Psychiatrists: State failed to treat Nikko Jenkins

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LINCOLN, Neb. (AP) — A violent prisoner who killed four people in Omaha after his release was never given adequate mental health treatment despite warnings that he posed a danger to himself and others, two psychiatrists said Thursday.

Dr. Eugene Oliveto told a legislative committee that Nikko Jenkins was among the most dangerous people he ever met, and he doesn't know why state officials released him in July 2013. Oliveto said he strongly believed that Jenkins, now 28, would make good on his promise to kill people if released.

Jenkins shot and killed four people in Omaha in a 10-day spree in August 2013, and was convicted of four counts of first-degree murder in April.

"This guy really needed intensive psychiatric treatment," said Oliveto, who has 40 years of psychiatric experience and recommended Jenkins be placed in a state psychiatric hospital in Lincoln. "That's what frustrates me — why this guy didn't get the care that I recommended."

Jenkins met with Oliveto while in custody at a correctional facility in Omaha, where he was serving time for two 2003 robberies and a 2009 assault on a prison guard during a furlough for his grandmother's funeral. Jenkins later was transferred to a state prison and released despite his pleas for mental health treatment.

Lawmakers have launched an investigation into the Nebraska Department of Correctional Services' handling of the case. Oliveto has filed a federal lawsuit against Douglas County Corrections, alleging that the department fired him after he said in court and subsequent media interviews that he believed Jenkins was insane.

Dr. Natalie Baker-Heser, a contract psychiatrist who treated Jenkins at the state prison in Tecumseh, said she grew worried and frustrated in the months before his scheduled release and believed her concerns about Jenkins' mental health weren't taken seriously by prison staff.

Prison psychologists examined Jenkins after she did and concluded that his problems were behavioral and not mental health-related, Baker-Heser said. Yet, she noted, Jenkins cut his face with a floor tile, exercised naked in his segregated cell and drank his bodily fluids because he believed it would increase his levels of serotonin, a mood-stabilizing chemical. At one point, he smeared messages on his cell's wall in blood.

"I did feel he posed an imminent danger to himself and others," Baker-Heser said.

Oliveto said Jenkins lived in "a delusional, hallucinatory, psychotic world" and started hearing voices at age 7. He said he thought Jenkins was schizophrenic and suffered from a dangerous anti-social personality disorder, as well as post-traumatic stress disorder from severe childhood abuse.

"You're looking at bad genes, a bad environment and a bad upbringing," Oliveto said.

Denise Gaines, a mental health coordinator for Douglas County's correctional services, told lawmakers she wrote a letter to Nebraska's parole board urging them to require mental health treatment if he was released.

Gaines said she initially believed Jenkins was faking his symptoms, but changed her mind after she met with him a second time. She said she also was unaware of his childhood mental illness and abuse.

Dr. Mark Weilage, the state prison system's behavioral health administrator, said he didn't believe Jenkins was mentally ill. Weilage said he thought that Jenkins was faking the illness in hopes of suing the state.

His comments drew criticism from lawmakers, who noted that Weilage withheld Baker-Heser's official recommendation from his boss.

"I don't understand the bureaucracy that would let a turf war like this turn into something so, so tragic," said Sen. Steve Lathrop of Omaha, the committee chairman.

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