Tri-City Ledger -

By Joe Thomas
Ledger Editor 

Mental health system in crisis?

Sheriff and probate judge say lack of funding, facilities and accountability putting everyone at risk of tragedy


May 28, 2020

On Dec. 13, 2019, a sister of Rufus Evans III filed a petition in Escambia County (Ala.) Probate Court claiming Evans was mentally ill. The same day, Southwest Alabama Behavioral Health Care Systems in Brewton evaluated Evans and determined he “does not meet criteria for placement at this time”.

Today, Evans, 54, is being held in the Escambia County Detention Center in Brewton on $300,000 bond charged with murder and 22-year old Tyler Dawayne Lisenby is dead.

Lisenby was found shot to death on the front porch of Evans' 3660 William Cook Road residence in the Damascus community.

Evans' sister, Betty Jo Edeker filed a petition on Dec. 13 claiming he was mentally ill and posed a threat of substantial harm to himself and others.

She recorded recent acts stating Evans drove himself to the hospital in a meth induced psychosis and was referred to mental health by Dr. Robert DeFrancisco.

Other acts included:

- That Evans has guns and has shot into her house “because he said there were holograms inside”.

- He claimed to have killed two people in his sister's house and sister reports there are four bullet holes in her bathroom wall.

- He claims people are tracking him through his phone.

- He claims someone took him hostage while he was driving.

- He has been reported to show up at random houses in the middle of the night.

- He hid in his ex-wife's house.

- He claims people are always following him and drones are everywhere watching him.

In her petition, Edeker noted that there is treatment for the illness diagnosed and that confinement of Evans is necessary for his, and for the community's, safety and well-being.

She added that commitment is the least restrictive alternative necessary and available for treatment of his illness.

In a memo filed by Southwest Alabama Behavioral Health Care Systems, it noted Evans was seen on the same day the petition was filed.

“The petition was signed by his sister,” the memo reads. “It claims that he drove himself to the hospital in a meth induced psychosis. He had been shooting a gun inside the home he lives in that is owned by his sister”

“Client was very clam and coherent and lucid,” the memo reads. “Client admitted to snorting meth and experiencing hallucinations. Client was not able to provide a UA (Urine Analysis) sample but reported he has not used in over a week. Client denied homicidal and suicidal ideations. He also denied hallucinations.”

“Client does not meet criteria for placement at this time,” the memo continues. “His daughter was contacted and she has agreed to take over control of his guns for the time being.”

It also said the client also agreed to complete a substance abuse intake.

Probate Judge Doug Agerton and Sheriff Heath Jackson said the mental health system in the state of Alabama is at a crisis point and it will only get worse if it is not addressed.

Agerton acknowledged that his office received the petition on Evans and he was referred to Southwest Alabama Behavioral Health Care Systems.

“They called us and said he didn't meet the criteria to be sent to the mental hospital in Crenshaw County,” Agerton said. “We did everything we were supposed to do.”

“The mental health system in the state of Alabama is failing patients everyday,” Agerton said. “Nobody has been more vocal than me.”

Agerton said the state is not doing what needs to be done to provide the help needed.

“It takes money, it takes facilities,” Agerton said. “We need long term care for mental patients. Some won't ever get over their issues.”

“About the only way you can get into Bryce Hospital long term is to kill somebody,” Agerton added. “We need a system where if somebody's been committed five times a judge needs to decide if they need long term care.”

Agerton said the main problem is the money is not being appropriated to mental health, noting that Southwest Alabama Behavioral Health Care has not seen an increase in funding in about 10 years.

Sheriff Jackson agreed that the mental health system is failing everyone.

“Bottom line, mental health in the state of Alabama has failed the people, failed the patients, failed their families, failed law enforcement and hospitals and has failed the taxpayers,” Jackson said. “They don't fund it like it needs to be funded. It's a state problem that has turned into a local problem and it's a crisis nobody wants to do anything about.”

He said people doing the mental health evaluations are quick to blame drugs and don't get to the underlying condition.

Jackson said if his office gets a call concerning a mental health issue and they respond.

“If we get there and realize it's a mental health issue but no crime has been committed all we can do is instruct the family to do a mental health petition to the probate court.

“But if it's on the weekend or after 5 p.m. any day of the week, Southwest Alabama Mental Health does not provide evaluations for patients,” Jackson said. “They only provide a counselor on the other end of a telephone.”

“The probate judge and his staff take our calls 24-7 for mental health petitions,” Jackson added. “But that's all they can do. They are not the evaluators.”

“If it's after 5 p.m. or on the weekends the mental patients and their families are left to fend for themselves,” Jackson said.

Jackson also said in most instances when a deputy takes a mental patient to Southwest Alabama Mental Health the patient is sent home and told to follow up, so we transport them back home,” Jackson said.

He said in some instances they are told the patience needs to be sent to the mental hospital in Crenshaw County but they can't because there are no beds available.

“So we have to transport them back to the same environment they left from and tell the family we'll come back when they get some beds open,” Jackson said.

Jackson spent many years in law enforcement in Escambia County, Fla., which has a Baker Act, which allows for short term help 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

Jackson said if an officer believed it was a mental issue he would take the patient to the hospital, fill out a form and be done in 30 minutes. The patient would be held up to 72 hours for evaluation and could be kept longer.

Jackson said the Alabama Legislature must allocate more funds toward mental health or the problem will continue to get worse.

“People need to start holding these people accountable,” Jackson said. “Until you've had to deal with Southwest Alabama Mental Health you don't know how bad the problem is. Hospitals are bending over backwards to help.”

“These people with mental health issues deserve to be treated like humans and they deserve to be treated,” Jackson added. “The state needs to prioritize what needs to be done.”

Attempts to get a comment from Southwest Alabama Behavioral Health Care Systems for this story were unsuccessful.


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