Former U.S. Olympic and Minnesota Duluth hockey star Mark Pavelich will be civilly committed as a "mentally ill and dangerous" person, a judge ruled Wednesday.
Sixth Judicial District Judge Michael Cuzzo ordered Pavelich, who is accused of seriously assaulting a neighbor, to undergo treatment at a secure state facility.
"As a result of (Pavelich's) mental illness, he presents a clear danger to the safety of others and has engaged in an overt act causing or attempting to cause serious physical harm to another," Cuzzo wrote in a 10-page order. "There is a substantial likelihood that he will engage in acts capable of inflicting physical harm on another in the future."
Pavelich, 61, was arrested Aug. 20 at his home in Lutsen after he allegedly struck and beat his neighbor with a metal pole shortly after the men had returned from fishing together. A criminal complaint states Pavelich accused James T. Miller, 63, of "spiking his beer," prior to the assault, which left the victim with injuries including two cracked ribs, a bruised kidney and a fractured vertebra.
Cuzzo on Oct. 28 found Pavelich incompetent to stand trial, suspending proceedings in his criminal case and initiating commitment proceedings.
Wednesday's order comes after a Nov. 25 hearing at which the judge heard from testimony from two psychologists who had examined Pavelich.
The "mentally ill and dangerous" designation means Pavelich will be subject to the most restrictive level of commitment in the state. Those meeting that criteria are generally sent to the Minnesota Security Hospital in St. Peter.
Under state law, treatment providers will need to file a report to the court within 60 days of Pavelich's admission to the facility. The judge will then hold a hearing to determine whether he continues to pose a danger to to the public. If so, the commitment can be extended indefinitely.
Cuzzo scheduled that review hearing for Feb. 11.
Condition may be related to hockey injuries
According to court documents, two psychologists who evaluated Pavelich determined he is suffering from a "neurocognitive disorder that affects his ability to reason and recognize reality." At least one opined that the condition is likely related to a series of head injuries sustained by the longtime hockey player.
Pavelich reportedly experiences delusions that friends and family members are attempting to poison him. His arrest, according to Cuzzo's order, came after a series of incidents since 2015 in which Pavelich allegedly damaged property belonging to family and friends.
"Both evaluators gave credible conclusions that (Pavelich) lacks insight into his mental illness," Cuzzo wrote. "The evaluators described (Pavelich's) escalation from damaging property to physically harming another person. The evaluators noted (Pavelich's) delusional beliefs that other people are attempting to harm him, and (Pavelich's) stated willingness to physically harm others who he believes are attempting to harm him. This combination of (Pavelich's) delusional beliefs, and stated willingness to harm others based on those beliefs, creates a substantial likelihood of future harm."
Pavelich was initially ordered to undergo a mental health evaluation after his arraignment in the assault case. Psychologist Chris Bowerman, who met with Pavelich twice in September, informed the court that Pavelich is likely suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder with delayed expression and secondary psychotic features, as well as unspecified neurocognitive disorder.
Without objection from the prosecution or defense, Cuzzo suspended the criminal proceedings, finding that Pavelich "lacks the ability to rationally consult with counsel, is incapable of understanding the proceedings, and is incapable of participating in the defense due to mental illness or deficiency."
A forensic and clinical psychologist based in Duluth, Bowerman recommended civil commitment and also informed the court that Pavelich "requires psychiatric treatment with neuroleptic medications."
A second examination was requested by Francis Hughes, the Duluth attorney appointed to represent Pavelich in the commitment process. Cuzzo appointed Jacqueline Buffington, an associate professor at the University of Minnesota Duluth who also performs psychological exams for regional courts.
In her report, Buffington diagnosed Pavelich with "mild neurocognitive disorder due to traumatic brain injury, with behavior disturbance." She also opined that he has PTSD and said he exhibited "some cognitive disturbance."
Both evaluators said Pavelich continued to show signs of delusions and paranoia. Asked about the criminal case, he reportedly told Bowerman he was "furious that (Miller) would even do this ... spike a beer" and said, "I didn't realize I hit him that hard ... he didn't seem injured."
Hughes argued at a closed hearing that Pavelich should be committed as mentally ill, but without the dangerous designation, allowing for a less restrictive treatment setting. Cuzzo disagreed, saying Pavelich "presents a clear danger to public safety" as a direct result of his mental illness.
A widower, Pavelich's next of kin is his sister, Jean Gevik, who lives in the Twin Cities. She did not return a call from the News Tribune on Wednesday night.
Quiet life after long hockey career
Pavelich was a forward on the 1980 U.S. Olympic men's hockey team, which famously defeated the dominant Soviet Union and went on to win the gold medal. The victory over the Soviet Union has been dubbed the "Miracle on Ice." Pavelich had two assists in the game, including the primary assist on the game-winning goal.
While several members of the team have capitalized on their fame, it famously took Pavelich 35 years to return to Lake Placid, N.Y., where the upset took place. Media reports often describe how Pavelich, a land developer, enjoys fishing and covets his privacy.
Following Olympic glory, Pavelich spent several years in the National Hockey League, mostly with the New York Rangers. He grew up a prep star at Eveleth High School before becoming an All-American at the University of Minnesota Duluth.
In 2012, Pavelich's wife, Kara, died following a second-story fall at the couple's home in Lutsen. However, he otherwise stayed out of the spotlight up until his August arrest.
Pavelich has been charged with four felonies: second- and third-degree assault, possession of a short-barreled shotgun and possession of a firearm with a missing or altered serial number. During its investigation, the Cook County Sheriff's Office reported finding a shotgun that was shorter than the legal 26 inches and with a filed-off serial number.
Charges against Pavelich would be dismissed three years after the date he was found incompetent, unless the Cook County Attorney's Office files written notice of an intent to prosecute. The judge's order in the commitment case will not impact those charges.
“If the criminal proceedings resume, the state continues to have the burden of proving that respondent committed the alleged acts beyond a reasonable doubt," Cuzzo noted. "And like every defendant in a criminal case, respondent has the right to a fair and impartial determination of his guilt of the charged offenses.”