The Saga of Dr. Charles Sell
Michael Arnold Glueck, M.D.
Robert J. Cihak, M.D.
Wednesday, March 26, 2003
"Conscience" is a curious word. It means, literally, "to know with" or "to know together" – far different from our normal sense of "conscience is whatever goes on inside my head."
Dr. Charles Sell is a prisoner of conscience. But in this matter, perhaps the more important conscience is and should be ours.
So, who is this Dr. Charles Sell? He's a dentist who formerly practiced in the St. Louis area and is currently a non-violent federal prisoner in Springfield, Mo. He's already spent more than five years in prison than he would be liable for, even if he were convicted of the government's Medicaid Fraud accusations.
We're writing about him and his case because his treatment by the federal government has been – and continues to be – unconscionable.
Let's focus on the federal government's claim that Dr. Sell is "incompetent" to stand trial.
The government wants to make him competent by forcefully giving him powerful medicine. Dr. Sell doesn't want to be medicated; he's had bad reactions to similar drugs in the past. Further, one of the medicines that the government might want to use on him is an experimental medicine that could kill him.
The U.S. Supreme Court heard his appeal on this question on March 3.
Dr. Sell has been in prison for more than 64 months, including 20 months in solitary confinement. As Justice Bye on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 8th Circuit noted, if Dr. Sell were convicted of the pertinent Medicaid Fraud charges against him, the longest sentence he would be given under the United States Sentencing Guidelines would be 41 months.
In other words, Dr. Sell has already been in prison 23 months longer than he could be sentenced for, if convicted on all the fraud charges.
Due to legal expenses, he's already lost his practice, his office, his home and his savings. What more does the government want? His mind?
The level of "competence" usually required for defendants to stand trial in federal court is very low. In the eyes of federal courts, a defendant is competent to stand trial if he doesn't talk to invisible people. Dr. Sell earned a perfect score on a 30-question true/false quiz used in a prison Competency Restoration Group.
The 8th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that "involuntary medication is the only way for the government to achieve its interest in fairly trying Sell."
However, an amicus brief filed by the Association of American Physicians & Surgeons, and Eagle Forum Education & Legal Defense Fund notes the "Government's interest in drugging Dr. Sell for trial can be no greater than its interest in punishing him further, which is non-existent."
After more than five years in prison, the federal government has not yet set a trial date. Other than to mention that we're not going to address Dr. Sell's right to a "speedy trial" as required by the Sixth Amendment to our Constitution. Nor will we look in detail at several other issues, such as an episode in prison when he spat in the face of a magistrate after Dr. Sell was denied his right to have his attorney present.
Another issue is an accusation that Dr. Sell was suffering from delusions because he thought there was a government effort to cover up his personal knowledge of the government's culpability in the 1993 deaths at the Branch Davidian land near Waco, Texas.
As an Army Reservist called up to serve as an expert in forensic dentistry, Dr. Sell was on the scene the day of the tragic fire. Other issues include accusations of Dr. Sell using politically incorrect swear words.
We find forcing medication with life-threatening drugs on a presumed-innocent prisoner another form of cruel and unusual punishment.
We find it outrageous that Dr. Sell continues to be held in prison on the basis of unproven allegations that he committed a non-violent crime against complex Medicaid regulations.
Why is the federal government wasting our resources, including government lawyers' time and our taxpayers' money, instead of calling it quits and letting Dr. Sell try to rebuild his life?
In the old days, we might worry that the government was just trying to prove that it's the biggest bully on the block. But today we do worry "Who's next?"
Dr. Sell should be set free immediately to show that we are still a nation of conscience – even in wartime!
Dr. Sell denied trial; videotapes document prison abuse
Although a recent independent psychiatric evaluation by AAPS Immediate Past President Mark Schiller, M.D., found Charles “Tom” Sell, D.D.S., competent to stand trial, and a trial had indeed been scheduled, U.S. District Judge Donald Stohr rejected Sell’s request to go forward with the trial, at a hearing on Nov. 22.
Dr. Sell has been imprisoned without trial for nearly eight years. He has refused to plead guilty to one count of murder conspiracy though he did offer to plead to one count of mail fraud.
His lawyers, who want to have him declared incompetent, refused to allow him to take the witness stand during the hearing. So Dr. Sell raised his hand, stood up, and began talking to the judge.
He declared that he was competent and wanted his trial to begin on Nov. 29, as scheduled. He stated his lawyers had asked that he be ruled unfit because they are not prepared for trial.
Defense psychiatrist C. Robert Cloniger said that Dr. Sell is delusional because he is too fixed on mistreatment at the Springfield, Mo., prison hospital to adequate address the issues at trial. Dr. Cloninger had reviewed two videotapes made by prison officials that allegedly documented the abuse. The tapes and his report are under seal, but the St. Louis Post-Dispatch obtained a copy of the report.
According to the report, the videotape shows Dr. Sell, who was behaving in a peaceable and cooperative fashion, being pulled from his cell by seven guards, some in full riot gear. He was handcuffed to a “black box” on a concrete slab and left for 19 hours. Dr. Sell was also forcefully sprayed with scalding hot water at 120 degrees F. in a shower, as a female staffer watched. He suffered first-degree burns on his legs, chest, and back. He also had cuts on his hand and marks on his back from being dragged down the hall by his handcuffs.
Dr. Cloninger said that Dr. Sell could recover only if treated with “compassion and respect.” He said that Dr. Sell is not a danger to himself or others either inside or outside of the “institutional setting.”
See Post-Dispatch, Nov. 22, 2004.