Crime

Western State patient accused of biting off portion of nurse’s ear charged with assault

A Western State Hospital patient has been charged with second-degree assault after allegedly biting off part of a nurse’s ear.
A Western State Hospital patient has been charged with second-degree assault after allegedly biting off part of a nurse’s ear. AP Photo

This story has been corrected since its original publication.

The original story incorrectly described statements in court regarding a public-records dispute among the state Department of Social and Health Services, the City of Lakewood and The News Tribune.

The story – “Western State Hospital patient charged with assault after portion of nurse’s ear is bitten off” — wrongly stated that an attorney for Disability Rights Washington asked a judge to require The News Tribune to remove a version of the story from its website.

The transcript of an Oct. 11 hearing in Pierce County Superior Court, obtained several days after the hearing, clarifies what occurred in the courtroom.

The dispute centered on the disclosure of a Lakewood police report concerning a Sept. 30 incident that led to charges against Christopher Adams Jones, a Western State Hospital patient charged with second-degree assault.

According to the charges and the police report, Jones attacked a nurse and bit off a portion of her ear. The state and Disability Rights Washington sought to prevent disclosure of Jones’ name and other identifying information in the police report.

Shortly before the Oct. 11 hearing, The News Tribune obtained the police report from Lakewood and posted an online story about the assault and charges.

During the hearing, the attorney for Disability Rights Washington asked the judge to require Lakewood to remove the unredacted police report from its online public records portal.

The transcript shows the judge asked whether such an action “would require that the Court restrain the newspaper from using that information since they already have it?”

The attorney for Disability Rights Washington replied that, “We’re not asking Your Honor to order the newspaper to withdraw the published newspaper article; we’re asking you to order them to not release any more information that’s confidential and protected, and to take back off the publicly available web site the thing that they already put up until there’s a hearing.”

The attorney’s use of the word “them” referred to Lakewood and its website, not the newspaper. The News Tribune’s attorney objected to the possibility of a court order restraining the newspaper. The judge said such an order hadn’t been requested.

The corrected story appears below.

A 29-year-old Bremerton man who allegedly bit off a portion of a nurse’s ear at Western State Hospital on Sept. 30 has been charged with second-degree assault.

Pierce County prosecutors filed the charge Oct. 8 against Christopher Adams Jones, following an investigation by Lakewood police.

A police report, obtained by The News Tribune via public disclosure, provides additional details about the incident, including references to the patient’s prior history of violent behavior.

In recent years, Western State has faced numerous regulatory and legal issues associated with staff and patient safety. Those concerns led to the loss of $53 million in annual federal funding earlier this year.

EAR-BITING INVESTIGATION

Lakewood officers spoke to the 54-year-old nurse who was injured in the assault, according to the police report. She was on a gurney in the back of an ambulance. Her ear was subsequently repaired in surgery.

“She told me she was just standing around on her own in the nurse’s station when patient Christopher Jones hopped over the counter and pushed her to the floor causing her to hit her head on the ground,” the report states. “She said he then mounted her and bit her ear. She said Jones had been in her ward for approximately 6 months and has assaulted staff and other patients many times before.”

A survey of regional court records reveals more than a dozen arrests and related criminal convictions of Jones since 2008, chiefly in Kitsap County, where he has been charged with theft, malicious mischief, resisting arrest, failure to register as a sex offender and third-degree assault. He was charged in 2017 with similar crimes in King County.

It is not clear which of those incidents, if any, led to his commitment at Western State. After the Sept. 30 incident, Lakewood police were not able to interview Jones because he had been sedated and restrained before police arrived, the report states. Officers spoke to two other witnesses who gave accounts similar to the nurse’s version.

One witness said he “looked over and saw Christopher Jones on top of (the nurse) inside the nurse’s station,” the report states. “He said the attack was unprovoked and also said Jones has assaulted many patients before in the past.”

A second witness, another nurse, said, “He was near the nurse’s station when he saw what he described a ‘blur’ pass next to him,” the report states. “He said he turned around and saw Jones running towards the nurse’s station at full speed. He said Jones jumped over the counter and jumped on (the nurse.).”

The second witness said he jumped the counter as well and wrestled Jones away from the nurse.

“He also told me Jones had been violent with staff and other patients before,” the police report states.

The officer added a note regarding Jones’ status and commitment.

“I was told Jones was placed there by Kitsap County and has been diagnosed with schizophrenia and constantly monitored for his dangerous behavior,” the report states. “I was also told by security that there are no video cameras in the Nurse’s station or in the S-7 Ward.”

While Jones was charged Monday, his trial date has not been scheduled.

PUBLIC-RECORDS FIGHT

The criminal charges and efforts by The News Tribune to obtain the Lakewood police report led to a series of swift legal developments Thursday. Attorneys for the state Department of Social and Health Services and Disability Rights Washington sought a temporary restraining order in Pierce County Superior Court against the City of Lakewood and named the newspaper as an additional defendant.

Disability Rights Washington, representing Jones’s interests, entered the case at the invitation of DSHS. A representative of the agency told The News Tribune on Tuesday via voicemail that DSHS would ask DRW to seek an injunction against the city that would prevent release of the patient’s name in the police report.

Ultimately, the proposed order sought to prevent disclosure of Jones’s name and identifying information in the police report, which was released to The News Tribune before Thursday’s hearing began.

During the hearing and after an initial story was published, attorneys for the state and DRW argued that the information in the police report that identified the patient needed to be pulled from the city’s online public records portal, which citizens can view online.

Judge Susan Serko granted the state’s request, and ordered Lakewood to remove the unredacted version of the police report from its public records portal. The city replaced it with a redacted version that removes identifying information related to Jones. The order is temporary, setting restrictions ahead of a scheduled Oct. 26 hearing.

More generally, state attorneys argued that Lakewood’s disclosure violated the terms of a contract with the state. The city provides police services at Western State under a two-year agreement signed in 2017. The city receives $90,000 for the service, according to the terms.

State attorneys argued that the contract requires the city to notify the state when requested records include information related to state hospital records, and to allow up to 21 days for the state to consider legal steps to prevent disclosure. In legal briefings, state attorneys cited a law that says the fact of commitment at Western State is confidential.

Serko noted an apparent conflict between the law requiring confidentiality and other statutes that require public disclosure, particularly in cases involving law enforcement reports related to the investigation of crimes.

Arguing against the proposed order, attorney Michele Earl Hubbard, representing The News Tribune, said that criminal charges and the police reports associated with them by definition identify defendants, regardless of the crime’s location.

“The fact of commitment (to a state hospital) is revealed when a crime is committed,” she said. “That doesn’t mean the person gets to be anonymous. All we’re dealing with here is the name of the person who bit the nurse’s ear off.”

Sean Robinson: 253-597-8486 @seanrobinsonTNT

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