Advocates say system failed in case of Brooklyn Park homicide

Advocates say the senseless death of a Brooklyn Park man is highlighting failures in the mental health system, as the suspect had a well documented history of violence.

The suspect, Christopher Rice, has since been charged with two counts of second-degree murder and one count of criminal vehicular homicide.

Records show the suspect accused of fatally striking his neighbor with his car last weekend was committed as mentally ill. While he was supposed to be in the hospital until July, he was granted a provisional release and was living in the Brooklyn Park neighborhood where Paul Pfeifer died Saturday.

Lisa Dailey with the Treatment Advocacy Center said Minnesota doesn’t have nearly enough beds at the state hospital, and law requires that those who have already committed a crime and are behind bars are prioritized for those.

"It’s a system that does not incentivize treating earlier rather than later," Dailey said.

So, instead, many civil commitments are sent to private hospitals - where staff is often eager to discharge.

"There are a lot of financial pressures on the hospital where the individual’s been admitted to find out how to discharge that person," she said.

Dailey said state hospitals are the only place where patients receive the long term care needed for them to stabilize.

"It’s a revolving door kind of situation," Daily said. "It’s just a series of short hospitalizations that really don’t have the opportunity to break the cycle and get the person out of a psychotic episode."

Law professor Rachel Moran said that even when you have a civil commitment, judges will seek to impose the least restrictive option.

"We don’t want to be committing people against their will unless it’s truly necessary," Moran said. "It’s a significant restriction on liberty."

But, Dailey thinks it wasn’t necessarily the judge that failed here but the systems in place.

"If I’m going to hold anyone accountable… you have to include the failure of the legislature to have enough beds," said Dailey. "There are incentives all throughout the system for a person to be discharged that are almost impossible to resist, that ultimately comes back to the fact that the system is inadequate to the needs of the population."