LINCOLN — The prisoner's handwritten letter mentioned self-mutilation and being controlled by some sort of deity. The words were carefully placed to create a geometric shape on the page.
The prisoner: Nikko Jenkins, charged Wednesday with four counts of first-degree murder in connection with four Omaha shootings in a 10-day span.
Sen. Ernie Chambers of Omaha said he thinks he received the letter in 2012, sometime before he was elected to the Nebraska Legislature in November of that year.
Prisoners often turn to Chambers for help when they feel they are being mistreated by prison officials, he said.
But he also talked to a friend or family member of Jenkins who said Jenkins was not receiving mental health treatments in prison. Chambers said he then contacted Bob Houston, who directs the Nebraska Department of Corrections.
“They indicated (Jenkins) had a problem that was behavioral, not psychotic or mental,” Chambers said Thursday. “Instead of getting treatment or counseling, he was put in the hole.”
Corrections spokeswoman Dawn Renee Smith said Thursday that the director was “very aware” of Chambers' concerns about Jenkins. In response, Houston ordered Jenkins moved from the Tecumseh State Prison to the State Penitentiary in Lincoln so his case could be managed by the department's head social worker. The transfer took place four months before Jenkins was released.
She said, by law, she could not discuss Jenkins' prisoner file, which includes his medical history. However, Smith said segregation is not used to separate prisoners with mental illness from the rest of the population. In addition, psychologists are available in all segregation units.
The disclosure that Jenkins wrote to Chambers comes after The World-Herald reported that Jenkins also mailed erratic letters to two Douglas County judges.
And Douglas County Attorney Don Kleine said he and two of his prosecutors received letters from Jenkins in the year before his release. One of Kleine's staff members alerted Tecumseh prison officials and sent the letters to the officials, Kleine said.
Whether prison officials reviewed the contents of the letters or not, corrections officials would have been aware of at least portions of Jenkins' ramblings. Some of his writings — including declarations that he acts with “animalistic savage brutality” — were written on the outside of the envelopes he sent from prison.
“This man not only cried out for help, he asked for it,” Chambers said. “He knew that he had problems and said so.”
The senator said if Jenkins represented a danger to himself or others at the time of his recent prison discharge, he should been considered for a mental health commitment rather than being released into the community.
As to whether authorities could have sought to civilly commit Jenkins, Kleine said, such an action typically originates in the county where the prisoner resides — in this case, Johnson County.
At least one Lincoln Regional Center psychiatrist cast doubts on Jenkins' claims of mental illness. In July 2010, Dr. Scott Moore evaluated Jenkins and said he suspected that Jenkins may be making up the idea that he was hearing voices.
“I think that the possibility of a psychotic illness is present, but I do not think that it is a very good possibility,” Moore wrote. “The descriptions that Mr. Jenkins gives me of his psychotic symptoms appear to be to be thought out and probably acquired from someone else.
“When I did not instantly accept his description of the symptoms, he began to add to them.”
Moore concluded with his “major diagnosis” for Jenkins — that he was antisocial.