Cleveland Co woman calls WBTV for help after mentally ill cousin goes without treatment

SHELBY, NC (WBTV) - Melody McGuire called the WBTV tip line in April out of fear and frustration.

Her cousin, Patrick Hunt, suffers from schizophrenia. He hasn't regularly taken his medication for more than a year.

In that same time, McGuire said, he's been in and out of jail.

Police records confirm Hunt has been arrested multiple times over the past year and dozens of times over the past decade, including once when he escaped from a hospital, stole an ambulance and led police on a high-speed chase.

McGuire said the symptoms of his illness really started after his mother died.

"Everything with his mother's death, losing her house, car and everything," McGuire explained. In fact, his mother's old house is where Hunt crashed the ambulance.

More recently, police records show, Hunt has been arrested for standing in the middle of the street and yelling threats and profanity and, on other recent occasions, for calling 911 repeatedly and harassing the emergency operators.

McGuire said this wouldn't happen if she could get her cousin to take his medication.

"He refused to take it, you know, he was throwing away the pills," she said. "He pretty much got out of hand."

She said mental health facilities have told her he doesn't qualify to be involuntarily committed, either, because he cannot be determined to be a danger to himself or others.

But that's exactly what McGuire fears may happen: that her cousin, who she's known like a brother since childhood, may end up hurting someone else.

"It's just so heartbreaking that the family has to go through something like this," McGuire said through tears. "Unless you live with a mentally insane person, it takes a part of your life. I mean, you can't even have a normal lifestyle."

For now, McGuire said the best place for Hunt is to be in jail. He was arrested in early May on charges related to a series of harassing phone calls he made to 911.

Cleveland County Sheriff Alan Norman said stories like Hunt's are all too common in his jail.

"You'll see eight to ten percent that are mentally ill," Norman said of the average daily inmate population in the Cleveland County Jail.

"I'll just put it bluntly: local jails are becoming a depository or dumping ground for the mentally ill," Norman said.

Norman said his staff is not equipped to treat mental illness and his facility can't even get medication necessary to service the mentally ill inmates. Instead, he said, his office is exploring ways to partner with a mental health treatment agency to provide additional mental healthcare to the inmates.

"Jails are made for detention; to be held inside a detention center awaiting a hearing in a court of law. It's not a mental health holding facility," Norman said. "But that's what we've become across the state."

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