Doctor Spending Nearly Eight Years in Prison Without a Trial

Published April 1, 2005

“I want to go to trial on Monday; I’ve been locked up for nearly eight years,” Dr. Tom Sell declared. “The federal court has no evidence, they have no witnesses. I want my trial one week from today. I am not incompetent in any way, shape, or form.”

Sell’s statements rang true to bystanders attending his hearing on November 22, 2004 in the federal courthouse in St. Louis, Missouri.

Once a successful dentist in St. Louis County who treated many indigent patients, Sell was accused of Medicaid fraud in 1997. Although he has never hurt anyone and a federal court held he poses no danger to those around him, prison officials frequently placed him in debilitating solitary confinement for periods that totaled nearly two years.

Doctor Forcibly Drugged

Prison officials tried to drug Sell, allegedly to make him fit for trial, and the lower courts ruled in favor of mandatory drugging of this non-convicted, non-dangerous, non-violent prisoner.

The federal government fought all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court for the power to forcibly drug Sell and, even though it lost its case there, the government continued to imprison and prevent him from receiving proper medical care.

The forced medication was designed to correct Sell’s attitude toward the government. Sell seemed to think the government was out to get him, and the government wanted to drug him to get him to change his mind.

Mental Competence Questioned

Earlier this year, a government psychologist declared Sell was mentally fit to stand trial. Apparently that medical opinion was not satisfactory to someone, for to everyone’s surprise the government psychologist reversed his diagnosis without reexamining him, declaring Sell unfit for trial.

An independent psychiatrist then confirmed Sell’s own view that he is fit for trial, and the court agreed and scheduled a trial for November 29. But on November 22 Sell’s lawyers insisted he was not ready for trial and persuaded the judge to cancel it.

The lawyers argued Sell is not competent to stand trial because he insists on talking about the abuse he has suffered in the prison, which he says can be proved by prison videos the government is keeping secret. The Association of American Physicians and Surgeons filed a motion requesting the court to release the tapes, and the St. Louis Post Dispatch intervened to demand their public release.

In investigative reporting worthy of a Pulitzer Prize, Carolyn Tuft of the Post Dispatch revealed on November 23 some of the evidence on the still-secret videos. She reported that two videotapes of Sell show him being stripped, scalded, humiliated, and brutalized in a way that sounds shockingly similar to the abuse of the Abu Ghraib inmates.

Prisoner Treatment Questioned

The only one in the courtroom making any sense at what should have been the final hearing before trial was Sell himself, who stood up to assert his constitutional rights. His plea was to no avail; the judge ordered him to be shipped to North Carolina for yet another examination by a government psychiatrist.

By now Sell knows the game all too well, and he announced in open court that he would not submit to another sham mental evaluation. Nevertheless, he will now be transported across the country to another government psychiatrist to deliver the desired diagnosis to save officials from public scrutiny.

We’ve all seen the pictures of Abu Ghraib–so why can’t we see the pictures of prisoner abuse in the federal prison at Springfield, Missouri? Congress should demand the immediate release of the videos showing the mistreatment of Sell and also order a full accounting of the taxpayers’ money spent by the government to keep a man in prison nearly eight years without a trial.

Phyllis Schlafly ([email protected]) is a columnist, commentator, and author. This article originally appeared on Reprinted with permission.