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KARE 11 Investigates: New law approved to close ‘The GAP’

Gov. Walz signs new law designed to reform how Minnesota treats – and supervises – criminal defendants found mentally incompetent to stand trial

ST PAUL, Minn. — Flanked by mental health advocates, police and prosecutors at a signing ceremony, Governor Tim Walz approved a sweeping reform law that closes gaps in the state’s mental health and criminal justice system exposed in a year-long KARE 11 investigation.   

KARE 11 documented cases in which severely mentally ill patients found incompetent to stand trial for violent crimes were released back into the community without adequate treatment or supervision and went on to commit assaults, rapes and murders.

The new law allocates $16 million per year to launch an entirely new statewide system of competency restoration.  

The reforms are designed to improve treatment – and protect public safety.

“The legislation that we passed with three minutes to go on the last night of the session literally will not only save lives – it will restore lives,” said Rep. Tony Albright, one of the co-sponsors.

On hand at the signing ceremony was Joseph St. James who had challenged lawmakers to take action to close the gaps. His husband Paul Pfeifer was killed one year ago this week by a mentally ill man who’d been released back into the community without adequate treatment and supervision.

“Today is profoundly important,” he said. “There’s just no way that I can put into words the amount of gratitude that I have that we can honor my husband Paul Pfeifer in this manner – and everybody else who’s effected.”

The bipartisan reforms were introduced in response to the KARE 11 investigative series "The Gap: Failure to Treat, Failure to Protect."

The series was prompted by the case of Gregory Ulrich, who carried out a deadly mass shooting at the Buffalo Allina Clinic in Feb. 2021.

KARE 11’s year-long investigation found that there are thousands of cases in Minnesota involving people like Ulrich who were charged with a crime, found incompetent, and had their cases dismissed without court-ordered mental health treatment or oversight.

Prior to the shooting, Ulrich was charged for making threats to kill health care workers at the Buffalo clinic. However, those charges were dropped after Ulrich was found too mentally ill to stand trial. As a result, he went untreated and unsupervised before the shooting – and was legally able to obtain a gun.

Click here to read more about the KARE 11 investigative team's "The Gap" series.

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