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Paralyzed inmate is the latest statistic in Utah's mental health care crisis

Published April 9, 2017 4:24 pm
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2017, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

Matthew Ryan Hall probably will never move his legs or arms again.

On Feb. 24, while on suicide watch, the 31-year-old jumped or fell from a sink in a Weber County jail cell, fracturing his neck.

Hall is the latest statistic in an ever-growing number of mentally ill inmates who have suffered for lack of psychiatric treatment in Utah jails.



He was found mentally incompetent to be sentenced last fall, several months after pleading guilty to a felony and a handful of misdemeanors in connection with a November 2015 episode in which he ran from two Ogden police officers who had responded to a disorderly conduct call in which Hall was suspected of using illegal drugs.

After refusing to give his name, Hall darted off, but was taken to the ground, where he kicked and punched the officers, took one officer's Taser and knocked the second officer unconscious before reinforcements arrived and subdued Hall, according to court documents.

Hall had been on a waiting list for almost five months to be transferred to the Utah State Hospital for treatment when the jail indicent occurred.

In Utah, inmates found to be mentally incompetent to stand trial or to be sentenced wait an average of 180 days before getting assigned to the state hospital for treatment— but the wait can be much longer.

Hall had complained of depression in jail for more than a year before his injury occurred. Weber County jail records describe the decline of his mental health in the months after his incarceration.

According to those records, Hall began describing feelings of depression Jan. 14, 2016.

Questions about Hall's mental competency were first raised in court in February 2016. But, in May, he was deemed competent and pleaded guilty to a felony and seven misdemeanors.

In June, a sentencing hearing was continued when the defense attorney again questioned Hall's competency.

By July 29, 2016, his condition had deteriorated. A report filed that day by a clinician states that Hall would not respond to a mental health worker at the jail.

"Matthew was standing naked in his cell turning left slowly in circles ... ,"the report states. "The [corrections] officer indicated that Matthew typically does not respond very much and will refuse to eat at least most of his meals."

During a September sentencing hearing, attorneys stipulated that Hall was incompetent. The judge referred him to the Department of Human Services for treatment. But he remained at the jail instead of being sent to the state hospital.

Hall is now at LDS Hospital, where his brother, Nathan Hall, visited him recently. His family, Nathan said, is devastated.

"I've never been through anything like this," Nathan said. "It's so unexpected. He never wanted to hurt himself before.

"He was a good brother. He was very loyal," Nathan added. "He was always there for his [three] kids."

Aaron Kinikini, legal director of the Salt Lake City-based Disability Law Center, who has reviewed Hall's record and has seen a video of the event in the jail cell, said the inmate clearly was not getting the level of mental-health treatment he needed.

The video shows a naked Hall with disheveled long hair and beard running into a wall with his head, opening up a large gash, Kinikini said. After three such collisions, the video shows him climbing up on the sink and then falling headfirst to the floor.

"If he had been transferred to the Utah State Hospital last fall, would this have happened at all?" Kinikini asked.

Weber County jail officials did not respond to interview requests.

The Utah Legislature recently set aside $3 million in an effort to resolve a federal lawsuit brought by the Disability Law Center alleging that mentally ill defendants are not provided a speedy trial and suffer in jail without treatment because the state does not provide enough hospital beds and specialists to treat them.

Defendants who have been deemed incompetent to stand trial are usually ordered into treatment in an effort to make them fully aware of their circumstances and rights.

Among the problems is that the state has 100 beds for such individuals, so overflow defendants are kept in county jails, where they wait for months for a bed at the state hospital.

The lawsuit also alleges that mentally ill inmates are sometimes kept in solitary confinement for minor crimes. The practice of isolation has been shown to be harmful to mental health, Kinikini said.

The waiting list to get into the state hospital for treatment had doubled every year for three years before 2015, according to the lawsuit, from an average of 30 days to 180 days.

Nationally, most states have wait times for treatment of fewer than 30 days, Kinikini said. Several states require that mentally incompetent inmates be transferred to a state hospital within seven days.

On Feb. 13 — 11 days before Hall's crippling incident — a mental health evaluation stated that Hall was suffering from visual hallucinations, according to jail records. The report quotes Hall as saying, "I can see the future, but only when I put Ivan's glasses on."

The clinician's report said Hall was a low risk of suicide.

That seems odd, Kinikini said, because he was in a suicide watch cell.

An undetermined amount of time after Hall's fall from the sink, corrections officers found the inmate conscious, lying on the floor bleeding from the head, according to a Weber County jail report. Apparently unaware Hall had suffered a spinal injury, they rolled him over, handcuffed him, and sat him up against a wall. He then was transported by ambulance to McKay-Dee Hospital and eventually to LDS Hospital.

The Disability Law Center and the state have yet to reach an agreement regarding the lack of facilities and treatment for mentally ill inmates awaiting trial.

csmart@sltrib.com

 

 

 

 

 

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