INVESTIGATORS: Clerk killer diagnosed, not helped - KMSP-TV

INVESTIGATORS: Clerk killer diagnosed, not helped

Posted: Updated:

The Michael Swanson people remember is laughing at the news photographer who tripped taking his picture, and it was chilling to see a 17-year-old boy arrested on murder charges acting so giddy.

"These families in Iowa deserved better," Kathy Swanson, Michael's mother, told the Fox 9 Investigators. "We deserved better. Michael deserved better. Nobody deserved this."

In November 2010, Michael Swanson stole a car, some guns and ran away from his parents. After leaving the Twin Cities, he robbed two convenience stores in Iowa. At each one, he shot a clerk in the face. Both died.

"I don't know if you ever get over it," Kathy Swanson said.

Kathy Swanson says it was a "completely preventable tragedy."

"What I want to happen is: I want the truth to come out," she said. "I think it's important for people to know what really happened."

Weeks before Michael Swanson went on his killing spree, a psychiatrist wrote the following warning:

"I am concerned he poses a risk to society if un-medicated, and even if medicated, he is still somewhat unpredictable."

The Fox 9 Investigators began reviewing the police interview of Michael Swanson, which took place just hours after the killings. When an officer asked Swanson when he slept last, the teen replied, "Four days ago. Sometimes I can't sleep at all."

Michael Swanson also told the detective he'd been hallucinating.

"I'd be driving and I'd just keep looking out the window," he said. "I thought there was somebody there."

When asked if he'd ever hallucinated before, the teen said, "It happens when I don't sleep."

The inability to sleep for long periods of time can be a symptom for someone living with bipolar disorder, a mental illness that causes dramatic and sometimes explosive shifts in a person's mood and energy level.

During the interview with Michael Swanson, police asked if he was taking any medication -- and he shook his head. When asked if he had been diagnosed as bipolar by a doctor, Michael Swanson replied, "Yes."

Swanson told police he was diagnosed about a month before his arrest, and said there were talks about giving him medication; however, he added, "They don't want to make the jump right now."

A month earlier, Swanson was confined to the Hennepin County Home School, a correctional center for troubled teens. It was his last stop after years of disturbing behaviors that made him a familiar face in the juvenile justice system.

"There's like two Mikes," Kathy Swanson said. "There's my Mike, who's this nice, well-behaved young man -- and then there's this other who you just don't know what he's going to do."

There was a period just before Michael Swanson went to the Hennepin County Home School when his mother would sleep with a stick because she feared the "other Mike" might attack her in her sleep.

"We, at times, would find hammers, wrenches, knives in the house where we would wonder, 'Is this kid thinking about killing us?'" she recalled.

In fact, Michael Swanson had previously admitted to having thoughts of killing his mother and his aunt. The family tried getting him help, and although he'd be hospitalized for a time, their insurance ran out and he was released.

"We didn't know what was going on with him," Kathy Swanson said.

In the summer of 2010, a judge ordered Michael Swanson to spend up to 120 days at the Hennepin County Home School. It was punishment for stealing a car and causing a hit-and-run crash while drunk.

Records show Michael Swanson behaved himself at the school and was scheduled to get out early until staff found some bizarre writings in his room.

"All about death and violence and darkness and blood," Kathy Swanson said of her son's writings.

The teen claimed they were just lyrics from rap music, but the staff was so concerned they ordered a psychiatric evaluation.

"To be just writing and writing this weird crap tells you he was in a very weird state," Kathy Swanson said.

Dr. Jonathan Jensen, from the University of Minnesota, was under contract to provide psychiatric services for the school. Jensen summarized the evaluation findings in a report that was not shown the family until after Michael Swanson committed murder.

Jensen diagnosed Michael Swanson with bipolar affective disorder, and said treatment with the drug Abilify might help prevent future mood swings. Jensen even wrote, "There's a real concern about his use of force."

"It would seem to me that likelihood of his repeating the theft of guns, robbery of people is probable and that without anti-psychotic medication, he may carry out these behaviors," Jensen found.

Three weeks after the evaluation, Jensen met with the Swansons and social worker Dan Lehnherr at the Hennepin County Home School. It was the Swansons' belief that the purpose of the meeting was to discuss their son's diagnosis, get him started on medication and figure out a treatment plan. Notes from Lehnherr indicate he had similar expectations, but the Swansons say -- to their surprise -- Jensen did none of that.

"He told me, 'I can't talk about the evaluation. I didn't do the evaluation,'" Kathy Swanson said.

According to the Swansons, Jensen said he couldn't prescribe medication for Michael Swanson because he didn't know anything about him. What he did do was recommend the teen be enrolled in a research clinic at the University of Minnesota.

