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KARE 11 Investigates: Accused sexual predator, severely mentally ill, lost (UPDATED)

The courts and his social workers lost a severely mentally ill man charged in two sexual assaults. KARE 11 found him living on the streets

MINNEAPOLIS — UPDATE: Two hours after KARE's story aired, Isse was taken into custody and booked into the Hennepin County jail, records show. His first court appearance has been scheduled for today at 1:30. 

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At 1:30 p.m. on Tuesday, Omar Isse was supposed to be in Hennepin County court to determine if he was mentally fit to stand trial on charges that he raped an unconscious woman on a public picnic bench last year.

But the 30-year-old Isse didn’t show, and no one at the virtual hearing had any idea of how to find him. Not the prosecutor or his defense attorney, who said he contacted Isse’s mental health case manager, but kept getting out-of-office responses to his email.

Hennepin County Judge Lisa Janzen, who was presiding over the case, noted that Isse had been committed to the Department of Human Services for mental health treatment following the rape charge.

But Janzen said the week earlier she got a letter from DHS, notifying her the agency had released him, and his whereabouts were unknown.

Citing public safety, Janzen issued a warrant for his arrest.

“I don’t think there’s any doubt that he’s a safety risk to both himself and others,” said civil attorney Mark Gray, who has represented Isse for over a decade as he’s worked to get him mental health treatment.

“He’s a ticking time bomb,” Gray said.

Attempting to interview Isse for a story, KARE 11 found him living in a south Minneapolis homeless shelter. At the same time as his court hearing, Isse casually walked from the shelter into a nearby Somali mall – one that a judge had previously ordered him to never go into.

Isse is another in a long list of what’s known as “gap cases” uncovered by KARE 11, where suspects charged with crimes and found incompetent to stand trial fall into gaps in state laws, which see them released back into the community without appropriate mental health treatment or supervision.

KARE 11 has identified dozens of cases where those suspects have gone on to be charged with more crimes, including at least four cases of incompetent defendants accused of murder, one of which was a mass shooting.

Isse’s history of severe mental illness, violence and involvement in the courts stretches back more than a decade. Judges have repeatedly found him too mentally ill to stand trial for assaults and armed robbery charges. 

Again and again, judges have ordered Isse committed to the Department of Human Services for treatment, saying he’s a danger to himself or others. Yet both DHS and the courts have continually released Isse back into the community, where he’s been charged with more crimes and left a trail of suffering in his wake.

Many of Isse’s releases followed a December 2018 policy change made by DHS pertaining to all incompetent defendants like him. Citing a shortage of hospital beds, DHS began releasing mentally ill patients – called provisional discharges – back to the community when the agency deemed that they no longer needed hospital care, even if they were still incompetent to stand trial.

In his most recent case, Isse had been committed to DHS following the 2020 rape charge, but was released late in August. About two weeks later, on Sept. 9, police were called to a Fridley group home after a staff member said he suddenly attempted to rape her in a living room.

Charged with fifth-degree sexual assault in that case, the next day Isse went before an Anoka County judge, who ordered him released with no bail required. He also issued Isse an order saying he couldn’t go back to the group home – where, in theory, he was still living.

“It renders him basically homeless,” Gray said.

Although his civil commitment remains in effect, no one seems to have been tracking him.

Since then, Isse failed to show at two other court hearings in Anoka. That prompted a judge to issue a warrant for his arrest Monday this week.

Isse also failed to show up at two Hennepin County court hearings, including the one Tuesday, which prompted Judge Janzen to issue another arrest warrant.

Isse declined to speak with KARE 11 when we approached him this week.

KARE 11 asked DHS, Anoka County, Hennepin County Social Services and the Hennepin County Attorney and Sheriff’s Offices for comment on what, if anything, they are doing try to find Isse.

A spokesperson for DHS said the agency cannot comment on a specific case.

Wade Kish, the criminal division chief for the Anoka County Attorney, told KARE 11 the county currently has 2,800 active warrants, making it impractical for the Sheriff’s Office to actively search for everyone with a warrant.

A Hennepin County spokeswoman said case managers, who would have been responsible for monitoring Isse, “defer to law enforcement to locate and arrest individuals with warrants.”

Hennepin County Attorney Mike Freeman said it is law enforcement’s job to make arrests and follow-up on warrants.

The Hennepin County Sheriff’s Office has not responded.