- Associated Press - Friday, October 10, 2014

LINCOLN, Neb. (AP) - Nebraska prison administrators ignored repeated warnings about an inmate who later killed four people in Omaha and at one point refused to even discuss his mental health status, two deputy state ombudsmen said Friday.

Jerall Moreland and James Davis with the state ombudsman’s office told a legislative committee that they pushed officials to develop a transition-to-release plan for Nikko Jenkins, who was scheduled for release in July 2013 after spending 3 ½ years in an isolation unit. Jenkins was released directly from segregation despite his pleas for a mental-health civil commitment, and went on a 10-day rampage a month later.

Davis and Moreland said they requested a meeting with prison administrators to discuss Jenkins’ mental health status as his release date neared. But after the meeting began, Davis said, former corrections department lawyer Sharon Lindgren told them that prisons staff would not discuss Jenkins’ mental health - only a transition plan.

“I was surprised and shocked and very upset,” Davis said.

Nebraska’s prison system has come under intense scrutiny for its handling of the Jenkins case and other high-profile missteps, including prematurely releasing hundreds of inmates whose sentences were miscalculated. Moreland and Davis’s comments came during the latest in a series of legislative hearings to investigate what caused such problems.

Jenkins had a long history of disciplinary problems while incarcerated, and behaved bizarrely while in segregation. State psychologists have said they believed Jenkins had behavioral and not mental health problems - a conclusion strongly disputed by private psychiatrists who were hired to evaluate Jenkins. The dissenting opinion by a private psychiatrist, Dr. Natalie Baker, was ignored by state psychologists and wasn’t shared with a local prosecutor or the state ombudsman’s office.

The ombudsman’s office became involved with Jenkins in 2008, and worked with state Sen. Ernie Chambers of Omaha to try to ensure that Jenkins would receive adequate care.

Davis said he reached out to state corrections officials, including then-director Bob Houston, to talk about mental health treatment options for Jenkins. Davis said he was unaware of Baker’s report when he met with state prison officials in March 2013.

A top prisons deputy, Larry Wayne, later told Davis that he was “tired of us beating up on him about Nikko Jenkins’ mental health,” Davis said.

Moreland said he also met to discuss options for Jenkins and see whether prison officials would let Jenkins into the general population to help with his transition. Wayne expressed concern that Jenkins might kill an inmate or prison worker, Moreland said.

Wayne testified Friday that he wasn’t told that Jenkins had threatened to kill people until after the murders, for which he was convicted this year. But Wayne acknowledged that he never questioned the opinion of the state’s behavioral health administrator, who told him Jenkins was faking mental health problems. Nor did he seek the opinion of Baker, the psychiatrist who disagreed.

Wayne said he knew Jenkins had asked to go to the Lincoln Regional Center, a state psychiatric hospital, but said he believed Jenkins was trying to manipulate officials despite having only six weeks to go.

State Sen. Steve Lathrop, the committee’s chairman, chastised Wayne and other prison officials for ignoring multiple red flags in Jenkins’ case.

“If there’s a failure over there, it’s that some people have tuned (the inmates) out and quit caring,” Lathrop said.

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