TRAVERSE CITY — Greg Hall was fed up.
He let it go when his mother was rushed to the emergency room after going days without blood pressure medication in Grand Traverse County’s jail. Her BP peaked at 204 over 123 and spurred a hypertensive crisis, but she bonded out at her arraignment on embezzlement charges a few hours later.
Then in March, Hall said his Iraq War veteran brother-in-law was denied prescribed bi-polar medication during his pre-trial stay.
“That’s when I knew that this was not just a one time thing,” Hall said. “That’s when I knew this was a bigger issue.”
Hall wanted change. He wanted whatever policy that kept vital medication from his mother’s hands fixed.
He tried the diplomatic route, communicating with Grand Traverse County Sheriff Tom Bensley and County Administrator Nate Alger in exchanges that seemed to go well. They assured his complaints would be followed up on.
But that assurance grew stale in weeks spent waiting.
So Hall, a veteran with 10 years in law enforcement, took to social media. He launched “Abuse at the Grand Traverse County Jail” on Aug. 31 — a Facebook page inviting others to share their stories, frustrations and calls for reform. It garnered more than 23,000 views and netted 400-some comments during the past week.
Many of the stories prove uncomfortably similar to his mother’s.
“From what I can tell, they don’t administer any psych meds,” Hall said. “And that’s what’s so frustrating — it’s such an easy fix.”
Defense Attorney Stephen Kane said he’s seen it with his own clients — especially those prescribed medication for mental health issues.
One, a military veteran in jail on breaking and entering charges, netted additional counts after being denied his medication and getting into a fight behind bars, Kane said.
“You’re going to pull him off of his meds and stuff him in a small cage with a bunch of men — and then get angry when he does what somebody that doesn’t have their meds for these things does?” he said. “He’s got PTSD, we know he’s got anxiety, they’re both well-documented.”
Bensley declined to discuss the matter Thursday, but said the county was finalizing its response to Hall. He referred questions to Alger, who also declined further comment.
“The board tasked me with responding to Mr. Hall’s letter and I’m going to do that,” Alger said. “It’s a process.”
Both said they’ve met with Wellpath staff — a Nashville-based for-profit company contracted to provide the jail with nurses — and County Deputy Civil Counsel Kit Tholen as recently as Tuesday.
‘FIGHTING FOR CHANGE’
Hall threatened further action in a July 15, 2019 letter to the county Board of Commissioners, including litigation, if something doesn’t change at the jail. Commission Chair Rob Hentschel said the mention of legal action pushed the letter up the chain to county counsel.
To Hall, whose family no longer resides within the jail’s walls, it became a bigger fight.
And he said enough isn’t being done.
“It’s not supposed to be a resort and I get that,” Hall said. “The negative responses (on Facebook) are like, ‘You don’t like it, stay out of jail.’ But you know what? All people deserve respect. This is a basic level of human rights.
“Certainly the way to reform people is not by mistreating them.”
Kane isn’t familiar with the jail’s medication policy, but said it seems his clients have trouble getting their psychotropics — medications like Xanax, Prozac and others that treat anxiety and depression — during jail stays. He also has seen hold-ups when it comes to drugs with street value.
“I don’t have a good understanding as to what their criteria is to determine what they allow in and what they don’t allow in, and why it is that they’re basically not following what a doctor wants for (their) patients,” he said.
Bensley declined comment on whether the jail follows a written policy for such medications. The jail’s inmate information phone system offers medication instructions — all medications must be current prescriptions, in the inmate’s name and in their original container.
It doesn’t mention any prohibited scripts.
“I think it’s not a new complaint — it is being looked into, it has been looked into in the past,” said Grand Traverse County Prosecutor Noelle Moeggenberg. “It is true that people won’t always get the medication that they’ve been prescribed, but there are a number of reasons for that.”
She said certain medications, like psychotropics Xanax and Suboxone, aren’t given out of concerns they’ll be sold or traded. Those calls are made by the doctor contracted to make medical decisions inside the jail.
