TARGET 8: Audrain County family claims mentally ill do not receive proper treatment

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AUDRAIN COUNTY - Gov. Jay Nixon began his mental health initiative in 2015 in order to establish more resources for people suffering from mental illness. The initiative includes a community health mental liaison program and a crisis intervention team program. 

One Audrain County family said despite these new programs, there are still not enough resources and proper treatment for people suffering with mental illnesses.   

Terri Brown, the mother of 36-year-old Jeremy Behlmann, said her son has been dealing with mental illnesses such as bipolar disorder and schizophrenia since he was 19 years old.  Brown said any time the family has reached out to law enforcement for help, Behlmann was arrested rather than offered the psychiatric help he needed. 

"When we've asked for help, most every time when we've involved the law, they've always arrested him and found charges for him," Brown said. "He's sick. He's not a criminal, and he doesn't mean to hurt anybody." 

Brown said there are times when she cannot reason with him and even though he has made threats, he has never hurt anybody. 

"That's frightening to us because we love him, you know, we want to see him stay out of jail," Brown said. 

Brown said Behlmann was deemed incompetent by the state in September 2015 but was later declared competent by the court. 

Laura Heitmann, Audrain County mental health liaison, said Montgomery and Audrain counties came together to form a crisis intervention team council in December 2015. She said part of the program sends law enforcement officers to a 40-hour training session to learn how to handle different situations. 

Heitmann said the ideal training would include 40 hours for every officer but that is not possible. 

"Is it realistic to take a law enforcement officer off the street for 40 hours? You can as long as you have the dollars and resources to pay the overtime for that spot," Heitmann said. "This is going to happen slowly." 

Heitmann said she has trained more than 150 law enforcement officers so far. 

"The training is always very well-received because they are faced with these situations almost daily," Heitmann said. 

When KOMU 8 News reached out to Audrain County Sheriff Stuart Miller about Behlmann's case, he responded with an email:

"Behlmann committed a crime. He was arrested, determined competent by the Court to stand trial, convicted and sentenced. While in jail, he was charged with threatening a judicial officer, and that case is pending in court."

According to the Missouri Department of Corrections, the 2015 profile of the institutional and supervised offender population showed 45.3 percent of incarcerated offenders had some type of mental illness as of June 30, 2015. 

  • 28.8 percent showed mild impairment
  • 15.2 percent showed clinic care/medication
  • 1.3 percent showed serious functional impairment
  • 0.1 percent showed severe functional impairment

Brown said after filing a commitment in October 2014, Behlmann was supposed to be picked up by law enforcement. She said the law enforcement officers waited down the road and surprised Behlmann. She said he did not realize he was being followed by police, drove away and was then charged with resisting arrest. 

"Instead of coming right away, knowing he was extremely psychotic, they sat down the road," Brown said. 

She said she does not believe law enforcement thought about what could happen if they did this. 

"I know my kid, he's always been a runner. All they had to do was park behind his vehicle and none of this would be happening," Brown said. "But nobody thought of that, including the police, so he was charged with resisting arrest." 

Brown said Behlmann did not realize police were chasing him or he would have stopped. 

Terry Mackey, CEO of the Arthur Center Community Health Center, said it is not always easy for law enforcement handling an incident to know what type of issues a person may have. 

"I think folks that have bipolar disorder or schizophrenia maybe are at a disadvantage because law enforcement doesn't always understand who they're dealing with," Mackey said. 

He said there is always room to educate law enforcement and the new crisis intervention training hopes to do that.

"I think it's an issue that we've certainly been addressing, but it is true that it really has just been the last couple of years that we've really had a focus on working closely with law enforcement," Mackey said. 

Brown said she does not understand how it has been so difficult to get help for Behlmann. 

"It just doesn't make sense to me," Brown said. "Why do you not help them? I mean there is help out there." 

Mackey also said it can be difficult for families to attempt to get help for their loved ones when that person does not want it.

"Of course a family member is much more interested in that happening sooner than later, whereas the person probably wants to maintain control of their life," Mackey said.