Lawsuit challenges confinement without outings for mentally ill

Staff writerMay 9, 2014 

Three people locked up in state mental hospitals after being found not guilty of crimes by reason of insanity allege in a federal lawsuit against the state that they are being treated like prisoners, not patients.

A 2010 state law restricts outings for so-called forensic patients, who are confined after an insanity acquittal or for evaluation or treatment of mental illness before trial. They cannot leave except on court-approved release, for medical or legal appointments or in cases of illness or death in the family.

The lawsuit, filed Wednesday, describes a Western State Hospital patient, Daniel Gautier, as improved and stable but states he has been denied field trips and escorted walks on the Lakewood hospital’s grounds.

“Plaintiffs and other forensic patients are trapped,” the suit states. “Rather than being treated, gradually reintegrated into the community, and eventually released, they are simply warehoused in state mental hospitals.”

Gautier, then 30, was sent to Western State in 2006 after a King County judge found him not guilty of first-degree murder in the killing of his disabled uncle.

The state restrictions on patients at mental hospitals emerged from an uproar over a field trip for a killer.

Phillip Arnold Paul walked away from an Eastern State Hospital trip to the Spokane County fair in 2009 and spent three days on the lam. He didn’t hurt anyone before being recaptured 200 miles away, but residents, police and politicians were outraged. The Legislature voted unanimously to end such outings.

“This should have never been allowed to happen, and the purpose for this legislation is to make sure it will never happen again,” the bill’s sponsor, Rep. Matt Shea, R-Spokane Valley, said at the time.

The lawsuit alleges violations of patients’ legal and constitutional rights. It challenges that law and another creating an advisory panel to review releases, along with practices of the state Department of Social and Health Services, including shackling.

DSHS said it is reviewing the lawsuit.

“We strive, on a daily basis, to balance the rights and recovery needs of the individuals who have been found not guilty by reason of insanity with the safety of the public,” the agency said in a statement.

Jordan Schrader: 360-786-1826

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