Inmates are supposed to meet with a nurse immediately to either get a replacement medication or an override, Moeggenberg said.
Hall said experience shows that isn’t happening.
His mother didn’t see a nurse for two days — and even after that, wasn’t given her medication, he said.
Hall, who is his mother’s patient advocate, hand-delivered her prescription bottle to corrections staff when she was jailed again after sentencing. It was an overnight stay pending transport to prison — and Hall found, again, she wasn’t given that medication.
She didn’t get her anti-anxiety medication, either, he said.
Hall requested his mother’s medical booking form and chart from the sheriff’s office, and said he was shocked by the lack of information on it.
“It’s taken a toll on her mental state,” Hall said.
‘NO NEW PROBLEM’
Hall dubbed his efforts “End the Abuse.”
“Whether it’s a willful thing or not, when you intentionally withhold someone’s medication, that’s abuse,” Hall said. “If you see enough smoke, there’s got to be fire somewhere.”
He calls the jail’s actions discriminatory as well — against those with mental health issues.
And defendants with mental health conditions aren’t a rarity, Moeggenberg said.
“When we’re doing sentencings in Circuit Court, the front page of the pre-sentence report will talk about, ‘Do they have a medical history,’ ‘Do they have a psychiatric history’ — it’s extremely rare that you see that marked ‘no,’” she said.
Inmates, through an expanded late 2018 contract, receive mental health treatment, therapy and crisis intervention services from Northern Lakes Community Mental Health. The contract also provides a therapist and a peer support specialist to the jail full-time, the Record-Eagle previously reported.
But those services focus mainly on inmates spending at least 20 days in the jail — meaning inmates like Hall’s mother and others awaiting arraignment fall by the wayside.
The new contract came after heavy criticism of the jail in the wake of a bevy of suicide attempts — two of them resulting in inmate deaths — in recent years.
Marilyn Palmer hanged herself from a jail shower stall on Feb. 28, 2018 after less than a month behind bars. Handwritten health service requests show the 36-year-old begged for her prescribed Trazadone, a medication used to treat anxiety and depression, days before her death.
Officers found Alan Halloway hanging dead inside his cell just months earlier — Halloway hadn’t been checked on for hours, despite policies that called for hourly monitoring.
Word of the jail’s “medication issue” have reached Michael Roof, Director of Grand Traverse County Veterans’ Affairs. Veterans like Hall’s brother-in-law and Kane’s client are particularly vulnerable, he said.
“Whether it’s PTSD or the amount of physical pain they are dealing with, veterans don’t like being in enclosed situations with lots of people around and they may feel unsafe,” Roof said. “Not being able to get their medications is huge.”
Former Jail Administrator Capt. Todd Ritter resigned in April amid accusations he maintained intimate relationships with former inmates and misused county property. Capt. Chris Barsheff, who did not return calls for comment, was appointed to run the jail in the wake of that investigation.
Many, Hall included, see Barsheff’s placement as a good change.
“I think they’re doing everything they can with limited resources right now,” Moeggenberg said. “I have huge faith in Capt. Barsheff that he will run a smooth and efficient jail where the inmates are cared for and the corrections officers are cared for.”
County commissioners also approved funding in April for modifications to jail showers to eliminate “tie-off” points that can be used for a noose, the Record-Eagle previously reported.
But in the wake of the stories Hall sees on the End the Abuse page, it means little without action.
He’ll speak on the matter at the Traverse City Human Rights Commission’s next meeting at 5:30 p.m. Monday at the Governmental Center.
“Right now, I’m trying to see how much pressure it takes to change things,” Hall said. “I’ve got a sign ready, I’ll stand in front of the jail if I have to.”
“Whether it’s a willful thing or not, when you intentionally withhold someone’s medication, that’s abuse. If you see enough smoke, there’s got to be fire somewhere.” Greg Hall