A developmentally disabled man accused of battering one of his caretakers and destroying property during a violent rampage may need to be evaluated in an inpatient setting to determine whether he’s competent to stand trial.
In court Tuesday, a Sauk County judge ruled that a hearing is necessary to determine whether such an evaluation is the appropriate course of action in the case of 31-year-old Jeremy R. Felix.
Felix is facing charges of aggravated battery, criminal damage to property and disorderly conduct in relation to a Dec. 17 incident at his rural Reedsburg home, a locked facility operated by Dungarvin Wisconsin.
The company receives state funds to care for Felix under Wisconsin’s Family Care program.
Since prosecutors charged him in January, Felix has been moved to a Milwaukee group home operated by the same company, and has undergone a competency examination by Madison-based psychologist Kent Berney.
Berney’s report, which was provided to the judge in mid-August, has not been made public.
However, during Tuesday’s court proceedings Sauk County Assistant District Attorney Dennis Ryan said Berney’s report suggested that an inpatient evaluation may help him conclude whether Felix is competent.
Ryan recommended the court schedule a hearing during which attorneys for the prosecution and defense can question the doctor about the potential efficacy of an inpatient evaluation.
Defense attorney David Susens of Baraboo agreed the law allows for such an evaluation. Although that may benefit his client’s case, Susens said, it may not be good for him to be placed in an inpatient setting.
“I’m not quite sure that it is — more holistically speaking — in Mr. Felix’s interest in terms of his health and well-being to be placed in that situation,” Susens said, agreeing that a hearing is needed to determine the next step.
Sauk County Circuit Court Judge Michael Screnock scheduled a hearing for Sept. 28.
Staff from the Milwaukee facility accompanied Felix to the Sauk County courthouse and sat in the gallery during Tuesday’s hearing.
Felix, a tall and heavy-set man with a bald head, sat quietly alongside his attorney wearing glasses, a white T-shirt and gray sweatpants.
At one point, he cocked his head to one side, pushed up on his chin and loudly cracked his neck before repeating the same thing on the other side.
“That’s quite a crack,” Susens said quietly to his client, prompting a smile from Felix and chuckles from the Dungarvin staff in the gallery.
The criminal complaint against Felix alleges that he became angry with a Dungarvin employee and repeatedly threatened to kill her as she ran into an office and locked the door.
Prosecutors allege he punched a hole through the door, grabbed the employee by the hair, and pulled her through the door. Other caretakers restrained Felix while the employee hid, the complaint states, but he then continued searching for her until she escaped the facility.
Felix has a history of violence against his caretakers dating back to 2010, when he was convicted of assaulting and strangling staff at a Wood County mental institution. Later that same year, Lake Delton officers tased him at a water park after he became violent during a group outing.
Felix is enrolled in Wisconsin’s Family Care program, and the state agency that administers that program has allowed him to be placed in a community setting rather than an institution. That decision became controversial after reports of violent incidents against caretakers became public.
In 2013, the Baraboo News Republic obtained police reports showing Felix allegedly had injured at least nine Dungarvin employees while housed in a locked facility – which from the outside looked like an ordinary home – in the city of Baraboo.
Two Democratic state lawmakers asked the Wisconsin Department of Health Services to review Felix’s placement in a community setting.
DHS hired a nonprofit agency to review the matter, and later released a report that praised Dungarvin. The report concluded the company had adequately considered safety, supported patients and staff, and maintained communication with community stakeholders.
In January 2014, a federal agency released a report that conflicted with the state’s findings. The U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration determined Dungarvin employees had been subjected to “hazardous conditions associated with workplace violence,” and recommended safety improvements.
Dungarvin later proposed moving Felix to a rural home outside Reedsburg in the town of Winfield. The move was approved, despite safety concerns raised by town officials and residents.
In April 2016, Felix escaped from the home, prompting a manhunt. He was captured without incident.