Class Contests Maryland |Commitment Delays

     BALTIMORE (CN) — Saying they’ve been left to “languish unlawfully in jail,” four people judged mentally incompetent to stand trial have filed a class action against Maryland.
     Fredia Powell, James Powell, Shane Dorsey and Ivan Burrell all face criminal charges in Baltimore City Circuit Court. The class action they filed Thursday in that same court takes aim at “deliberate unlawful systemic policy” of the Maryland Department of Health and Mental Hygiene.
     They say each has been found incompetent to stand trial, whether because of mental disorder or because they pose a danger to themselves or others.
     Maryland law says such detainees “are entitled — indeed required — to be committed” to a state facility for care and treatment, according to the complaint, but the state Department of Health and Mental Hygiene “has consistently not met its obligation and fails and refuses to do so.”
     But DHMH, as the department is abbreviated in the complaint, instead “requires plaintiffs and class members to languish unlawfully in jail or detention facilities,” the complaint states.
     The department “cavalierly and routinely ignores and violates” the appointments of detainees to mental health facilities, and arbitrarily ignores the deadlines set for prisoners to exit a detention facility, according to the complaint.
     Each of the named plaintiffs was supposed to have been admitted to state facilities for treatment either on May 26 or on June 2, but each is still waiting for such admission, the complaint says.
     Emphasizing that their predicaments “are not unique,” the class says “they are only the most recent examples of DHMH’s unlawful conduct in disregarding court commitment orders.”
     “Sadly, the mistreatment of the named plaintiffs and the blatant disregard of unambiguous court orders committing persons to DHMH … is illustrative of DHMH’s past, present, and, absent this court’s intervention, expected future conduct,” the complaint continues.
     The 16-page filing goes on to quote an April letter DHMH Secretary Van Mitchell purportedly sent Judge Sheila Adams, with the Prince George’s County 7th Judicial Circuit Court, about the “crisis” his department faced with regard to “responding expeditiously to court requirements.”
     “Secretary Mitchell’s letter makes clear that the unlawful mistreatment of the named plaintiffs (and the class whom they represent) is not the result of some random or coincidental act,” the complaint states (parentheses in original). “Rather, this unlawful mistreatment … is deliberate, intentional, and the direct inevitable product of the secretary’s explicit policy decision and directive that DHMH has ‘discretion’ not to comply.”
     When reached for comment, a spokesman for DHMH also pointed to Mitchell’s letter. The spokesman would not otherwise comment on the lawsuit.
     Mitchell’s letter notes that the facility where named plaintiffs were to be sent for treatment is the highest security institution in the area, Clifton T. Perkins Hospital.
     “All of the DHMH facilities are full and have been consistently for the past year… [and] that the issue is particularly acute at CPH,” Mitchell’s letter continues, abbreviating Clifton Perkins Hospital.
     Mitchell also explained that “the situation has been compounded by the need for new leadership” at the hospital.
     The class meanwhile balked at the temporary remedy Mitchell’s letter offers: creating a “workgroup” that will expedite a resolution to inmates in need.
     The workgroup will purportedly include representatives from Public Safety and Correctional Services, the Maryland Disability Law Center, the nonprofit behavioral health care corporation People Encouraging People, and the General Assembly.
     But the class says “creating a ‘workgroup’ is not a recognized defense to violating an order of this court or any court.”
     The detainees contend that “deliberate” noncompliance with court orders of commitment violates the laws of criminal procedure and the Maryland Declaration of Rights.
     Represented by Ralph Tyler, an attorney with Venable, the class seeks expedited proceedings and injunctive relief. Tyler would not comment beyond the allegations of his complaint.

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