He says his cries for help went unanswered, and now a suit from a former inmate of the Hennepin County Jail is accusing the facility of providing negligent care when he was suffering from mental illness.
From all accounts, Michael Schuler was engaged in a war against himself while he was being held in a solitary cell at the Hennepin County Jail. While struggling with psychosis and hearing voices, the 25-year-old did what would be unthinkable to most.
"He literally stabs out both of his eyes," said his attorney, William Lubov.
Schuler was so disturbed, he began to mutilate himself while in custody -- and though his case is extreme, it underscores the very real -- and chronic -- problem of incarcerating the mentally ill.
"He was absolutely a caged animal in that jail cell, and they did nothing to attend to his immediate psychiatric needs," Lubov argued.
The suit stems from March 20, when police brought Schuler -- who is psychotic and had taken methamphetamine -- to the psychiatric unit of HCMC, where he was kept in restraints.
Six days later, he was discharged -- but because he missed a court date while in the hospital, a warrant was issued and Schuler was booked into the jail.
"He got to the point where he was -- literally -- by mid-April standing naked in his cell, standing in his own feces, screaming gibberish," Lubov said.
According to the lawsuit, Schuler refused to take his medication and was soon defecating on himself. Over the next eight days, nurses and jailers watched his deteriorating condition. For his own safety, jailers wouldn't give him a razor -- but he had a pencil.
"He takes it and explodes the one eye, causing irreparable blindness in one eye," Lubov explained.
Schuler later told a psychiatrist, "These are God's eyes, not my eyes. Take them out."
Lubov, who has handled these kinds of cases for more than 30 years, says Schuler's ordeal is akin to a return to the Dark Ages.
"To picture this young man standing in his own s---, speaking gibberish on end is just so horrible to contemplate," he said.
Schuler doesn't have much in the way of a criminal record, and he was civilly committed after the incident at the jail. Currently, he is back on his medication and is living in a half-way house, but he only has partial vision in one of his eyes.
Sheriff Rich Stanek would not talk about Schuler's case because of the pending lawsuit, but he's been very outspoken about the problems with using jails as holding cells for the mentally ill. In an editorial published in the Star Tribune, Stanek claimed 25-30 percent of inmates suffer from mental illness, and that even those who have been civilly committed must wait in the jail until psych beds are available.
However, Minnesota has the lowest number of psych beds per capita in the nation at roughly four per 100,000.
In a legal brief responding to the lawsuit, the Hennepin County Attorney says any injuries or damages were due to the acts of the inmate and Hennepin County is not liable. Hennepin County claims it's also entitled to immunity under Minnesota law.
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