We got word Nov. 22 that a mentally ill woman mistreated at the Missoula County jail in 2006 reached a settlement in her civil case. All the legal rubberstamping became delayed because of the holiday, but according to a source with knowledge of the negotiations, we now know the amount sits at approximately $400,000.
For anyone who’s read Disability Rights Montana’s “Adele Report” or seen the partial video footage of the incident, there’s no forgetting it. For the lucky souls who missed both, here’s the abridged version:
On July 2, 2006, a woman erupted at the St. Pat’s ER and, instead of receiving a proper diagnosis for her mental illness, got tossed in the can for raising a ruckus. From there, detention officers blasted the frantic detainee with pepperballs and strapped her to a restraint chair without letting her rinse off the irritant. Afterward, Sheriff Mike McMeekin fired the whistleblower (and only him), maintained that his officers acted properly and allegedly spent the next 18 months shielding facts of the matter from a federally funded oversight group.
It’s well past time to put this sordid affair in the rearview mirror, but we still need answers.
When the Adele Report came out Nov. 10, the Independent asked McMeekin if the findings had changed his mind regarding his officers’ conduct. We also wanted a response on Disability Rights Montana investigator Alexandra Volkerts’ charge that he and jail administrator Capt. Susan Hintz obstructed her efforts at fact-finding.
McMeekin anticipated he would be able to offer a comprehensive reply in early December. Sheriff, you now have our attention.
The pepperball incident was disturbing enough, but the reported non-disclosure comes in a close second. The Adele Report essentially tells us that an oversight group, empowered by Congress and established through state participation in federal disability programs, couldn’t get access to vital records or even interview jail personnel on duty that day. The situation does not bode well for the vast majority of official abuse situations where no such organizations exist.
Montana could give the group subpoena powers and, while at it, create similar bodies for American Indians, gays, Latinos and seniors. Yet, it seems more reasonable for law enforcement officials to just desist with the impulsive secrecy and stop perpetually hiding behind the guise of individual privacy laws. The local media has had trouble with McMeekin in the past, but if true, this marks the next level.