Four Hennepin County Attorney’s Office employees honored
An effort to handle non-violent criminals with mental health problems in a better, more efficient manner and a mentor who leads without being asked were saluted by the Hennepin County Board of Commissioners last week.
Hennepin County Deputy Attorney David Brown, Managing Attorney Andy LeFevour and Senior Assistant Hennepin County Attorney Carla Hagen all received Champion of Change Awards from the commissioners. In a separate category, senior paralegal Gina Werner received the mentoring award from the board.
“This is what makes me proudest of our employees in our office,” said Hennepin County Attorney Mike Freeman. “Besides handling their regular duties magnificently, David, Andy, Carla and Gina are always looking for ways to make the office better and the criminal justice system better. I’m so pleased these four are receiving this countywide recognition.”
“There are dozens of people, primarily in Minneapolis, who repeatedly are arrested, often for misdemeanors but sometimes low-level felonies. The jailers know them by name, as do the public defenders,” LeFevour said. “They are eligible for commitment for mental illness, or could be evaluated for mental incompetence under Rule 20 procedures, but they refuse,” Hagen added.
Instead, they are taking up a bed in the jail that could be better used by a suspect accused of more violent behavior. Most of these defendants are held for stealing liquor bottles from a bar, breaking a business window downtown, or other nuisance crimes.
Brown, Hagen and LeFevour have been meeting for several years with counterparts from county probation, the public defender’s office, the Minneapolis city attorney’s office, the sheriff’s office, Hennepin County Medical Center, suburban police, Hennepin County District Court and Human Services and Public Health department to develop alternatives.
One of those alternatives is moving the defendants out of the jail quickly and into services that can help them deal with their problems. Another solution, which will open later this summer, is a drop off for the mentally ill at 1800 Chicago Avenue. The police officer can take a non-violent suspect to the jail or can take the suspect to the drop-off center, where again mental health services can be provided.
Werner was lauded for mentoring her colleagues in the Juvenile Prosecution Division without being asked and even though it was not part of her duties, said Senior Assistant Hennepin County Attorney Terri Froehlke, who nominated her for the award. Werner noticed that some of her colleagues were struggling with a new system that had been implemented. So she made sure she thoroughly understood it and then developed cheat sheets to guide other users in the department. Werner held trainings and met individually with colleagues to help them.