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KARE 11 Investigates: A judge ordered him to be held for treatment; he went home instead

Part 3 – “The Gap: Failure to treat, failure to protect” – A mentally ill man ordered to be committed but never treated, kills one man and shoots another on a bus.

Brandon Stahl (KARE11), A.J. Lagoe, Steve Eckert

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Published: 4:19 PM CDT September 23, 2021
Updated: 4:39 PM CDT October 25, 2021

As he sat toward the back of a Metro Transit bus in February 2020, video shows 26-year-old Malcolm Lessley springing up without warning, pulling a gun tucked under his waist band and shooting a man in the face. 

Before anyone else on the bus could react, Lessley fired another bullet through the neck and head of 51-year-old Tommie McCoy.

The first victim somehow survived. McCoy collapsed; his life snuffed out in seconds.

A day later, Minneapolis police were still trying to make sense of it.

“Knowing the relationship between the three is going to be crucial to be able to determine the motive behind this,” a police spokesman said at the time.

It would turn out that there was no relationship.

Instead, McCoy died that night following catastrophic breakdowns in Minnesota’s criminal justice and mental health systems that allowed a violent, mentally ill man back on the street without treatment, a KARE 11 investigation has found.

Lessley is a “gap” case – where mentally ill criminal defendants found incompetent to stand trial are released back into the community without the necessary mental health treatment and oversight to protect the public.

KARE 11 has reported on such gap cases over the last two weeks, revealing that those found incompetent to stand trial often went on to commit more severe crimes, including assaults, murders and one of the worst mass shootings in Minnesota history.  

Lessley’s fall through the cracks began in December 2018, a year before the bus shooting. Prosecutors charged him with felony assault with a dangerous weapon after video showed him pointing a gun at a cab driver.

But a judge found him incompetent to stand trial and referred the case for civil commitment. A second judge ruled he “poses a substantial likelihood of causing physical harm” and ordered the state Department of Human Services to treat his mental illness.  

That never happened.

His social workers later told a judge that Lessley went missing, but there is no record anyone tried to find him. Had someone asked his mother, she says she would have told them that he lived with her, waiting to get help that would never come.

Lessley’s mental health spiraled out of control until he finally boarded the bus in February 2020. 

Experts who reviewed Lessley’s case for KARE 11 were baffled by what happened.

“Something really, really fell through the cracks there,” said Lisa Dailey, acting Executive Director of the Treatment Advocacy Center, who reviewed the case files for KARE 11.

Credit: McCoy Family
Sandra Wright-McCoy and her son, Tommie.

The day of the shooting, Tommie McCoy stood toward the back of the bus, waiting at the exit door on a trip to get a housing voucher – the first step for what he hoped would be a better life.

He barely had time to turn his head before Lessley shot him.

McCoy’s family blames, not only Lessley, but those who allowed him to walk free that day.

“There was a young man who had no earthly business being in society,” said McCoy’s cousin, Trahern Pollard. “That’s why my cousin is not here right now.”

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