Family sues BHR over death of woman in 2012

Wrongful death lawsuit alleges Olympia-based mental health group’s treatment was negligent

Staff writerMarch 16, 2014 

The family of a homeless, mentally ill woman found dead in Tacoma after she was reported missing in Olympia in 2012 has sued Behavioral Health Resources for wrongful death.

Behavioral Heath Resources provides publicly funded mental health resources in Thurston, Mason and Grays Harbor counties. It’s based in Olympia.

Christina Kearney, 43, was found dead in a creek at the bottom of a ravine behind Q Street in Tacoma on Jan. 30, 2012.

According to the suit, Kearney had been in BHR’s care since November 2011. But BHR staff dropped Kearney off at the home of her mother in December 2011, even though it was unsafe, according to the suit.

The lawsuit alleges that a staff member at BHR was negligent in taking Kearney to the mother’s home in Olympia on Dec. 30, 2011, after Kearney had been kicked out of a motel for bad behavior.

Kearney’s nephew, David Stewart, said his aunt had “been in the state’s care for over 30 years.” He said Friday he believes BHR officials “probably just got tired of her.”

Attorneys for BHR could not be reached for comment. A BHR spokeswoman declined to comment for this story.

Attorney Thaddeus Martin of Tacoma, who is representing Kearney’s estate, said in a phone interview Friday that Kearney didn’t stay at the home of her mother, Dawna Easterlin, for any period of time after being dropped off there.

“Basically, she’s on the streets,” Martin said.

Kearney disappeared after her mother dropped her off at the Salvation Army in Olympia on Dec. 31, 2011, the lawsuit states. On Jan. 30, 2012, two juveniles playing behind Q Street found Kearney dead.

Stewart said it is a mystery how his aunt got to Tacoma from the Salvation Army, because she needed a walker to get around.

An autopsy conducted by the Pierce County Medical Examiner’s Office in February 2012, determined Kearney died of natural causes.

The lawsuit alleges that the BHR staff member should not have left Kearney at her mother’s home because Kearney was not allowed to stay there due to prior “assaultive behavior.”

When Easterlin took Kearney to the Salvation Army, BHR staff assured her they would check on Kearney there to make sure she was taking her medication “until a bed opened up at BHR,” the lawsuit states.

“My daughter was a very good woman; she was a beautiful woman,” Easterlin said Friday. Easterlin added that BHR was a big part of her daughter’s life and was well aware of her needs.

She said she believes there could be other patients who are also being left vulnerable.

“They need to be held accountable, and they need to change their way of doing things,” she said. “I miss her so much.”

BHR filed a missing person report for Kearney with the Olympia Police Department on Jan. 11, 2012, according to the suit.

Martin’s lawsuit alleges that BHR took “control” of Kearney in May 2011, when a BHR staff member picked her up at Western State Hospital and promised “to find her a shelter that would admit her.”

A month later, BHR admitted Kearney into Western State again after participating in a court hearing to determine whether she should be voluntarily committed for further treatment, according to the suit.

Finally, on Nov. 23, 2011, Kearney “was admitted to BHR from Western State Hospital and admitted after BHR completed its intake,” the suit states. “Ms. Kearney was under the care of BHR and could only leave with a pass approved by BHR.”

A declaration by BHR CEO Traci Crowder was filed Jan. 16 in connection with the lawsuit. In Crowder’s declaration, she states that “BHR had provided Christina Kearney ongoing, intermittent, outpatient mental health service for almost 24 years.”

Crowder’s declaration also states that a BHR caseworker “collected” Kearney from Western State on May 18, 2011, and “as a courtesy” the caseworker drove Kearney from Western State to Kearney’s mother’s home in Olympia.

“This is not a service BHR typically provides,” Crowder wrote.

Martin’s lawsuit was recently transferred to Thurston County after originally being filed in Pierce County.

Kearney had mental health issues including “psychosis, delusional thinking, schizoaffective disorder and mental decompensation,” according to the suit.

Olympia homeless advocate Rob Richards said he had no knowledge of Kearney’s situation or the circumstances surrounding her disappearance. He said that in general, profound challenges surround finding housing for the mentally ill.

“These are the types of people who fall through the cracks,” Richards said. “They do burn out family, they do burn out friends.”

Jeremy Pawloski: 360-754-5445
jpawloski@theolympian.com

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