Purdy mother says mental health resources lacking

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Autistic man being held in Barry County jail as 'only option'

A woman from Purdy is hoping to shed some light on the lack of mental health resources in Barry County after her 18-year-old autistic son has been held in the Barry County jail for nearly two months because there are no other holding options.

Wendy Cairus of Purdy said she finds it appalling that her son, Tyler Cairus, 18, is being held in the county jail because there is no other place for him to him to be held after being arrested on Aug. 20 in Monett.

Tyler, who is being held on a $100,000 cash-only bond, which is too high for Wendy to post, was arrested on charges of attempted statutory sodomy and attempted statutory rape after an incident at Monett Elementary School. He was allegedly standing outside the fence near the playground when he was approached by school staff, telling them and Monett Police he was at the location to take a child, by force if necessary, to take home and perform sexual acts with him.

Wendy Cairus said even if her son is guilty, the crime does not fit the punishment, and the bond amount is set so high to keep anyone from getting him out.

"Ultimately, the punishment does not fit the crime," she said. "It's ludicrous, and I think they, [the county prosector], know that."

Johnnie Cox, Barry County prosecutor, said Cairus is scheduled to be transported to the Deartment of Mental Health facility in Fulton to undergo six months of evaluations to determine if he is fit to stand trial, but in the meantime, the county jail is the only place he can be housed.

"We're waiting for an opening for him and it will take at least six months for a competency restoration," he said. "[Tyler] appeared to be, and based on his statement of intent, to want to do something to children at the school, and that required a high bond to maintain public safety.

"There's no other secure facility for us to hold him in until we see what happens at the Department of Mental Health, and I can't foresee holding him in any other place than a secure facility like the jail."

Cairus said her son is being held in the county jail in a smock and loin cloth for suicide-prevention purposes, and she said he has attempted suicide in the past. However, his holding is taking a toll on him, as since he has autism, he does not have the coping skills necessary to stay calm in such a situation he may not fully understand.

"He has zero coping skills for something like that, and jail staff need to be better-trained to handle those kinds of situations," she said. "There has got to be reform, and I wouldn't say that just because it's my child, but because the statistics and rates of autism are alarming."

Mick Epperly, Barry County sheriff, said jail administrators deal with about 10-12 cases per month where individuals with mental health issues are arrested and held in the jail, and training handling such cases is tough to come by.

"Jail administrators have not had training like that," he said. "We've looked into stuff, but we have to get to places where there are training sessions for dealing with those with mental health cases."

Epperly said such cases are tough to handle because of funding cuts on the state level.

"Mental health cases are harder to deal with because the Department of Mental Health has been cut back so much over the last few years, and we hope they get put back on track," he said. "The jail is not designed for mental patients, so we are trying to process [Tyler] as quickly as possible to get him moved elsewhere.

"We don't have a good way of housing someone who may harm others or harm themselves. We have no padded rooms, so there's no special treatment except to watch them closer."

Cairus said one thing that scares her is the medication her son is taking in the jail, and the medication he was put on just prior to being arrested.

According to Cairus, Tyler had not been on any medication for the past eight years, but only four days before being arrested, Tyler's caseworker took him to a doctor who prescribed him Prozac, an antidepressant, and Seraquil, which is used to treat symptoms of schizophrenia, bipolar disorder and major depressive disorder.

"Right away, he began complaining about being dizzy and not functioning normally," she said. "The doctor said it couldn't be the medications, but he started these meds only four days before [his arrest]."

Cairus said since being arrested and placed in jail, he has been placed on three different medications. Hours after his arrest, he was transported to Cox North in Springfield to be evaluated, where Cairus said he was taken off the Prozac and Seraquil and put on Invega, an antipsychotic medication used to treat schizophrenia.

"He was brought to the jail and took that for a few days, but told them he didn't like how it made him feel, so another doctor prescribed him two different kinds of medications, and I do not know what they are and he does not have the capacity to tell me," she said.

Epperly said jail staff have kept Cairus informed of the medication changes while Tyler has been in jail.

"I just can't even begin to tell you how maddening it is, especially because I'm a control freak when it comes to Tyler and keeping his environment, his food and his meds a certain way so there's no meltdown.

I've lost all control, and that's cruel and unusual punishment to me as a mother, and there's no medication that can treat autism."

Cairus said her son has in the past said awful things and even threatened her life, but he has never followed through on any threats and is usually craving attention.

"I want to pull out all the good, but I want to be honest," she said. "He craves attention and love because he does not always get that kind of positive attention. He wants in the worst way to be a mechanic, and he can't understand why he can't go to mechanic school.

"He has all of the grandiose ideas without a way to reach them, and he still loves to play with his tractors, cars, and of course, video games. It's harder for him to be successful and happy because he's socially awkward, and he sometimes does bad stuff because in his mind, negative attention is just as good as positive attention."

Cairus said on bad days, it's tough for him to follow any directions, and he can have explosive behaviors.

"He's told me several times he will cut my head off, so in my eyes, I don't want to be naive that something like that couldn't happen, but nothing close to that has happened yet."

Cairus said she hopes her son's situation will open the public's eyes to the lack of resources in Barry County when it comes to dealing with those who may be mentally incapacitated.

"First, he needs to be out of the jail," she said. "And, second, there needs to be absolute reform with the police and the jail. Mental illness is a big issue and there's no facility for him. I have seen the ball drop too many times with these situations."

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