Friday, September 19, 2014

Benton County judge orders release of Eastern State Hospital patient

Posted By on Fri, Sep 19, 2014 at 11:47 AM

After Eastern patient Phillip Paul escaped from a county fair, state legislators passed laws restricting patients' access to the outside world.
After Eastern patient Phillip Paul escaped from a county fair, state legislators passed laws restricting patients' access to the outside world.

A Benton County judge has ordered the immediate release of an Eastern State Hospital patient adjudicated not guilty by reason of insanity on the grounds that he is neither mentally ill nor dangerous.

Last week, Spokane attorney Andrew Biviano, of the Scott Law Group, filed a motion for preliminary injunctive relief in a federal civil rights lawsuit against Washington state and the Department of Social and Health Services (DSHS), asking the court to immediately discharge all patients found not guilty by reason of insanity, or "NGRI," who have no treatable mental illness. The lawsuit, filed on behalf of three patients at Eastern and Western State Hospitals, alleges that current state laws violate NGRI patients of their constitutional and civil rights to adequate mental health treatment.

One of those patients, known in court filings as "J.T.", was discharged from Eastern State Hospital in Medical Lake this morning after Biviano shared his motion with J.T.'s public defender. The Benton County prosecutor and judge agreed that J.T.'s commitment was unconstitutional.

J.T., 35, shared his story with the Inlander in June. In October 2011, J.T. was invited to visit a Tri-Cities mosque, where he ingested a piece of a bark containing ibogaine, a naturally occurring psychoactive substance that can trigger hallucinations. Although he has no memory of the following incident, records indicate that he later attacked two nurses at a mental health treatment center. Taking the advice of his lawyer, J.T. pleaded not guilty by reason of insanity. He has since been confined at Eastern State Hospital for the past two years, but he has never been diagnosed with a mental illness, nor does he take any medication. Hospital clinicians agree that he isn't dangerous either. 

"A number of people have called me and said they're in the same boat," Biviano told the Inlander. "DSHS can’t continue to confine people when they're not mentally ill, and what happened with J.T. needs to happen with everybody and the only way for that to happen on a large scale is for DSHS to fulfill its responsibility and continue to assess people."

The suit, filed in May, seeks to nullify two laws passed in 2010 in the aftermath of Eastern patient Phillip Paul’s escape from the Spokane County Fair. Biviano says he was inspired to pursue the case by an Inlander story, detailing the punitive conditions at Eastern State Hospital and the consequences of  laws limiting patients' access to the outside world. One of these laws effectively bans NGRI patients from leaving hospital grounds. The other created the governor’s Public Safety Review Panel, which Biviano argues delays and deters patients from trying to reintegrate back into the community.

An ecstatic J.T. spoke with the Inlander over the phone this morning, while waiting at the Greyhound station for his bus to Seattle. 

"I'm feeling great, great, great, great!" he said. "Overwhelming joy." 

J.T. said he's most looking forward to going back to school, getting a job and above all, spending time with his family. He has three young daughters who don't know he's coming home yet.  

"I want to surprise them," he said. 

The state has until October 2 to respond to Biviano's motion. A hearing at the U.S. District Court in Spokane is set for October 21. 

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About The Author

Deanna Pan

Deanna Pan is a staff writer at the Inlander, where she covers social justice, state politics and health care. In her cover stories, she's written about mass shooting survivors, NGRI patients and honey bees...