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Prison-like home in Baraboo leaves police, lawmakers with questions

Published On: Jul 23 2013 06:38:37 AM CDT
Updated On: Jul 23 2013 08:00:07 AM CDT

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Baraboo facility

BARABOO, Wis. -

A man's violent past -- and present -- have police and state lawmakers questioning how he's allowed to live in the middle of a Baraboo neighborhood.

The mentally disabled man, which WISC-TV is not naming to protect his medical privacy, moved in February into a single-family home that a state sub-contractor retrofitted to be a prison-like facility.

"You could imagine our shock when we found out this was in our jurisdiction," Baraboo Police Lt. Rob Sinden said.

The sub-contractor, Dungarvin Wisconsin LLC, doesn't have a license to operate the facility at 616 Sauk Avenue -- but state law doesn't require it to have one. Police and state lawmakers questioned why a license isn't needed.

Dungarvin voluntarily gave up a license in January, which it received in 2010 to operate an adult family home at that location, according to records provided by the state Department of Health Services.

"Licenses are issued for specific types of programs," said Julie Josephitis, a Dungarvin director, in an emailed statement. "It was formerly a licensed adult family home. It no longer is used for that purpose."

Josephitis declined an on-camera interview.

The Sauk Avenue home's owner is Robert Lindahl. An Internet search revealed the Minneapolis realtor is also a Dungarvin employee.

Court records obtained by WISC-TV reveal the man housed inside the facility has a violent past in Waushara County. Authorities charged him in 2008 with attempted strangulation, but a judge decided he was incompetent for trial.

The state took custody of the man, then turned him over through the contractor system.

Dungarvin brought him to its Sauk Avenue facility in February, where police say he has continued his violence.

"This client has sent no fewer than 10 people to the hospital," Sinden said. "I can't believe that, in all those altercations, he hasn't been injured in some way."

Sinden said Baraboo police have forwarded the cases to the Sauk County District Attorney's office, which has declined to pursue them because the man had previously been ruled incompetent for trial.

The district attorney did not return a phone call seeking comment Monday.

Meanwhile, concerns about the man's past have neighbors on Baraboo's south side worried for their kids' safety.

"I pretty much freaked out," said Melissa Angle, who didn’t find out about the living situation near her home for three months. "If they're going to keep that kind of facility there, I can't have my children growing up in an unsafe place."

Angle said another neighbor now refuses to allow her child to play outside, concerned the man could overpower the four people paid to guard him around the clock at the home and escape.

Sen. Jon Erpenbach, D-Middleton, said Baraboo city leaders asked him for help. For months, he's been asking the state Health Services department for its contract for the man's care, with little response.

“If there needs to be a legislative resolve to this, that’s fine, but we can’t begin to go down that path until we get some answers to some questions,” Erpenbach said.

Neither the state nor the company would say how much money Sauk County and Wisconsin taxpayers are providing for the man's care.

But a lawsuit filed against the former manager of the facility indicates Dungarvin would stand to lose a $3,500 a day contract if the man's living situation changed.

Sinden said Dungarvin recently applied for a city permit to build a fence outside the home to help integrate the man back into society outside the home.

Sinden said the fence would need to comply with a city ordinance and wouldn't be nearly enough to keep the man from escaping.

Dungarvin's Josephitis declined to comment about the company's plans, but the fence idea has neighbors concerned.

"It's horrifying, and there's nothing you can do about it," Angle said.

Josephitis denied that the company was putting the community in danger.

"We disagree with the comments made," she said in a statement. "Dungarvin provides services to all people we support according to plans developed by a team of professionals."

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