A federal magistrate judge Friday approved a $1 million settlement between Hennepin County and a man with mental illness who partially blinded himself while in the county jail last year.
Hennepin County officials called the incident "tragic" and said it's an example of systemic problems surrounding incarcerating people with mental illness.
Attorney Bill Lubov said the size of the settlement sends a message to Hennepin County that it failed to protect a vulnerable person. His client, Michael Schuler, was being treated for his mental illness at Hennepin County Medical Center prior to his incarceration, but the doctors released him.
"He's a really bright young man," Lubov said. "This is a young man who writes music, writes poetry. He's suffering the ravages of a mental illness."
Schuler appeared in court Friday wearing a black patch over his right eye. On May 2, 2012, court documents say he blinded that eye and damaged his left one by stabbing himself with a pencil he found in his cell.
The documents show that before the incident, Schuler was showing signs of a mental health crisis. He began talking to himself and pacing around in his cell. He eventually stopped sleeping. Staff withheld his medications after Schuler started yelling and throwing things in his cell. After several days Schuler began soiling himself. Still, staff members didn't call for an immediate psychiatric intervention.
Bill Lubov said county staff should have treated Schuler before the situation got to that point. He said the incident also exemplifies the need for more awareness and resources for mental health treatment.
"What you see is a microcosm of a far greater problem that doesn't get publicity because lawsuits aren't filed - actions aren't taken to advocate on behalf of the mentally ill," Lubov said.
Hennepin County released a statement Friday.
"This case provides a compelling example of the deep and troubling systemic issues surrounding the incarceration of individuals with mental illness," the county said.
Since Schuler's injury, Hennepin County Medical Center changed how it provides psychiatric services to people in the jail. The county said HCMC has increased the number of people available to respond to people in jail with mental illness.
Under the terms of the settlement, $600,000 will be deposited into a special needs trust for Schuler. The other $400,000 will be paid to Schuler's attorneys.
Schuler continues to receive Social Security Disability payments, according to his attorney.
Lubov said Schuler wants to return to school.