Free At Last

A judge orders the release of a man stuck at Eastern State Hospital; plus, Stuckart takes on Spokane's sit-lie law

An Unconstitutional Commitment

Last week, a Benton County judge 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.

Earlier this month, Spokane attorney Andrew Biviano filed a motion for preliminary injunctive relief in a federal civil rights lawsuit against Washington state and the Department of Social and Health Services, asking the court to immediately discharge all patients found not guilty by reason of insanity who have no treatable mental illness. The lawsuit, filed on behalf of three patients at Eastern and Western State Hospitals, alleges that state laws violate insanity-defense 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 last Friday after Biviano shared his motion with J.T.'s public defender. The prosecutor and judge in Benton County, where J.T. was tried for assault and acquitted due to insanity, agreed that his commitment was unconstitutional.

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 incident, records indicate he attacked two nurses at a mental health treatment center. At the time of J.T.'s release, he had spent more than two years at Eastern State, where he was never diagnosed with a mental illness nor taking any medication.

The state has until Oct. 2 to respond to Biviano's motion. A hearing at the U.S. District Court in Spokane is set for Oct. 21. Visit for more details on the case. (DEANNA PAN)

Standing Up

Spokane City Council President BEN STUCKART says he's proposing a new city law banning police officers from engaging in "bias-based profiling" in response to comments from Spokane Police Department public information officers to the Inlander last week.

When people started camping out last week for the new iPhone in downtown Spokane, we asked SPD about why those people would not be cited under the city's sit-lie law. The law includes an exception for people "operating or patronizing a business with permission to occupy the sidewalk," but when we spoke with department public information officers Monique Cotton and Teresa Fuller, neither were aware of any permission or permit the Apple store had received to allow its customers to sleep, eat and watch TV on the sidewalk. The reason campers would not be ticketed was because they were not posing "reasonable safety or quality of life concerns," Cotton said. Separately, Fuller said, "The issue is when we have homeless people sitting and lying, trying to get in people's way to get handouts, that sort of thing."

Stuckart, who has previously raised concerns that the law could be used to unfairly target homeless people, says he plans to meet with SPD Chief Frank Straub this week to discuss the issue and will introduce the ordinance on Monday.

"The goal isn't to give a black eye to the police department," he says. "I believe they do a really good job. My goal is to clarify and to have a public discussion."

In a statement to the Inlander, Straub says officers' response to the line outside the Apple store was "consistent with the existing ordinance, did not reflect bias, and was consistent with the manner in which we have responded to similar special events in our City." He adds that he'll work with the city council and city legal to consider changes to sit-lie to "address the unique/special events." (HEIDI GROOVER)

Moving the Bishop

After a little more than four years as Spokane's bishop, BLASE CUPICH is getting a major promotion: On Nov. 18, he's set to become the archbishop of Chicago. Father Mike Savelesky, a vicar general of the Spokane diocese, says Cupich, like Pope Francis, has won praise for his modest, moderate lifestyle.

"People were surprised at this announcement. Though this man is of such immense talent and ability, we've always wondered how long he would be here," says Savelesky.

Savelesky says that Cupich is known for "his appeal for people to listen to each other." In particular, he says, Cupich pushed for refocusing the church on its mission, helping low-income people in the city and raising money for Catholic education. Cupich was also intensely involved in the decision to stop using Paine Hamblen — the law firm that represented the Spokane diocese in a 2004 bankruptcy related to a sex abuse scandal — and in the decision to file a malpractice suit against that firm.

"That's all still very much under litigation," Savelesky says, and any new leadership would have to be involved in future decisions about the lawsuit. (DANIEL WALTERS)

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About The Authors

Heidi Groover

Heidi Groover is a staff writer at the Inlander, where she covers city government and drug policy. On the job, she's spent time with prostitutes, "street kids," marriage equality advocates and the family of a 16-year-old organ donor...

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...

Daniel Walters

A lifelong Spokane native, Daniel Walters is the Inlander's senior investigative reporter. But he also reports on a wide swath of other topics, including business, education, real estate development, land use, and other stories throughout North Idaho and Spokane County.He's reported on deep flaws in the Washington...