By Brendan Fischer on February 21, 2014

One of the more disturbing exchanges in recently-unsealed court documents shows callousness among Scott Walker's staff and campaign as they worked to deflect criticism over mismanagement in a county mental health facility.

Emails released this week show that in the months before the 2010 gubernatorial election, Walker, his campaign, and his Milwaukee County Executive staff coordinated regularly on their response to problems at the Milwaukee County Mental Health Complex. A 33-year-old woman dying of complications related to starvation while under the County's care, staff failing to prevent patient-on-patient sexual assaults (including one patient who became pregnant), and other controversies had made the facility a campaign issue.

"We need to continue to keep me out of the story as this is a process issue and not a policy matter," Walker wrote on March 27, 2010, about the sexual assaults.

In an email chain from April, Walker insists that a state legislator issue a statement describing a press conference about problems at the facility as a "political stunt." Walker himself drafts a statement to be issued by Sen. Alberta Darling, and in an apparent effort to sidestep open records laws, wrote: "we need to find a personal email for someone on her staff to get this language (or read it to them over the phone). It should NOT be emailed to her official account." (The Center for Media and Democracy successfully litigated this issue against legislators who tried to avoid disclosure by shifting their correspondence with the American Legislative Exchange Council to a personal account).

"Last week was a nightmare," Rindfleisch wrote in a September 2, 2010 email. "A bad story every day on our looney bin. Doctors having sex with patients, patients getting knocked up. This has been coming for months and I've unofficially been dealing with it. So, it's been crazy (pun intended)."

Woman Dies of Complications from Starvation in Hospital

Cindy Anczak, 33, died of complications related to starvation in 2006 while committed to the Milwaukee County Mental Health Complex for treatment for her bipolar disorder. Anczak passed after losing 22 pounds during her five-week stay at the facility, according to the medical examiners report. Anczak's parents filed a legal complaint in October 2010.

Kelly Rindfleisch, Walker's Deputy Chief of Staff, forwarded the complaint to Walker and campaign staff at 2:21pm on a Friday, during the workday.

"It's not public," she wrote.

"Then we should not make it public," Walker replied.

Anczak, who had previously worked as a pharmacy technician, was admitted to the Milwaukee County Mental Health Complex on July 10, 2006, after she was found incoherent and wandering through a cemetary. On July 25, a County doctor, Karl Strelnick, released her from the facility, despite noting that she was unresponsive, psychotic, and "did not seem to be able to process what to do with the pen" when asked to sign her discharge papers, according to discharge notes. "Anczak was so dazed that she had to be walked out of the hospital door and into the cab that the county called to have her taken away," the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel wrote. "She drove herself back to the complex that evening."

Ten days later, Anczak was dehydrated, psychotic, and wouldn't leave her bed. Strelnick testified in court that Anczak was a danger to herself, so that she could be treated with anti-psychotic medication against her will; hours later, Strelnick attempted to force Anczak's 79-year-old father to take her home, despite her parent's fears that she would jump from the vehicle. Anczak refused to get in the car. "That was the last time we saw her alive," her mother, Jean Anczak, told the Journal Sentinel.

Four days later, Anczak was found unconscious and gasping for air, and was transferred to Froedtert Hospital, where she died days later. She lost 22 pounds during her stay at the facility; experts say doctors should have obtained a court order to ensure she was fed. According to the autopsy, she died of a blood clot that was significantly caused by her starvation and dehydration.

"No One Cares about Crazy People"

Anczak's parents sent the County a legal complaint in October 2010 to initiate settlement negotiations. The family later said they didn't have the resources for a full-fledged lawsuit.

Rindfleisch received the complaint on her county email address, then forwarded it to her personal email, then to campaign staff -- and went on to discuss campaign strategy while being paid by taxpayers in her County Executive job.

"Totally coincidental to the election," replied Walker campaign advisor RJ Johnson, about the timing of the filing.

"Corp council [the County's attorney] wants to offer 50-100k," emailed Rindfleisch.

"Ok - any time after Nov. 2nd would be the time to offer a settlement," replied Keith Gilkes, who headed Walker's campaign.

"Barrett is going to make this the center of his campaign," Rindfleisch wrote in another email.

"yep and he is still going to lose because that is his base," replied Joan Hansen, a County official.

"Yep," Rindfleisch wrote. "No one cares about crazy people."

Photo: "Depressed woman," via Shutterstock.


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A plea to United States citizens to work for peace

An Indian journalist globally renowned as an advocate for the poor, Palagummi Sainath detailed the detrimental...

By Wendell Berry

Manifesto: The Mad Farmer Liberation Front

Love the quick profit, the annual raise,
vacation with pay. Want more 
of everything ready made. Be afraid 
to know your neighbors and to die.
And you will have a window in your head.
Not even your future will be a mystery 
any more. Your mind will be punched in a card 
and shut away in a little drawer.
When they want you to buy something 
they will call you. When they want you
to die for profit they will let you know. 
So, friends, every day do something
that won’t compute. Love the Lord. 
Love the world. Work for nothing. 
Take all that you have and be poor.
Love someone who does not deserve it. 
Denounce the government and embrace 
the flag. Hope to live in that free 
republic for which it stands. 
Give your approval to all you cannot
understand. Praise ignorance, for what man 
has not encountered he has not destroyed.
Ask the questions that have no answers. 
Invest in the millennium. Plant sequoias.
Say that your main crop is the forest
that you did not plant,
that you will not live to harvest.

Say that the leaves are harvested 
when they have rotted into the mold.
Call that profit. Prophesy such returns.
Put your faith in the two inches of humus 
that will build under the trees
every thousand years.
Listen to carrion—put your ear
close, and hear the faint chattering
of the songs that are to come. 
Expect the end of the world. Laugh. 
Laughter is immeasurable. Be joyful
though you have considered all the facts. 
So long as women do not go cheap 
for power, please women more than men.
Ask yourself: Will this satisfy 
a woman satisfied to bear a child?
Will this disturb the sleep 
of a woman near to giving birth? 
Go with your love to the fields.
Lie easy in the shade. Rest your head 
in her lap. Swear allegiance 
to what is nighest your thoughts.
As soon as the generals and the politicos 
can predict the motions of your mind, 
lose it. Leave it as a sign 
to mark the false trail, the way 
you didn’t go. Be like the fox 
who makes more tracks than necessary, 
some in the wrong direction.
Practice resurrection.

Wendell Berry is a poet, farmer, and environmentalist in Kentucky. This poem, first published in 1973, is reprinted by permission of the author and appears in his “New Collected Poems” (Counterpoint).

Public School Shakedown

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