By Deena Winter | Nebraska Watchdog
LINCOLN, Neb. – Two deputy ombudsmen for the state testified Friday that they tried for years to get Nikko Jenkins treatment and transitioning assistance before he was released from years of solitary confinement into the public, out of fear he would kill.
CRIES FOR HELP: Two ombudsman testified Friday that they, along with Sen. Ernie Chambers (shown), worked to try to get Nikko Jenkins treatment and transitioning before he was released from prison and went on to kill four people.
They were right: Within 10 days of his release from a Nebraska prison, Jenkins killed four Omahans.
They also said a top state corrections official vowed to “bury” Jenkins in solitary confinement until his release as punishment for his involvement in a prison riot. They suspect prison officials wanted to leave Jenkins in solitary confinement to punish him for assaulting a guard and helping incite a riot.
Jerall Moreland, assistant state ombudsman, and James Davis, deputy ombudsman, told a legislative committee investigating the Jenkins case and prison scandals that they took their concerns all the way to the top of the corrections department: To former director Bob Houston and his deputy director.
Working in concert with Sen. Ernie Chambers, they made it clear they were worried Jenkins would kill people in his north Omaha neighborhood if he was released without treatment or transitioning. They said Houston deferred to his deputy director, Larry Wayne, and other high-level corrections officials refused to let them see Jenkins’ medical records, which would have alerted them that he’d been deemed by some psychiatrists to be mentally ill and an imminent danger in need of commitment.
However, most of the state mental health professionals believed Jenkins was not mentally ill, but having behavioral problems. Without a mentally ill diagnosis, he couldn’t be committed indefinitely in the state psychiatric hospital, even though he repeatedly warned people he would kill after getting out and asking to be committed.
Davis said Jenkins spent three-and-a-half years in solitary confinement before being released to the public, and the ombudsman’s office – which is part of the legislative branch – has been working to prevent such solitary-to-streets scenarios.
Davis said he’d worked on the Jenkins case from 2008 until his release in July 2013, and in the months leading up to his release, the ombudsmen tried to get prison officials to give them Jenkins’ mental health assessments and put a transition plan in place.
In February 2013, at Chambers’ request, Moreland and Davis requested a meeting with top corrections officials to talk about Jenkins. A meeting was scheduled for March 7, then cancelled. Then rescheduled for March 20. Moreland and Davis said when they arrived, Houston was in the conference room with a prison attorney, Sharon Lindgren. But Houston left the meeting after a few minutes, and Lindgren informed them they wouldn’t be getting the mental health records.
“I was surprised, shocked and very upset,” Davis testified, because Jenkins had signed a consent release.
They never received his mental health records, and if they had, they said they would’ve insisted Jenkins be committed indefinitely. They also didn’t know a Johnson County attorney had tried to get Jenkins committed, and was not given some of Jenkins mental health records.
They stayed at the meeting to work out a five-step transition plan to ease Jenkins back into the general public, but say “those steps did not happen.” On March 15, Jenkins was transferred to the state penitentiary, but after causing trouble he wasn’t allowed to participate in the transition program and returned to solitary confinement 23 hours per day.
The ombudsmen reported this lack of follow-up to the deputy corrections director, Wayne, who indicated Jenkins would stay in solitary until his release, saying “we’ll bury ‘em” in segregation for taking part in the riot. Davis said Wayne told him corrections officials “were tired of us beating up on them about Nikko’s mental health.”
“My concern was he would be released to north Omaha… and would murder people in the community,” Davis said.
He asked Wayne what he would tell Sen. Ernie Chambers if Jenkins got out and killed someone in their north Omaha community.
But the No. 2 guy at corrections responded by saying, “What am I going to tell the families of staff? What am I going to tell inmates if we release inmates in general population and he kills someone?”
In other words, Wayne was more worried about Jenkins killing a staffer or inmate than what he would do to civilians when he got out, according to the ombudsmen.
Davis said after Jenkins assaulted a guard while on release for a funeral, state corrections officials seemed even more intent on labeling his problems as behavioral, not a mental illness, preventing his commitment.
Sen. Paul Schumacher asked whether retaliation for the riot was “the seed of this cancer.” Moreland and Davis said yes, along with the assault on a guard.
Wayne is now testifying before the commmittee, with others to follow later Friday.
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