Monday, February 24, 2014

For the Record: 17 yr Old Killer Diagnosed as Risk to Society, Not Treated

INVESTIGATORS: Clerk killer diagnosed, not helped

Transcript of Channel 9 Investigative Report

The Michael Swanson people remember is laughing at the news photographer who tripped taking his picture, and it was chilling to see a 17-year-old boy arrested on murder charges acting so giddy.

"These families in Iowa deserved better," Kathy Swanson, Michael's mother, told the Fox 9 Investigators. "We deserved better. Michael deserved better. Nobody deserved this."

In November 2010, Michael Swanson stole a car, some guns and ran away from his parents. After leaving the Twin Cities, he robbed two convenience stores in Iowa. At each one, he shot a clerk in the face. Both died.

"I don't know if you ever get over it," Kathy Swanson said.

Kathy Swanson says it was a "completely preventable tragedy."

"What I want to happen is: I want the truth to come out," she said. "I think it's important for people to know what really happened."

Weeks before Michael Swanson went on his killing spree, a psychiatrist wrote the following warning:

"I am concerned he poses a risk to society if un-medicated, and even if medicated, he is still somewhat unpredictable."

The Fox 9 Investigators began reviewing the police interview of Michael Swanson, which took place just hours after the killings. When an officer asked Swanson when he slept last, the teen replied, "Four days ago. Sometimes I can't sleep at all."

Michael Swanson also told the detective he'd been hallucinating.

"I'd be driving and I'd just keep looking out the window," he said. "I thought there was somebody there."

When asked if he'd ever hallucinated before, the teen said, "It happens when I don't sleep."

The inability to sleep for long periods of time can be a symptom for someone living with bipolar disorder, a mental illness that causes dramatic and sometimes explosive shifts in a person's mood and energy level.

During the interview with Michael Swanson, police asked if he was taking any medication -- and he shook his head. When asked if he had been diagnosed as bipolar by a doctor, Michael Swanson replied, "Yes."

Swanson told police he was diagnosed about a month before his arrest, and said there were talks about giving him medication; however, he added, "They don't want to make the jump right now."

A month earlier, Swanson was confined to the Hennepin County Home School, a correctional center for troubled teens. It was his last stop after years of disturbing behaviors that made him a familiar face in the juvenile justice system.

"There's like two Mikes," Kathy Swanson said. "There's my Mike, who's this nice, well-behaved young man -- and then there's this other who you just don't know what he's going to do."

There was a period just before Michael Swanson went to the Hennepin County Home School when his mother would sleep with a stick because she feared the "other Mike" might attack her in her sleep.

"We, at times, would find hammers, wrenches, knives in the house where we would wonder, 'Is this kid thinking about killing us?'" she recalled.

In fact, Michael Swanson had previously admitted to having thoughts of killing his mother and his aunt. The family tried getting him help, and although he'd be hospitalized for a time, their insurance ran out and he was released.

"We didn't know what was going on with him," Kathy Swanson said.

In the summer of 2010, a judge ordered Michael Swanson to spend up to 120 days at the Hennepin County Home School. It was punishment for stealing a car and causing a hit-and-run crash while drunk.

Records show Michael Swanson behaved himself at the school and was scheduled to get out early until staff found some bizarre writings in his room.

"All about death and violence and darkness and blood," Kathy Swanson said of her son's writings.

The teen claimed they were just lyrics from rap music, but the staff was so concerned they ordered a psychiatric evaluation.

"To be just writing and writing this weird crap tells you he was in a very weird state," Kathy Swanson said.

Dr. Jonathan Jensen, from the University of Minnesota, was under contract to provide psychiatric services for the school. Jensen summarized the evaluation findings in a report that was not shown the family until after Michael Swanson committed murder.

Jensen diagnosed Michael Swanson with bipolar affective disorder, and said treatment with the drug Abilify might help prevent future mood swings. Jensen even wrote, "There's a real concern about his use of force."

