Why We Need Reforms: Two Horrific Stories About How Law Enforcement Mistreated Persons With Mental Illnesses


(June 19,2015) During America’s colonial days, there were three ways that individuals with mental illnesses were commonly treated. If they were lucky, their families took care of them. If not, they were locked in jail where they often were mistreated, or they were “warned out,” which meant a local constable escorted them to the county line and told them to start walking and never come back. 

Two horrific stories sent to me by readers this week illustrate that more than 200 years later, we are still mistreating many persons whose real crime is that they got sick.

Police in Kentucky Put Mentally Ill Man On Bus To Florida, Defying Judge’s Order, Send Him Off With $18

CARROLLTON, Ky.—Adam Horine leaned on the courtroom podium, wept and begged.

He called himself “crazy,” but insisted that he could represent himself. He said he was dying.

The hearing before Carroll District Judge Elizabeth Chandler stood out from Horine’s many other court appearances over the years for an array of mostly minor offenses. In a rambling, sometimes confusing dialogue with the judge, the 31-year-old defendant said, his voice cracking, that he loved Kentucky but “they are trying to force me out.”

Horine was absolutely right. Just hours later, he’d be embarking — alone — on a 900-mile, one-way bus trip to Florida, courtesy of the Carrollton Police Department.

“I should be in the hospital,” Horine had pleaded with the judge during the hearing. “I have mental illness and I say things I shouldn’t say. But I would never hurt anybody. I never have.”Horine-April-16-2015-Carroll-County-400x246

Chandler responded that Horine looked sick, according to a video of the hearing obtained by the Kentucky Center for Investigative Reporting. And she questioned his competence to enter a plea to misdemeanor charges of disorderly conduct and making verbal threats.

She ordered an immediate mental-health examination and transport to Eastern State Hospital in Lexington for a more thorough psychiatric assessment.

Within hours, a social worker’s preliminary evaluation at the Carroll County Detention Center determined that Horine was hearing voices, felt suicidal, was not sleeping, had no medication and wanted to hurt “certain people.”

The next step was Eastern State, where Horine could receive the treatment that the social worker and the judge thought he so urgently needed.

But Carrollton police had a very different plan for Adam Horine. They wanted him out of town and out of the state. They wanted to rid themselves of this tormented petty criminal. They wanted to make him someone else’s problem.

So, just hours after the hearing, a police officer acting at the direction of Chief Michael Willhoite, plucked Horine from jail. Officer Ron Dickow drove him 50 miles in a police cruiser to Louisville. Arriving at the Greyhound terminal downtown before dawn, Dickow bought Horine a one-way bus ticket to Florida with money provided by the chief.

Dickow forked over the change — about $18 — to Horine. Then he sent the emotionally troubled man away, on a 28-hour solitary bus ride to the Sunshine State’s west coast.  (You can read the rest of the story here.)

Death by dehydration prompts changes at Island Co. Jail

Susannah Frame, KING 5 News    8:02 a.m. PDT June 18, 2015

The recent death of a young man in the Island County Jail is prompting “immediate changes” at the jail, officials say. But the man’s family is organizing a protest this weekend to keep pressure on the county to follow through.  king

Keaton Farris, 25, died April 7 of dehydration and malnutrition after spending 13 days in the jail. Originally from Lopez Island, Farris was arrested for failure to make a court appearance in connection with a charge of cashing a $350 forged check in January. He had no prior criminal convictions.

“He died of dehydration. I’m angry at anybody who could have saved his life. Malnutrition and dehydration aren’t quick. He suffered. And that is something I have a really hard time with,” said his mother, Tiffany Ferrians. “It’s agonizing to me to think of what he went through, to my core.”

(You can watch this news story here.)

Sadly, I receive too many of these stories from readers! This is why we need to fight for better mental health care. Persons with mental illnesses need help in our communities. Unfortunately, some 500,000 are in our jails and prisons, and more than a million go through our court system each year.


About the author:

Pete Earley is the bestselling author of such books as The Hot House and Crazy. When he is not spending time with his family, he tours the globe advocating for mental health reform.

Learn more about Pete.