Carrollton’s police chief has been held in contempt of court for his role in the removal of a mentally ill man from jail and the man’s banishment to Florida in April 2015.
Rather than jail Michael Willhoite, as she once threatened to do, District Judge Karen Thomas directed him to “create a collaborative” to “address the care and treatment of the mentally ill” in Carroll County, according to a court order entered Monday.
Willhoite and Officer Ron Dickow were the focus of a May 2015 series from the Kentucky Center for Investigative Reporting. (Read “Police in Kentucky Town Ship Mentally Ill Man to Florida, Defying Judge’s Order“)
Dickow removed inmate Adam Horine from the county jail in the middle of the night, drove him to Louisville and put him on a bus to Florida.
Willhoite and Dickow were charged with contempt for allegedly violating District Judge Elizabeth Chandler’s order that Horine be taken to Eastern State Hospital in Lexington for psychiatric care. Thomas, of Campbell County, presided over the contempt case after Chandler stepped aside.
In her order, Thomas said Dickow’s actions reflected a “horrendous mistake at best and negligence and a serious lack of judgment at the very least.”
But that did not amount to contempt of court, Thomas ruled.
Once Willhoite learned of Chandler’s order, however, he did nothing to address the problem caused by Horine’s banishment, Thomas found. And that, she said, constituted contempt of court.
Willhoite declined to comment on the judge’s decision. Dickow could not be reached for comment.
Last March, a Carroll County jury found Willhoite and Dickow not guilty of criminal charges stemming from Horine’s banishment.
Thomas’ order provides few details about what Willhoite is to do, or how, except that the collaborative he’s supposed to create would include representatives of various public offices and agencies in the city and county.
During a hearing in the contempt case last October, Thomas said she wanted Willhoite “to make sure that what Carrollton isn’t remembered for is shipping a guy off to Florida that’s mentally ill. I want the city and the people of this city to be remembered for the good people that they are.”
Mental-health issues are a community problem that “needs to find a community solution,” Thomas said.
If Willhoite is able to create a “meaningful and productive collaborative,” or even if he makes a good-faith effort but doesn’t succeed, the contempt case will be dismissed, Thomas said in her order.
But if Willhoite’s attempt doesn’t satisfy her, Thomas said, she will sentence him to 179 days in jail. The judge scheduled a hearing for June 14 to review Willhoite’s progress.
R.G. Dunlop can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (502) 814.6533.