The Swansons have made the same claims in sworn depositions taken when they were sued by the families of the shooting victims.

"He did not want to answer any of our questions," Kathy Swanson said.

After the meeting, Michael Swanson was released to move back home with his parents. There was no prescription, no medicine for him to take. The family made an appointment at the university's clinic the next day, but it would be 6 weeks before he could be seen.

Twelve days after leaving the Hennepin County Home School and while his parents were sleeping, Michael Swanson stole his mother's Jeep and took off.

The first time the Swanson family saw Jensen's report was 4 months later when the teen's lawyer got a copy for the upcoming trial. It wasn't until then, they say, that they were aware Jensen was concerned their son was a "risk to society if un-medicated."

"I couldn't believe it," Kathy Swanson told the Fox 9 Investigators. "How do you write that and, in that meeting, tell me you don't know anything about that kid? You don't know anything about him, but you can write that and you let us take him home knowing we're afraid of him -- knowing this."

Was Jensen obligated to tell them his concerns?

"There'd be no reason not to share that," Dr. Rodney Reid, a former staff psychiatrist with the juvenile justice mental health program in Los Angeles, Calif. "It does seem appropriate that, if you had that level of concern about a child being a danger and their danger of not being on medication, that -- at a minimum -- you would communicate that with the parents."

Why didn't Jensen tell his concerns to the Swansons? Why didn't he write a prescription right after the evaluation? Remember, Michael Swanson remained in the home school for another three weeks prior to being released. Why did he want him enrolled in a research clinic at the university?

"I believe his role was to recruit patients for clinical trials," Kathy Swanson said.

Kathy Swanson put that accusation in writing and sent it to the Hennepin County Attorney's Office to ask for an investigation. She got a response that the alleged conduct does not appear to violate any felony law.

The U of M told the Fox 9 Investigators that there were no trials at the time that Michael Swanson would have been eligible for, and a colleague of Jensen said the clinic was not seeking Swanson for a drug study. Instead, the colleague claims he was being offered follow-up care.

Michael Swanson and his parents signed a release allowing Jensen to discuss the case with the Fox 9 Investigators; however, he replied with an e-mail that said, "I will not talk with you." After following up with a list of questions and asking him to respond in writing, a one-word answer -- "No." -- was returned.

"I think the doctor should go to prison," Mary Weiss, an outspoken critic of the University of Minnesota's Department of Psychiatry, said. "I mean, her son is as good as dead to her."

Weiss sued the university after her mentally-ill adult son killed himself while enrolled in a drug study there. She claimed doctors coerced her son into the study and then benefited financially. The case was dismissed on the grounds that the university was immune from being sued.

"She's helped me," Kathy Swanson said.

Kathy Swanson reached out to Weiss after her son was arrested, and she sat with her during the murder trial.

"I felt sorry for her," Weiss said. "This wasn't her doing."

Weiss is currently recovering from a second stroke, and Swanson is haunted by a number of unanswered questions.

"Who knew what? What were they doing about it, and what happened?" she asked.

Kathy Swanson asked Fox 9 Investigator Jeff Baillon to review her son's juvenile corrections file.

"I'm hoping there's some notes between Dan Lehnherr and the probation officer," she said. "I have this feeling Dan Lehnherr must have questioned why this kid wasn't taking this med. I questioned this."

She found no answer in the file. Perhaps a meeting with Lehnherr himself could shed some light.

"I'd like him to confirm what happened in that meeting that we had with Jensen," she said.

She knocked on the door and he opened the blinds, looked her straight in the eyes and then closed the blinds without saying a word.

"I just have to feel that has to be driven by a lot of his own guilt. If he had nothing to hide, if he felt like he did everything he could have, he'd talk and be open," she said. "

Michael Swanson is now serving a life sentence for murder. For the first time, he's also being treated for his mental illness and is on multiple medications. A prison official told the Fox 9 Investigators, "He's got a pretty firm grasp on reality. He's pretty stable." The "nice Mike" is the one who calls his parents several times a week to check in.

The Fox 9 Investigators shared the results of the investigation with the families of the two women who were killed by Michael Swanson. The husband of Sheila Myers questioned why the teen was let out of the home school if a doctor was concerned he could be a risk to society without medication and the sister of Vicky Bowman-Hall called the information "troubling."

"I just think there's been a failure somewhere," she said.

Powered by WorldNow

KMSP-TV
11358 Viking Drive
Eden Prairie, MN 55344

Phone: (952) 944-9999
Fax: (952) 942-0455

Didn't find what you were looking for?
All content © Copyright 2000 - 2014 Fox Television Stations, Inc. and Worldnow. All Rights Reserved.
Privacy Policy | Terms of Service | Ad Choices