Woman sexually assaulted at county mental health
November 17, 2011
By DANIEL BLACKBURN and KAREN VELIE
Depressed and mentally ill people in crisis arrive at San Luis Obispo County’s mental health inpatient facility expecting a safe haven, and not a 14-patient ward plagued by sexual assaults and beatings.
A registered sex offender high on cocaine held a mentally ill woman hostage and sexually assaulted her at the county inpatient unit at about 11:30 a.m. on Sunday, Paso Robles Chief Lisa Solomon confirmed.
Ambrose Wesley walked into another patient’s room, held his hand over her mouth and face leaving behind abrasions, and then sexually assaulted the woman for about five minutes before mental health staffers noticed.
Numerous calls to county mental health officials were not returned.
Several county employees say they are outraged because they claim the man should have been placed in jail which has “great mental health services” rather than county mental health because police had determined the man was high on cocaine. In addition, staff at the hospital aware of the man’s history and drugged state should have watched him more closely, they said.
Solomon said she “had heard that a chemical test had, at some point, been administered, but there was a question as to whether there was something in his blood stream.”
California law does not allow a person to be placed into a mental health facility because of a substance abuse issue. Officers making an arrest and transporting a person to jail can spend hours on paperwork or only a few minutes if they place a person into a mental health ward.
Locals made “numerous reports” to Paso Robles police about a man’s “erratic” behavior including “making strange statements to people, making inappropriate requests, and his threat to jump off the Niblick Bridge,” Solomon said.
Investigating officer Joe Leonard transported Wesley to Mental Health because “based on what we had observed at the time, we transported him on a 51/50 (mental commitment) status,” Solomon said. “The man’s actions indicated it was a mental health issue, and if there had been some other things going on, then we certainly would have investigated that.”
Following the attack, San Luis Obispo police officers arrested Wesley on charges of sexual assault and false imprisonment and booked him into San Luis Obispo County jail with bail set at $25,000.
Two years ago, a man with a long history of violent random assaults was checked into the county mental health ward by a law enforcement officer. Staff members escorted the man out to a smoking cage where they left him unattended with Valerie Lane.
A video camera captured William Shirreffs smoking a cigarette before he began punching Lane in the head and chest. She suffered a gash to her head that required staples, an injured finger that still does not bend, bruised lungs, and a battered and cut face with eyes swollen shut.
Today, she is losing vision because of damage to the retina in her right eye. It is still primarily blood red because of a hematoma, a collection of blood outside of the blood vessels.
Attorney James McKiernan filed a lawsuit against the county in which he asks for damages because of Lane’s ongoing physical and mental impairments. In his Sept. 11 filing, McKiernan lists a number of state laws that require seclusion for dangerous patients, minimal staff to patient ratios as well as health and safety codes that mandate that the facility develop and follow a safety plan designed to protect patients.