The city of Madison sued the state Department of Health Services and its secretary on Tuesday over the department’s refusal to accept emergency mental health commitments at Mendota Mental Health Institute, a change that has forced local police departments to take people under civil commitments to Oshkosh.

The lawsuit, which had been anticipated since last summer, cites state law and a 1992 attorney general’s opinion to bolster the city’s view that those placed in emergency detention must be accepted at Mendota, located on Madison’s North Side.

DHS, which operates Mendota and Winnebago Mental Health Institute, said earlier this year that as of April 1, it would no longer accept adult males for emergency civil commitments at Mendota, citing a desire to consolidate civil commitment patients at Winnebago and devote more space at Mendota to criminal patients.

Emergency civil commitments of women and children had previously been accepted only at Winnebago, but Madison Police Chief Mike Koval said in June that adding men to the group pushed police to a “tipping point.”

The lawsuit follows a letter written to DHS Secretary Kitty Rhoades by Madison City Attorney Michael May pointing out that under state law, once a law enforcement officer places a person into custody, that person “shall” be taken for detention to a “state treatment facility,” such as Mendota.

“Therefore, the statutes demand that individuals placed in emergency custody by law enforcement officers and transported for detention to Mendota must be accepted for custody,” May wrote.

He added that a 1992 opinion of the state attorney general stated that public facilities “may not refuse to accept individuals brought to them under emergency detention.”

“The city met with staff from your department in an attempt to resolve this issue in an amicable fashion,” May wrote. “Despite these efforts, Mendota has refused numerous placements from the city of Madison.

“This is not just a tremendous drain on local government resources, it is a severe disservice to the individuals who are brought to Mendota for emergency detention and treatment.”

May’s letter stated that the city would go to court if it did not receive a response to the letter by Nov. 21. DHS did not respond.

Nobody from DHS responded to an email seeking comment on the lawsuit late Tuesday after-


The lawsuit states that from April 1 to Nov. 4, Madison police officers took 25 men under emergency detention to Winnebago.

In a letter to McFarland Police Chief Craig Sherven in March, state Division of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services administrator Linda Harris wrote that it was “prudent for the state mental health institutes to align their business lines, civil and forensic, in order to provide the most efficient and effective treatment to citizens state-


Harris added that at a March 13 meeting with law enforcement, hospital representatives and others, DHS recommended that Dane County “pursue other transportation options that other counties throughout the state have utilized, such as contracting for a transportation service in lieu of utilizing much-needed local law enforcement and sheriff’s deputies to provide transport,” at a possible cost savings to the county.

Capital W: Plug in to Wisconsin politics

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