Monday, Feb. 3, 2014 | 5:23 p.m.
Southern Nevada is on its way to again having a facility for treating incompetent criminal defendants after a federal judge last week approved an agreement settling a lawsuit.
The consent decree, approved Wednesday by U.S District Judge Miranda M. Du, outlines a plan with staggered goals to fix delays in providing treatment for criminal defendants who have been deemed incompetent by the court.
The endgame is to restore the Stein Hospital facility on the state-owned Rawson-Neal Psychiatric Hospital Campus in Las Vegas by August 2015.
The law office of Langford McLetchie and Clark County Public Defender’s Office filed a lawsuit in June on behalf of three of the Public Defender’s clients, Eric Burnshid, Jaumal Pugh and Nicholas Duran. The plaintiffs were representative of a problem in Clark County’s criminal justice system: Defendants were languishing for months in jails that weren’t designed to meet their mental health needs while they waited to be transferred to Lake's Crossing center, Nevada’s only facility for treating incompetent criminal defendants.
Lake’s Crossing is in Sparks, which meant Metro Police had to fly mentally ill criminal defendants to Northern Nevada to receive care. The flights occurred every two weeks.
“That doesn’t make sense for me,” Mike Willden, director of Nevada’s Department of Health and Human Services and a defendant in the lawsuit, told the Sun in August. “Flying 70 percent of our forensic patients from the south to the north for treatment really doesn’t make sense.”
Delays in receiving care also bogged down a defendant’s court case. Once a defendant is ordered by a judge to go to Lake's Crossing, his or her case is put on hold until the facility has the chance to render treatment and make a determination.
The lawsuit tells a familiar story in Southern Nevada.
The Clark County Public Defender’s Office sued in 2005 on behalf of clients over this issue. Under a 2008 settlement the state agreed to treat patients within seven days, but less than two years after oversight ended the delays were back.
Christy Craig, co-counsel from the Public Defender’s Office, said she’s pleased with the latest resolution. The consent decree has more teeth than the previous settlement did, Craig said.
The state must submit a report every six months — or if part of the agreed-upon plan changes — for the next five years, said Maggie McLetchie, co-counsel on the case. The state also must pay $2,109.52 to the Clark County Public Defender and $21,890.48 to Langford McLetchie in attorney’s fees.
The plan outlined in the consent decree states that the governor is committed to funding the restoration of Stein Hospital, which was closed in 2010, and the required staffing.
The Legislature's interim finance committee has approved funding for the remodel of the Stein facility, but lawmakers would need to approve additional funding for increased staffing.
If that doesn’t happen, the issue will be back in court.
An exhibit attached to the consent agreement outlines the steps the state has either undertaken or will be undertaking as benchmarks within 60 days:
• Gov. Brian Sandoval and an interim legislative committee approved increasing the number of beds at Lake’s Crossing from 66 to 76 by remodeling an annex that began admitting patients in January.
• Defendants charged in Clark County District Court with misdemeanors and some defendants who have been charged with gross misdemeanors, which are more serious crimes that do not rise to felony level, will be assessed to see if they can be removed from the Lake’s Crossing waiting list and be mixed in with a valley-wide list of people waiting to be civilly committed to a local hospital. The civil commitment waiting list is significantly shorter than the Lake’s Crossing waiting list.
• Lake’s Crossing will add 10 more beds by assessing individuals to see if they can room with another patient
• Expanding staff
• Transferring some inmates at Lake’s Crossing to a civil hospital if they able to be treated in a less restrictive environment.