed to screen Adele for mental illness when she arrived; violated its own policies, including one defining the circumstances in which nonlethal weapons such as a pepperball gun may be used; committed assault on an inmate; and violated the Montana Elder and Persons with Developmental Disabilities Abuse Prevention Act, which requires law enforcement and other public officials to report instances of abuse to one of several government agencies, such as the Department of Health and Human Services.

Worse still, Disability Rights Montana claims its report is over 20 months late because McMeekin’s office “consistently delayed or refused to provide information for over 18 months.”

So, why is this important?

Alexandra Volkerts, an attorney for Disability Rights Montana, said the report’s findings are important because jails and emergency rooms have become “default holding systems” for people with mental health issues due to a dearth of local services.

“People with serious mental illness do not belong in jails, particularly those people who have been picked up on minor crimes,” Volkerts said. “Those resources are inefficient, inappropriate and, sometimes, such as in this situation, inhumane. We had a detention officer who made some very bad choices, and those choices resulted in the abuse of a mentally ill woman.”

The worst part of this incident is that, as Volkerts noted, “[the Sherriff’s office] investigation exonerated the officer who was abusive and punished the officer who made the correct moral choice.”

Whistleblower Mike Burch was the true hero in all of this. He leaked the incident report to the press knowing he would be fired. I talked to him over the phone about it shortly after the story broke, before he was fired, and he told me his dismissal was inevitable. Sure enough, a few weeks later, he was fired.

But while the outcome and repercussions of the indicident are still in doubt — there’s federal litigation pending — Burch won’t see the effects of his actions. He died of a heart attack in 2007.

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