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Clark County sues Nevada mental hospital

Darcy Spears

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Clark County sues Nevada mental hospital

CREATED Aug. 7, 2013

Clark County, NV (KTNV) -- In the wake of the Rawson Neal patient dumping scandal, Contact 13 has learned another state facility for the mentally ill is under fire.

Lake's Crossing, the only state facility for mentally ill offenders, is accused of willfully failing to provide court-ordered treatment.

It's all part of a lawsuit filed by the Clark County Public Defender's office.

Eric Burnside is a convicted sex offender who's now charged with battery on a public officer.  He's been diagnosed mentally ill and ordered by the court to Lake's Crossing.

Nicholas Duran is a teenager suspected of attempted murder, who allegedly told authorities voices urged him to attack his grandfather with a baseball bat. He too has been diagnosed with a mental illness and ordered to Lake's Crossing.

And, there's Jaumal Pugh. Charged with multiple counts of burglary, robbery and use of a deadly weapon or tear gas in the commission of a crime. Diagnosed mentally ill and ordered to Lake's Crossing.

"Every single person who is found to be incompetent to proceed in their criminal case goes to that facility for the whole state," says Attorney Christy Craig of the Clark County Public Defender's office.

Lake's Crossing is in Sparks, Nevada, just south of Reno. It's the state's only forensic mental hospital with just 66 beds.

"If a person is found to be incompetent, that means they can't participate in their criminal case," explains Craig.  "They can't talk to their lawyer, they can't aid and assist and as a result, the whole thing just comes to a dead standstill until they're treated to competency."

And that can only happen at Lake's Crossing. But according to the Public Defender's lawsuit, it's not happening fast enough.

"They're spending two, three, four months waiting for transport to the forensic mental hospital, and it should be seven days," says Craig.

Eric Burnside waited 76 days for his court-ordered transfer. Jaumal Pugh will have waited 90 days by the time he gets there. And it'll be 98 days for Nicholas Duran.

"We're limping along trying to make due and it isn't working to the detriment not only of the people that are in custody, but for taxpayers because it's costing us all money," says Craig.  "Every day that an incompetent person sits in jail costs a little bit more."

Craig says incompetent defendants end up spending much more time behind bars than others who commit the same crimes.

A misdemeanor that would normally result in community service or classes for most, is very different for those deemed incompetent.

"You may stay in custody the entire length of your sentence, which is six months, and just doesn't happen to the competent person.  It's just simply unfair and it needs to change."

Having the state's only forensic mental hospital up in Northern Nevada also costs taxpayers in another way. Local law enforcement is responsible for transport.

"They put them on a plane and they pay for that plane and they pay for the staff and the plane goes there and back," says Craig.  "It's an expense to the people of Clark County to send those folks up for treatment.  It should be down here."

A number of years ago, the legislature considered building a forensic mental hospital here in Southern Nevada.

Land was obtained in North Las Vegas and architectural plans were drawn up, but the project was never funded.

The County hopes this lawsuit will change that.

Contact 13 called Lake's Crossing and the Nevada Mental Health Division for comment but our calls were not returned.

The Nevada Department of Health and Human Resources declined to comment.