Psychiatrists: Prisons didn't act on warnings Jenkins was mentally ill

Dr. Eugene Oliveto testifies to a legislative investigation of Nebraska's prisons Thursday (Photo by Fred Knapp, NET News)
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September 18, 2014 - 10:37pm

Psychiatrists who evaluated Nikko Jenkins told a Nebraska legislative investigation Thursday they recommended he be sent to in the Lincoln Regional Center before he was released from prison and convicted of killing four people.

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The legislative committee investigating problems in the Nebraska Department of Correctional Services focused its latest hearing on the mental health treatment of Nikko Jenkins. The department released Jenkins last July, and in August, he killed four people in Omaha.

The first witness Thursday, Dr. Eugene Oliveto, told senators he diagnosed Jenkins when he was in the Douglas County jail three years earlier. "He was psychotic, delusional, and he told me he was going to kill people and I believed it," Oliveto said.

Oliveto said he recommended Jenkins be committed to the Lincoln Regional Center, but that didn’t happen. Oliveto choked up as he described testifying in court front of the family of Andrea Kruger, one of Jenkins’ victims. "That’s what frustrates me. Why this guy didn’t get the care I recommended and they let this guy out and he kills four people when he told me he was going to kill four people," he said, adding "I had to testify and look at her husband – Kruger’s husband – and her brother in that courtroom, and them little kids. It broke my heart."

Several senators said mental health professionals in the Department of Correctional Services decided Jenkins was faking mental illness. Sen. Paul Schumacher of Columbus suggested a motive for the department’s decision. "If they come to the conclusion that it’s behavior, well you just lock him up 23 and a half hours a day and that takes care of the problem. If you come to the conclusion it’s psychiatric, that means spending money," Schumacher said.

Oliveto said Nebraska’s efforts to save money were shortsighted. "They closed the mental health system. They closed the state hospital. They cost too much money," he said. "Hey, listen – you better put your money into mental health and prevention because if you don’t, we’re going to have more Nikko Jenkins on the streets and more people killed, I’ll guarantee you that," he added.

Another psychiatrist, Dr. Natalie Baker, said she also diagnosed Jenkins as mentally ill. Sen. Ernie Chambers of Omaha noted that Jenkins and his mother had both requested he be committed to the Regional Center. "If Nikko’s request for commitment had been granted, if his mother’s request had been granted, if your suggestion that there be commitment had been granted, he would be right now in a facility being treated," Chambers told Baker. "And four people would still be walkin’ this earth."

Dr. Mark Weilage, assistant behavioral health administrator for mental health at the Department of Correctional Services, said he didn’t believe Jenkins was mentally ill. Weilage said he had a conversation in about Jenkins in February, 2013 Richard Smith, deputy county attorney in Johnson County, where Jenkins was imprisoned in Tecumseh. But he said he did not tell Smith about Jenkins’ diagnosis, his threats to kill people or his bizarre behavior in prison, when Smith was considering asking Jenkins to be committed.

That drew a strong reaction from Omaha Sen. Steve Lathrop. "It is astonishing. It looks like we have a doctor who is making a diagnosis and everybody – the information is being bottled up, so no one tells the guy who can commit Nikko Jenkins that everything that county attorney needs is in your file," he said.

The last witness to testify was Cameron White, behavioral health administrator at the Department of Correctional Services. Lathrop pressed White about when he read Baker’s report on Jenkins’ mental illness. "I’m asking you when did you first read Baker’s report? You’re the head administrator of behavioral health and you’re telling me you read it after you realized that Jenkins had murdered four people in Omaha?

"Yes," White replied.

"Never before?" asked Lathrop.

"Not that I recall," White said.

The Jenkins case is just one aspect of the investigation by the committee, which is also looking at the department’s early release of hundreds of prisoners, in defiance of the Nebraska Supreme Court. The committee is due to issue its final report by mid-December.

 

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