/Disability Rights Mississippi sues DMH twice this year

Disability Rights Mississippi sues DMH twice this year

Disability Rights Mississippi is a non-profit organization that advocates for Mississippians living with disabilities. It filed its second lawsuit against the state Department of Mental Health this year after it denied records requests regarding an investigation into the treatment of people with mental illness at the forensic section of Mississippi State Hospital. Raffell Franklin, who was indicted for first-degree murder in April 2017, was partly the inspiration for this investigation. Franklin was in Jasper County Jail for three consecutive years, despite being declared incompetent by Mississippi State Hospital doctors in 2019. After receiving a call from Franklin’s relatives and civil rights groups, DRMS began an investigation into Franklin’s treatment. The advocacy group received Franklin’s medical records and wanted to know how Franklin and other patients are treated at the state hospital’s forensic unit. Patients who are unable to stand trial due to mental illness or have been removed from prison settings can be served by the unit. After being contacted anonymously by a whistleblower, the advocacy group requested waiting lists for patients who need evaluations or services at the hospital’s Forensic Unit. Also records from South Mississippi Regional Center. Both requests were denied by the agency. In a press release, Polly Tribble (executive director of Disability Rights Mississippi) stated that “Ensuring people who have disabilities are protected against abuse and neglect is our goal, always.” We would like that to be DMH’s goal. It is still a mystery why they chose to again deny Mississippians meaningful and effective advocacy and protection. The office of the attorney general also declined to comment, saying that they don’t comment on active cases. Similar arguments were used by the agency’s lawyers to deny requests in the original lawsuit. The mental health agency claims that Disability Rights of Mississippi doesn’t have enough evidence to warrant an inquiry into the request for a list of MSH patient who have pled not guilty by reason of insanity. DMH claims that the watchdog group does not have the right to investigate the situation because the individuals on the waiting list to be admitted or evaluated at the state hospital aren’t under its direct care. The lawsuit states that DMH had once again declared itself to be the judge and jury in the determination of probable cause. In an amicus brief filed in the first lawsuit, the U.S. Department of Justice stated that advocacy and protection groups such as Disability Rights of Mississippi are authorized to make probable cause determinations. They do not need to support them with specific evidence. The amicus brief states that the applicable regulations do not require any type of evidence to support (protection or advocacy system’s), probable cause determination. Disability Rights of Mississippi claims that the state mental hospital agency continues to violate federal law by denying it and preventing the oversight group doing their job. Tribble stated that this goes beyond the mere existence of records and paperwork. “It’s about the fact DMH is interfering (our) ability [our] federal mandate to protect persons with disabilities in Mississippi,” Tribble said. The U.S. Department of Justice was the original plaintiff in the lawsuit against the state for its failure to provide community-based services to people with mental illnesses in 2016. The federal government’s attorneys filed an amicus brief. This is where a non-party with expertise in the matter weighs in. In the brief, the Department of Justice claims that federal laws giving state protection and advocacy systems (P&A) such as Disability Rights of Mississippi broaden their authority to investigate neglect or abuse. The brief states that “access to this restricted set of records is completely consistent with DRMS’ broad investigative authority, statutory mandate to ensure individuals with mental illness and disabilities are not abused nor neglected.” U.S. District Judge Carlton Reeves will soon decide whether the state agency should release the records.