Murdered ASH patient worried about alleged killer who just lost major court appeal
March 31, 2008
By DANIEL BLACKBURN
The man suspected of strangling a fellow Atascadero State Hospital (ASH) patient to death with a towel over the weekend was on the losing end of an important, recent California Fourth District Court of Appeal decision upholding the constitutionality of Proposition 83, the so-called Jessica’s Law.
Also, hospital officials reportedly ignored at least a week of repeated warnings from patients about violent and threatening behavior by the man, Richard Earl McKee, now held on suspicion in the slaying of Lawrence Paul “Shaky” Rael late Saturday or early Sunday. And the victim’s father told several patients he was initially informed by hospital officials that his son “had hanged himself.”
Rael, found in his bed Sunday morning by hospital employees, was killed sometime after 10:30 p.m. Saturday, after he talked on the telephone to another patient and was said to have expressed his increasing fear of McKee.
A second victim, Raymond Chester, was injured in the attack and was discovered unconscious in his own bed after suffering damage to his limbs and ribs, according to witnesses. No further report on his condition was immediately available.
The murder and assault occurred as a federal judge in another case was demanding ASH officials show cause why they should not be held in contempt of court in the aftermath of a finding that two employees violated the civil rights of a patient.
According to a woman who answered the phone at ASH, no spokesperson would be available to talk to media on Monday regarding any issue because it is a state holiday, Caesar Chavez Day. She additionally declined to identify, or to put UncoveredSLO.com in touch with, the hospital’s on-call medical director for comment.
Suspect McKee until recently was considered by the California Department of Mental Health to be a mentally disordered offender (MDO). As such, he would by law be separated from other patients in the facility not similarly designated. But in mid-March, McKee was reclassified for inclusion in the sexually violent predator (SVP) program and became, in hospital lexicon, a dual-confinement patient.
McKee, 35, originally imprisoned for lewd acts on children, had sought to be released from state custody by claiming he was not dangerous to the public. McKee argued that provisions of Proposition 83, the so-called Jessica’s Law, were inadequate to insure that only those persons with a diagnosed, current mental illness — one making them dangerous to the public — could continue to be confined.
The Court of Appeal decision confirmed McKee’s involuntary commitment at ASH March 21.
Immediately after that court decision, McKee was placed in Unit 22 at ASH, and others in the SVP program said they began to inform staff that McKee was bullying and threatening people in the unit, and becoming increasingly aggressive and violent. Their claims went unheeded, according to one patient, Peter Tolls.
Rael talked on the telephone to his friend, fellow patient Ron “Bear” Barrett, according to Tolls, at about 10:30 p.m. Saturday, sounding upbeat on the one hand but also expressing fear of McKee.
In a prior case involving a similar failure to protect a patient, a federal judge ruled that two ASH employees violated one patient’s civil rights and ordered the pair to pay $1,000 to that SVP patient. The judge now wants to know why the ASH employees have not yet done so.
U.S. Central District Judge S. James Sotero ruled in December that employees Melissa A. Roper and Michael C. Groom were found to have made “a substantial departure from professional judgment, practice and standards” and thus were responsible for injuries suffered by patient Theodric Van Smith in assaults on him by other two patients.
ASH officials in that case also had been repeatedly warned, by patients, staff and state and federal law enforcement agencies that Smith might become a target of attack for his testimony against two Pelican Bay State Prison guards. Peggy Phaklides, a litigation manager for ASH, said in January the hospital is considering appealing Smith’s civil judgment.
Tags:, ASH, Atascadero State Hospital