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A patient attacked 3 Western State Hospital nurses in 6 months, their lawsuit says

A sign for Western State Hospital is shown Friday, May 11, 2018, in Lakewood, Wash. Several nurses have sued the hospital, alleging that they were each assaulted by the same patient last year.
A sign for Western State Hospital is shown Friday, May 11, 2018, in Lakewood, Wash. Several nurses have sued the hospital, alleging that they were each assaulted by the same patient last year. AP

A Western State Hospital nurse whose ear was partially bitten off by a patient has joined with two coworkers who say they were attacked by the same patient to sue the state.

Bernia Garner, Karen Jolley-Arnold and Kaitlyn Tritt say they were all injured at the hospital by the same patient during a six-month span last year.

Their lawsuit says the man had a history of “sexually assaulting and targeting female staff” and that the hospital knew and didn’t address it appropriately.

The complaint seeks unspecified damages, but claims filed as a precursor to the lawsuit sought $5 million for each of the three women.

State Department of Social and Health Services spokeswoman Kelly Stowe said the agency does not comment on pending litigation. DSHS oversees Western State, which is Washington’s largest inpatient psychiatric facility.

Garner and Arnold-Jolley are nurses at the hospital. Records show Tritt has worked there as a nurse and as a mental health technician.

“Every employee at Western State Hospital has a right to be in a work environment where they’re not targeted based on their gender,” said James Beck, their attorney. “If somebody is being physically assaulted because they’re a woman, that’s a problem. It’s unacceptable and a violation of the law.”

The lawsuit, filed Feb. 22 in Pierce County Superior Court, gives this account:

Christopher Jones injured Tritt’s hip, choked her and inflicted other injuries on her when he attacked her in March 2018.

That same month Jones injured Arnold’s leg, back and neck by kicking her.

On Sept. 30, the 29-year-old jumped across the counter of the nurse’s station, threw Garner to the ground and bit off part of her ear. Garner also suffered a fractured lower back and a traumatic brain injury from the attack.

Jones was charged with second-degree assault, which was dismissed when he was found incompetent to stand trial in November.

Garner’s coworkers wrote declarations about Jones that were filed with the nurses’ lawsuit.

They said he once knocked a mental health technician to the ground and tried to bite her thigh.

Another time, they said, he touched his genitals and then grabbed Garner’s arm.

One coworker said Garner spoke up at a staff meeting the same month she was attacked about her ward being dangerously understaffed.

There should have been three registered nurses working in the ward when Garner was assaulted, but she was the only one, the coworker wrote.

Beck said he thinks all three are still working at Western State but that Garner has been on medical leave as a result of her injuries.

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Alexis Krell covers local, state and federal court cases that affect Pierce County. She started covering courts in 2016. Before that she wrote about crime and breaking news for almost four years as The News Tribune’s night reporter.

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