State fell short in treatment of hatchet killer Jonathan Meline after release from Western State, lawsuit contends

The idea behind the legal fight is failure to warn, as in the state failing to warn Jonathan Meline’s parents that he threatened to kill them and harbored delusions that they were evil duplicates.

The alleged failure forms the basis of a lawsuit filed Tuesday against the state Department of Social and Health Services, which runs Western State Hospital in Lakewood.

The plaintiff: Kim Meline, Jonathan’s mother. She’s a widow; late one night in October 2012, Jonathan walked upstairs to the bedroom where his father, Robert Meline, was sleeping, and chopped him to death with a hatchet.

Jonathan, 31, was subsequently charged with first-degree murder, and found not guilty by reason of insanity. Prior to the slaying, he spent a decade shuttling in and out of Western State, following multiple incidents and jail stints tied to his mental illness.

He was released from the state hospital in early 2012 after one of those incidents, and assigned to a “less restrictive alternative” that required him to attend regular treatment and take required medications on a strict schedule. In theory, the less restrictive alternative requires continued monitoring; if a patient fails to meet the standards set in the terms of his release, the state can order the patient into more restrictive treatment.

Meline began missing medication appointments, resulting in medication delays and lower doses — but the state didn’t order him back into restrictive treatment. The lawsuit, filed by Tacoma attorneys Jack Connelly and Nathan Roberts, contends that state mental-health specialists and local specialists from an agency called Comprehensive Life Resources (CLR) failed to meet their duty of care.

“(Meline) is known to be violent,” Connelly said during a Tuesday interview. “There’s indications that there should be evaluations done before he’s released. They know that when his medications aren’t properly managed and controlled that he becomes violent, and they know that he’s making specific threats to kill his parents. And they don’t do the evaluation. They don’t properly manage his medications after he gets out, and he does exactly what he is predicting he’s going to do.”

DSHS spokesman John Wiley said his agency hadn’t been served with the lawsuit and couldn’t speak to its details. Wiley added that the agency will work with assigned state attorneys and file appropriate legal responses.

The lawsuit has been active for more than a year. Originally, it was filed against Jonathan Meline individually — a strategic move to obtain records of his mental-health treatment. Attorneys added CLR as a defendant, obtained records through the process of discovery, and linked the chain Tuesday by adding DSHS.

The suit notes that specialists who treated Meline diagnosed him with Capgras syndrome, which sometimes emerges in patients who suffer from paranoid schizophrenia, another diagnosis Meline received at various points. The Capgras diagnosis refers to the patient’s belief that an imposter has replaced a friend or family member.

The suit contends that psychiatrists who treated Meline at Western State prescribed a series of medications designed to curb Meline’s violent tendencies; but the treatment required close observation.

“(The psychiatrist) also warned that Jonathan was likely to engage in acts of violence if his mental illness destabilized,” the suit states. “The treating psychiatrist specifically warned that Jonathan Meline should not be discharged from WSH without an evaluation by a County Designated Mental Health Professional (CDMHP) to assess his dangerousness.”

That evaluation never took place, according to the suit. Meline was released to his parents, and moved back into their home in Tacoma.

His threats and dangerous behavior increased, and he began to miss appointments. His parents alerted CLR, but no follow-up treatment or evaluation took place, the lawsuit states.

The next step in the case continues the long discovery process, Connelly said.

“We’ll take depositions of the people involved in this and find out if there’s any defense at all,” he said. “Why they weren’t monitoring him, why they didn’t do the evaluations which their own people told them needed to be done, and why they didn’t make sure his medications were properly monitored.”