Crime, Law and Justice

Mosque arson suspect not getting adequate mental health treatment, attorney says

A man looks around a room
Imam Sheikh Sa'ad Musse Roble surveys the destruction at Masjid Al Rahma mosque on April 25 Minneapolis.
Kerem Yücel | MPR News

A man with a history of severe mental illness who’s suspected of setting fire to two Minneapolis mosques is being held in jail with inadequate treatment, his attorney alleges in a court filing.

A federal grand jury indicted Jackie Rahm Little on hate crime and arson charges for allegedly setting fire to Masjid Omar Islamic Center on April 23, 2023. Little, 37, of Plymouth is also suspected of lighting another fire the next day at Masjid Al Rahma.

In November, Magistrate Judge Douglas Micko ordered Little to undergo treatment at a federal prison medical center for up to 120 days to determine whether he’ll eventually be able to “attain the capacity” to participate in the court proceedings against him.

In a recent filing, defense attorney Aaron Morrison writes that Little has been in isolation and has “received very limited mental health treatment” at the Sherburne County Jail, where he’s being held in pretrial detention.

Morrison argues that the government has run afoul of the Insanity Defense Reform Act because more than four months have passed since Micko’s order, but Little has not been moved to a Bureau of Prisons treatment facility.

Morrison writes in a motion to dismiss the charges that this is an “inhumane and unacceptable” delay.

In response, Assistant U.S. Attorney Evan Gilead writes that because of a nationwide shortage of bed space and care providers, there are significant wait times for beds in the federal prison system medical centers that provide competency restoration treatment.

According to Gilead’s filing Monday, Little is scheduled to begin hospitalization at the federal medical center in Butner, North Carolina in June.

Gilead, citing past rulings from federal district and appellate courts, argues that the four-month time limit applies to the hospitalization period itself, not to the time Little has spent in jail waiting for space to open up.

NPR reported in September 2023 that the Butner facility, where the Bureau of Prisons also sends inmates who need other types of medical care, has a troubling track record of staffing shortages and delaying care.

Minnesota court records show that Little has struggled with mental illness in recent years. A Hennepin County judge civilly committed him in 2021 following a diagnosis of bipolar disorder with psychotic features.

Little has been in and out of jail, group homes, and hospitals since late 2020. Four days after Little allegedly set the first of two mosque fires, a supportive housing program discharged him because of “behavior issues.” 

In January, Hennepin County Mental Health Division Referee George Borer found that Little's condition precluded his prosecution for a 2021 vehicle arson.