"It would seem to me that likelihood of his repeating the theft of guns, robbery of people is probable and that without anti-psychotic medication, he may carry out these behaviors," Jensen found.

Three weeks after the evaluation, Jensen met with the Swansons and social worker Dan Lehnherr at the Hennepin County Home School. It was the Swansons' belief that the purpose of the meeting was to discuss their son's diagnosis, get him started on medication and figure out a treatment plan. Notes from Lehnherr indicate he had similar expectations, but the Swansons say -- to their surprise -- Jensen did none of that.

"He told me, 'I can't talk about the evaluation. I didn't do the evaluation,'" Kathy Swanson said.

According to the Swansons, Jensen said he couldn't prescribe medication for Michael Swanson because he didn't know anything about him. What he did do was recommend the teen be enrolled in a research clinic at the University of Minnesota.

The Swansons have made the same claims in sworn depositions taken when they were sued by the families of the shooting victims.

"He did not want to answer any of our questions," Kathy Swanson said.

After the meeting, Michael Swanson was released to move back home with his parents. 

There was no prescription, no medicine for him to take. The family made an appointment at the university's clinic the next day, but it would be 6 weeks before he could be seen.

Twelve days after leaving the Hennepin County Home School and while his parents were sleeping, Michael Swanson stole his mother's Jeep and took off.

The first time the Swanson family saw Jensen's report was 4 months later when the teen's lawyer got a copy for the upcoming trial. It wasn't until then, they say, that they were aware Jensen was concerned their son was a "risk to society if un-medicated."

"I couldn't believe it," Kathy Swanson told the Fox 9 Investigators. "How do you write that and, in that meeting, tell me you don't know anything about that kid? You don't know anything about him, but you can write that and you let us take him home knowing we're afraid of him -- knowing this."

Was Jensen obligated to tell them his concerns?

"There'd be no reason not to share that," Dr. Rodney Reid, a former staff psychiatrist with the juvenile justice mental health program in Los Angeles, Calif. "It does seem appropriate that, if you had that level of concern about a child being a danger and their danger of not being on medication, that -- at a minimum -- you would communicate that with the parents."

Why didn't Jensen tell his concerns to the Swansons? Why didn't he write a prescription right after the evaluation? Remember, Michael Swanson remained in the home school for another three weeks prior to being released. Why did he want him enrolled in a research clinic at the university?

"I believe his role was to recruit patients for clinical trials," Kathy Swanson said.

Kathy Swanson put that accusation in writing and sent it to the Hennepin County Attorney's Office to ask for an investigation. She got a response that the alleged conduct does not appear to violate any felony law.

The U of M told the Fox 9 Investigators that there were no trials at the time that Michael Swanson would have been eligible for, and a colleague of Jensen said the clinic was not seeking Swanson for a drug study. Instead, the colleague claims he was being offered follow-up care.

Michael Swanson and his parents signed a release allowing Jensen to discuss the case with the Fox 9 Investigators; however, he replied with an e-mail that said, "I will not talk with you." After following up with a list of questions and asking him to respond in writing, a one-word answer -- "No." -- was returned.

"I think the doctor should go to prison," Mary Weiss, an outspoken critic of the University of Minnesota's Department of Psychiatry, said. "I mean, her son is as good as dead to her."
Weiss sued the university after her mentally-ill adult son killed himself while enrolled in a drug study there. She claimed doctors coerced her son into the study and then benefited financially. The case was dismissed on the grounds that the university was immune from being sued.

"She's helped me," Kathy Swanson said.

Kathy Swanson reached out to Weiss after her son was arrested, and she sat with her during the murder trial.

"I felt sorry for her," Weiss said. "This wasn't her doing."

Weiss is currently recovering from a second stroke, and Swanson is haunted by a number of unanswered questions.

"Who knew what? What were they doing about it, and what happened?" she asked.

