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Nebraska Watchdog Calls Use of Force Against Mentally Ill Prisoner Excessive and Unnecessary

On May 2, 2023, the Office of the Inspector General (OIG) of the Nebraska Department of Correctional Services (DCS) released its investigation into a disturbance at Tecumseh State Correctional Facility nearly two years earlier, during which guards fired 200 projectiles at a prisoner, leaving three rubber pellets embedded under his skin.

The incident unfolded over several hours in June 2021, during which the unnamed prisoner threatened staff in the housing gallery. Considering he had a diagnosis of “serious mental illness” (SMI), a series of internal investigations were conducted, after which OIG found that the incident was mishandled in several ways.

During the incident, OIG said, a lack of leadership added to the chaos and caused the unnecessary use of lethal force as well as an excessive amount of less-lethal force. The report also noted that although the prisoner had a history of SMI, the prison’s mental health staff was not used as vigorously as it could have been. In addition, the report noted that actions of the staff “were not consistent with their training.” Lastly, the report noted that DCS Director Scott Frakes stated that he got “verification” that the prisoner did not suffer serious injuries despite photographs showing a very serious injury.

The mentally ill prisoner who started the disturbance had a troubled history with the law. He first entered DCS custody at age 18 after making “terroristic threats” and served about eight months at the Nebraska Correctional Youth Facility before he was released. About a year later, he was arrested again for making terroristic threats, cruelty to animals and use of a deadly weapon to commit a felony. During his subsequent incarceration, he received two assault charges, pushing his release date to 2038.

Misconduct reports began several weeks after his second incarceration began. The reports include a variety of offenses including self-mutilation, swearing, assault and abuse of medication. By the time the OIG report was written, the prisoner had received more than 450 misconduct reports, resulting in the loss of 4,201 days of good-time credits.

The OIG report made four recommendations to ensure the safety of DCS staff and prisoners. First, use-of-force policy should include de-escalation attempts by a licensed mental health professional when dealing with individuals with mental health conditions. Second, de-escalation procedures need to be developed for prisoners with SMI. Third, a reimbursement policy for on-call mental health staff was targeted for implementation by May 1, 2023. The fourth recommendation was to contract with an outside party to train staff in interacting with individuals with SMI. DCS agreed with the first recommendation, rejected the third and requested modifications to the second and fourth. See: Use of Force Incident at Tecumseh State Correctional Institution, DCS (2023).  

Additional source: RawStory

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