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Family tells its side of ER assault case

The family of a man who assaulted an emergency room doctor in Detroit Lakes says they're sorry that he was hurt, but they wish the hospital had handled things differently prior to the assault.

And they wish that the newspaper would have handled things differently afterwards.

Val Rusness said her brother, Greg Rusness, has been struggling with a diagnosis of paranoid schizophrenia since he was 17 years old. He is now 46.

Greg assaulted emergency room doctor Mark Lindquist shortly before noon on Saturday, March 5.

Lindquist said he was knocked unconscious and suffered a concussion, a broken rib, cuts, abrasions and bruises in the attack, which was ended by a quick police response.

Rusness appeared in Becker County District Court last month and was committed for up to six months to the Anoka-Metro Regional Treatment Center.

Val Rusness met with a reporter recently to tell the family's side of the story. Greg's family was unhappy with Detroit Lakes Newspapers for printing his name and treating the incident like a criminal case instead of a health-related case.

"We feel the newspaper should not have published his name," she said. "He's a good guy -- I know it's hard for people to think that after all this, but he really is," she said.

"Being mentally ill is an illness," she added.

"Nobody chooses to be that way ... He's been this way for 30 years, it's not new to us," she said. "The story makes it sound like he was just diagnosed."

(The newspaper chose to run his name mainly because it was a high-profile case that was resolved in Becker County District Court.)

Val said her brother went into the emergency room that day to ask that he be sent to a facility for mental illness treatment.

Val, Greg and their mother, Phyllis Beckman, went to the ER together, arriving before 9 a.m. The assault happened just before noon.

Things didn't go well during that three-hour wait, in which the hospital put calls out looking for a facility that could accept Greg.

The family was waiting in a patient room inside the ER.

"I was there the whole time," Val said. "I saw it escalate. Greg started pacing and just came out of the room quite upset ... It was nothing against he doctor, it was just somebody he saw..."

The doctor grabbed mace and tried to spray that to defend himself, but it didn't work, Val said.

"If you've got somebody with that much adrenaline going, at that point mace doesn't affect them," she said.

While admitting that hindsight is 20-20, Val said the family wishes the hospital had given Greg medicine to calm him down during the wait.

That's what the emergency room did at the Fergus Falls hospital several weeks prior to the incident in Detroit Lakes.

Greg had gone off his medications and had been taken by another sister, Colette Murphy, to the emergency room at the hospital in Fergus Falls.

"They admitted him and gave him something to sedate him. He relaxed, lay down and started falling asleep," Val said.

She said neither she nor her mother asked ER personnel in Detroit Lakes to sedate their brother, but Val believes the medical experts at the hospital should have made that call.

At one point Val went to McDonald's restaurant and brought back some food for Greg, but he was too wound up to eat.

Val said she was taken by surprise by the assault, since she had never seen her brother act out in that way before.

"I honestly have never seen Greg to the point where he was at the hospital that day," she said. "He gets kind of fidgety and agitated, but he has never hurt somebody like he did that day."

After about two hours of waiting in the ER, Val said the family had decided to drive Greg themselves to Prairie St. John's, a mental health care facility in Fargo.

But hospital staff in Detroit Lakes said the family could not take Greg away -- he had been placed on a 72-hour emergency hold and was now in the care of Essentia Health St. Mary's.

"He was put on a 72-hour-hold -- that means the doctor determined he was a danger to himself or others," Val said. "At that point I couldn't do anything. We couldn't take him away. If they would have given him something to calm him down, or something to eat, it would have helped. He would have been committed anyway. That's what we went in there for -- but the assault added to it."

Tom Thompson, CEO of Essential St. Mary's, said the hospital would not comment on the matter out of respect for the patient's privacy.

Greg ended up in the Detroit Lakes ER that day after what appears to have been a failed session at the Fergus Falls Regional Treatment Center.

In general, Greg has done well as long as he stays on his medications, Val said.

He lives on his own in Detroit Lakes, in a house near his mother's house, and has worked at a variety of jobs.

Employers love him for his work ethic, but he gets down on himself for not doing more, and his illness has gotten in the way of long-term employment, Val said.

Greg has long struggled with accepting his diagnosis, and felt that taking medication set him apart and made him "different" from other people.

In fact, both Val and her mother were surprised when Greg told the doctor when they first got to the ER in Detroit Lakes that "I'm paranoid schizophrenic and I need help -- I don't want to hurt no one," Val said.

Prior to the ER assault in Detroit Lakes, Greg went off his medication and spent two weeks at the Regional Treatment Center Fergus Falls. There they "changed all his meds and didn't do real close monitoring of his new medications," Val said. "I don't know why (the meds were changed), his old meds worked fine as long as he took them."

Greg had been home from Fergus Falls only a day or two when he went to his mother's house at about 3 a.m. or 4 a.m., seeking help. His sister Colette, who normally helps their mom take care of Greg, did not have a car available, so Val went over to help as soon as she got the word. They all went to the ER together, arriving sometime before 9 a.m., Val said.

Greg was immediately remorseful after the ER assault, and wanted to apologize to Dr. Lindquist, but never had the opportunity.

"After it (the assault) happened, they did sedate him. We had some wonderful police officers there," Val said, mentioning Detroit Lakes police officers Eric Bergren and Gary Kuhn in particular.

"They stayed with him until 3 p.m.," she said. "He didn't leave the hospital until then. They really helped keep him calm."

Greg has never been in the Anoka facility before, but he is doing well there. He was committed for up to six months, with a possible one-year extension, but the family expects he will be home before the six months is up.

Val emphasized that no criminal charges will be filed against Greg in the case.

"We do feel quite bad about what happened," she added. "I wish there was more out there on the mentally ill. The ER's solution is to change their security procedures. Why not change the way they deal with the mentally ill?

"To just stick them in a room and wait and wait and wait ... I wish it could have gone better for everyone. We sure didn't want to see any body get hurt."