Kathy Swanson asked Fox 9 Investigator Jeff Baillon to review her son's juvenile corrections file.

"I'm hoping there's some notes between Dan Lehnherr and the probation officer," she said. 

"I have this feeling Dan Lehnherr must have questioned why this kid wasn't taking this med. I questioned this."

She found no answer in the file. Perhaps a meeting with Lehnherr himself could shed some light.

"I'd like him to confirm what happened in that meeting that we had with Jensen," she said.
She knocked on the door and he opened the blinds, looked her straight in the eyes and then closed the blinds without saying a word.

"I just have to feel that has to be driven by a lot of his own guilt. If he had nothing to hide, if he felt like he did everything he could have, he'd talk and be open," she said. "

Michael Swanson is now serving a life sentence for murder. For the first time, he's also being treated for his mental illness and is on multiple medications. A prison official told the Fox 9 Investigators, "He's got a pretty firm grasp on reality. He's pretty stable." The "nice Mike" is the one who calls his parents several times a week to check in.

The Fox 9 Investigators shared the results of the investigation with the families of the two women who were killed by Michael Swanson. The husband of Sheila Myers questioned why the teen was let out of the home school if a doctor was concerned he could be a risk to society without medication and the sister of Vicky Bowman-Hall called the information "troubling."
"I just think there's been a failure somewhere," she said.

Read more: INVESTIGATORS: Clerk killer diagnosed, not helped - KMSP-TV

Thursday, February 20, 2014

For the Record: UMD Prof Open Letter to UM President Kaler

UMD Professor pens open letter to UM President Kaler

Editor's note: On Monday, Feb. 17, University of Minnesota President Eric Kaler visited the UMD campus to hold a series of open meetings on the university's current budget situation. UMD History professor Scott Laderman wrote the following open letter to Kaler in response to that visit.

February 20, 2014

Eric W. Kaler, President
University of Minnesota

Dear President Kaler,

I want to thank you for taking the time to visit us at UMD.  The faculty here had for months been anxious to meet with you, so we appreciate that you accepted the invitation.  We trust that we will be seeing you again shortly.

As I assume was made clear during your brief visit, too many of us at UMD – both faculty and staff – are feeling demoralized.  This is in part because of the budget situation in which the campus finds Ladermanitself.  But it is also because we often feel disrespected and devalued within the University of Minnesota system.  You are our president, and we expect you to listen to and represent us.  You assured us on Monday that you are able to separate your responsibilities as the system president and the head of the Twin Cities campus.  With all due respect, I remain unconvinced.

I’m sure I was not alone, for example, in finding it disconcerting when you told us that UMD faculty had regular opportunities to communicate our concerns because we were connected by ITV (or some other virtual method) to your meetings in the Twin Cities with the Faculty Consultative Committee.  As we had to inform you, we are not.  We were removed decades ago by the Regents from that governance system.  We have now created our own shared governance system at UMD.  You are part of it, and I hope you will participate as meaningfully in our system as you do in the other.  I also think it is important to have Vice President Pfutzenreuter more regularly participate in our campus budget committee meetings.  He does, after all, work for all of us.

While I cannot speak for the UMD faculty as a whole, I can tell you that every faculty member with whom I have spoken did not feel appreciably better after your visit than they did before it.  Please allow me to explain why.  As you no doubt gathered from our questions, the budget situation we confront is a matter of tremendous and ongoing concern.  While I appreciate your assurance that you will be working with our local administrators to help the campus move toward long-term stability, the vagueness of your assurance left many of us uneasy.

