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Staskal returned to Mendota

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Eau Claire Leader-Telegram
November 17, 2007
— Less than two weeks after his arrival in Eau Claire created a local outcry, Mark Staskal has been removed from the community.

Staskal, 44, who stabbed his sister to death at his parents’ home in Milton in 1984, is back at the Mendota Mental Health Institute in Madison, an official at the state facility confirmed Friday.


After being found not guilty by reason of mental disease or defect in the murder of his sister at his 1984 trial, Staskal lived for 23 years at Mendota before being placed Nov. 5 at The Bernice & Genevieve Foundation group home at 3806 Woodcrest Court, Eau Claire, as part of a court-approved conditional release plan.


A spokeswoman for the state Department of Health and Family Services, which administers the conditional release program, said Friday she couldn’t discuss Staskal’s case — or anything that may have led to his removal — because of patient confidentiality laws.


“When the court orders a conditional release placement into the community, our first priority is public safety,” DHFS spokeswoman Stephanie Marquis said, adding that the agency continues to monitor how people in the program are doing in the community and makes changes as necessary.


Staskal was returned to Mendota on Thursday. Whether he will remain there, return to Eau Claire or be housed in a group home elsewhere is uncertain.


In the event there is a reason to review a conditional release placement, Marquis said, state law gives DHFS the authority to place an individual in in-patient care. The department then could petition the court to revoke conditional release.


At that point, she said the court has 30 days to hold a hearing to determine if the person should remain in an institution or be returned to the community with all the necessary safeguards in place.


Staskal’s parents, Redgie and Melly Staskal, have opposed their son’s release from Mendota and said they weren’t surprised he was returned there. They were uncertain why their son was sent back to the facility.


“We don’t know what happened for sure, but my thought is he wasn’t ready to be outside of Mendota,” Melly Staskal said. “We feel bad for Mark that this didn’t work out.”


Group home neighbors reacted with a mix of surprise and relief at the news of Staskal’s removal, but also were nervous about his possible return.


Dale Brunner lives at 3920 Woodcrest Court with his adult twin daughters who have cognitive learning disabilities. His daughters trust “total strangers,” Brunner said, and he worried for their safety living next door to Staskal.


“I’m ecstatic,” Brunner said of Staskal’s return to Mendota. “There is a lot of elation in this neighborhood tonight. Now I’m just hoping that it’s permanent.”


Susan Savolainen, who also lives near the group home, said Staskal’s removal from the neighborhood is a sign that public involvement can make a positive difference. Neighbors held a public meeting about Staskal’s placement and urged local and state politicians to review whether the group home can provide adequate services to Staskal.


Last week, state Rep. Jeff Smith, D-Eau Claire, called for a review of the group home and on Tuesday the Eau Claire City Council approved a measure requesting that Gov. Jim Doyle order DHFS to review its decision to locate Staskal here.


“I appreciate the attention our local officials have given to this,” Savolainen said. “Sometimes when you get involved, good things happen.”


Vicki Seltun, an attorney with the Weld, Riley, Prenn & Ricci law firm of Eau Claire who represents group home neighbors opposed to Staskal’s placement in their neighborhood, expressed surprise at the decision.


“I had no idea this was in the works,” she said, “but I’m very happy to hear it.”



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