Madison Police Department seeks approval to sue state

Lawsuit over policy requiring police to transport individuals with mental health crisis
Madison Police Department seeks approval to sue state

A resolution will be introduced before the Madison Common Council seeking authorization for the city attorney to pursue legal action against the Wisconsin Department of Health Services.

The lawsuit, which the city is still hoping to avoid through negotiations, is a result of a policy change by the Wisconsin Department of Health Services that removed the Mendota Mental Health Institute as a treatment facility for emergency detentions.

That policy change took effect April 1. Before that, individuals in crisis could be taken to MMHI for emergency detentions. Now those individuals must be driven two and half hours to the Winnebago Mental Health Institute in Oshkosh, if a bed in a local hospital is not available.

To do so, two law enforcement officers must accompany the individual on the drive to Oshkosh. That takes those two officers out of service in the area they are assigned to protect for at least five hours. It also further traumatizes the individual in crisis by being handcuffed in the back of a police car, experts said.

“What is key for us, and what we want to keep at the fore clearly is the impact that this has on the individuals that we are trying to connect to services,” said Capt. Kristen Roman, of the Madison Police Department.

The resolution being submitted to the council argues that MMHI is mandated by statute to accept custody of individuals needing emergency detention.

The document states the city attorney has researched the case and recommends the city bring suit against the Department of Health Services and any other necessary part in order to compel MMHI to take custody of individuals placed in custody under the emergency detention statute.

Madison Police Department officials are still hoping the Department of Health Services will enter into negotiations with them to resolve the situation, but are willing to file the suit in district court if necessary.

“We are looking at all possible options because we believe that the decision and the impact that it has is just unacceptable on so many levels. Seeking legal recourse is just one of the options, one that we certainly hope that it doesn’t come to but one that in due diligence we needed to consider,” Roman said.

After submission of the resolution it will be up the common council to approve or deny authorizing the city attorney to proceed with the legal action.