At the root of many of our concerns is the fact that UMD does not receive the same level of support from the University’s state appropriation as does the Twin Cities campus (or Morris, for that matter).  You are right, as you insisted in the Faculty Assembly, that we must not compare apples to oranges.  But the fact that you followed up that statement by comparing UMD to the College of Liberal Arts in the Twin Cities did not demonstrate a willingness to abide by your own counsel.  Put simply, UMD and the College of Liberal Arts are not both apples.  One is a comprehensive university, with the many functions, programs, and services that implies; the other is a collegiate unit.  Even if, as you told us, seventy-seven percent of both rely on tuition to cover their operating expenses, that is not a compelling demonstration of geographical parity, as you seemed to want us to believe.  Given the myriad things funded by the UMD budget, many of which are funded centrally for the College of Liberal Arts, our students in Duluth are – whatever the actual numbers – receiving less state support than are students elsewhere.  This must change.

And please provide us with accurate numbers.  You mentioned several times – as has Mr. Pfutzenreuter in various venues – that some of the figures being disseminated about UMD are wrong, even “inflammatory.”  I am thus requesting the correct numbers.  We all recognize that there are differences between the campuses, but there must nevertheless be some common units of analysis.  It is frustrating to hear “your figures are wrong” while being denied the provision of allegedly more accurate figures.

Some of us were also unsettled on Monday by your administration’s response (or nonresponse) to a comment by one of our colleagues.  When that colleague suggested that UMD was not being reimbursed by the system for certain expenses it covers that benefit the Duluth branches of the Medical School and College of Pharmacy, both of which are, administratively speaking, Twin Cities programs, you agreed that this sounded like a problem that should be examined and addressed.  I appreciate your encouraging response.  However, after the Faculty Assembly ended, it came to my attention that the Medical School and College of Pharmacy have in fact been trying to accomplish for some years this payment to UMD for services rendered by UMD (SPA, ITSS, et cetera), and some of those on the stage with you knew this.  What is unsettling to me is that they did not respond to this direct question, leaving most of us in the room with the impression that the administration was learning of this situation for the first time.  I worry that this negatively affected my colleagues in the Medical School and College of Pharmacy, as some of us may have concluded that our colleagues with Twin Cities appointments were not willing to contribute their fair share to the costs incurred by UMD.  This is not true.  If the purpose of your visit was to field our questions and provide us with candid responses, there was an obvious failure in this instance.  Why?

I read in this morning’s U of M Brief that the Regents just supported a $4.1 million investment in safety enhancements on the Twin Cities campus.  Whatever the source of those funds, this is wonderful.  Students, faculty, and staff throughout the University of Minnesota system must be made to feel safe, and as someone with many friends and a spouse at the Twin Cities campus, I am heartened to see the administration taking seriously the safety concerns that have been expressed by many people there.  Yet I cannot help but notice that we have not enjoyed a similar responsiveness in finding funds to address the crisis at UMD.  We have safety concerns as well – if you have not already done so, I urge you to consult our local administrators about these – but more broadly we face the possible elimination of academic programs and services and the termination or nonrenewal of faculty and staff.  Our students will suffer.  Where is the urgency in finding several million dollars to address our crisis?

The faculty at UMD would like an explicit assurance from you that the system will treat the budget situation at UMD like the crisis it is and do more than the bare minimum in helping us to resolve it.  If the system provided UMD with less money in recent years because our admissions and tuition revenue were increasing, fairness dictates that the system now come to UMD’s aid as our admissions and tuition revenue have dropped.  After all, our earlier success benefited the system’s coffers.  Now it is time for the system’s coffers to benefit us.

In sum, I am asking that you please do more to fully represent us as our system leader.  When you told us on Monday that “[y]ou stubbed your toe on undergraduate enrollment a couple of years ago and that has cost you continuing ongoing tuition revenue,” one of our colleagues could not have been more appropriate in his response.  If you were truly our system leader, he replied, you would have said that “we stubbed our toe” and that it has cost “us” tuition revenue.  UMD is the second largest research university in the state of Minnesota, and our faculty are working tirelessly to educate our students while making significant contributions to the arts, humanities, and natural and social sciences.  We at UMD are also the University of Minnesota, and our ability to continue with this success should not be in jeopardy.


                                                                                                Scott Laderman
                                                                                                Assoc Professor of History