Immigrant suffering from mental illness deported after six-month breakdown in Kansas jail

Annette Yeruski, left, said her husband, Felipe Olvera Argueta, right, returned home Sunday to Mexico after six months in Seward County Jail. Arrested for a now twice-dropped charge and on an ICE hold, Olvera Argueta struggled with hallucinations and a suicide attempt. (Submitted to Kansas Reflector)

TOPEKA — A mentally ill man who spent six months in a Kansas jail after being pulled over for speeding in Texas and arrested on a decade-old dropped charge has been deported to Mexico.

Kansas Reflector last month reported on efforts to free Felipe Olvera Argueta from Seward County Jail in Liberal, where he suffered from hallucinations, severe anxiety, and a suicide attempt and was denied services by a sheriff accused of being racist.

Olvera Argueta reached a plea agreement, which includes a year of parole, and was transferred to Kay County Detention Center in Newkirk, Oklahoma. From there, he was picked up and deported to his hometown in Mexico, where he arrived on Sunday.

“He is full of hope and gratitude to be free,” said Annette Yeruski, his wife, who added that during his time at the Oklahoma facility, her husband’s mental state improved drastically. “What is more revealing is that now over the phone my husband has finally felt free to speak about his treatment over in Seward County Jail.”

Olvera Argueta was transferred to Kansas in October on an expired warrant for a 2010 rape charge that had been dropped. As an unauthorized immigrant who was twice previously deported, he was also being held on a U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement hold.

He was scheduled to be released earlier this year, but after suffering from a mental health breakdown, Olvera Argueta climbed a wall and destroyed some ceiling tiles, resulting in new charges for property damage and attempted escape. A third charge for trying to escape was later filed against him by Sherriff Gene Ward.

As her husband struggled with mental health difficulties, Yeruski pled with authorities to accelerate her husband’s deportation and provide the mental health services he required. She said the sheriff had been abrasive and unresponsive toward attempts to address Olvera Argueta’s health and often demonstrated a racial bias against him.

Ward did not respond to a request for comment.

Yeruski said it took considerable efforts, including the involvement of the Consulate of Mexico in Kansas City, to acquire even a proper mental health evaluation. In exchanges with Ward, Yeruski alleged the sheriff verbally berated her and said her only options were to contact an attorney or to post bail.

Olvera Argueta’s bail was initially set at $100,000, money that would have been lost after he was deported.

In the time spent at a Texas jail, where he was pulled over for speeding, and in Oklahoma, before his deportation, Yeruski said access to her husband and his general disposition were greatly improved. However, at the Seward County facility, phone calls inquiring about her husband often went unreturned for days, and visitation was difficult.

“I went there yesterday to drop off his clothes and found a situation vastly different from that of Seward County Jail,” Yeruski said. “All staff that I dealt with have been kind and respectful. They have been helpful at every turn when I had questions about the deportation process.”

The standard of care required of jail staff should generally prevent any “deliberately indifferent” approach to serious mental health needs, said Sharon Brett, legal director for the American Civil Liberties Union of Kansas. The U.S. Supreme Court held that the Eighth Amendment’s prohibition against cruel and unusual punishment requires the jail to provide this level of care, but the interpretations of the standard provide significant latitude to correctional administrators in what course of treatment they provide.

Brett said there are several roadblocks to proper treatment, including access to medication or practitioners. She said situations like these are not beneficial to the jail environment or the community where individuals are being released, as lack of treatment can lead to recidivism.

“These are our neighbors, and they’re human beings. They often are in the darkest places of their lives when they’re incarcerated, and they need our help,” Brett said. “It creates a dangerous and deeply sad situation for these individuals and for all of us.”

Olvera Argueta is now at his mother’s home in Mexico. Olvera Argueta’s children and Yeruski remain in the United States.