Woman brutalized on video at SLO County Mental Health

September 29, 2011

Valerie Lane following the assault at the hospital

EDITOR’S NOTE: See the video of the assault in the text and William Shirreffs’ criminal past at the bottom of this story.


If Valerie Lane had been a stray dog she would have received better protection from San Luis Obispo County. As it is, she is still suffering from a brutal attack that occurred more than two years ago at a San Luis Obispo County Mental Health facility, Lane’s attorney James McKiernan, said.

At San Luis Obispo County Animal Services, animals arriving from different homes are housed separately to determine if they have a “propensity for violence.” Even so, most animals are caged separately for the duration of their stay, Dr. Eric Anderson, animal services’ manager, said.

Lane was put in a chain link enclosure with a man who had a history of violence and who had been brought in by law enforcement officers.

There, she was attacked in an assault captured on a video camera. 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, Lane said. 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.

“I don’t want this to happen to anybody else,” Lane said weeping as she talked about the attack.  “You go in to try to protect yourself and this happens.  There is something wrong.”

Warning: This video depicts a disturbing violent assault. We are showing you the entire video but the assault does not start until about two and a half minutes into the recording.

Lane, 52, who suffers from severe migraines and depression, checked herself into the county facility. She had been experiencing a severe migraine and depression and called her therapist. Lane’s therapist told her to check herself into the mental health facility to protect herself.

On Sept. 4, 2009, Lane was spending her second day at mental health when she asked if she could smoke a cigarette. A staff member took her outside to a metal enclosure that consists of chain link walls and ceiling. The staff member lit Lane’s cigarette and left.

William Shirreffs’ bloody handcuffed hand

Lane sat on a bench weeping because of a severe migraine. A facility staffer brought in William Shirreffs, lit his cigarette and left.

Unlike Lane, Shirreffs, 59, had been involuntarily placed into SLO County Mental Health by law enforcement officers and was known at the time to have an extensive history of criminal convictions for violence, drugs, molestation of children, indecent exposure and theft, according to his criminal case information from Kern County Superior Court.

After a few minutes of silence while both smoked, Shirreffs put out his cigarette and asked Lane, “What is wrong?” Lane said.

Lane did not answer and Shirreffs began to hit her and after about a half minute, he stopped and stepped away.

A few minutes later, staff found Lane with blood running down her face. Her white T-shirt was splotched with the blood.

Emergency personnel transported her to French Hospital Medical Center where she was treated for her injuries before being released back to the mental health facility. Photos taken after the attack show Shirreffs’ bloody knuckles.

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.

“It seems to me that the mental health intervention program itself needs intervention,” McKiernan said. “I am just proud she has the courage to take on the unmotivated, non-listening establishment to make it better for others during their worst moments of crisis.”

Attorney Greg Coates, on behalf of the county, replied to the lawsuit, arguing that the county is not liable for damages because liability only exists if minimal standards for personnel, equipment and facilities are not met.

County mental health officials refused to comment, citing law that makes it a crime to discuss a mental patient’s case.

“Even with the successful conclusion of this case she will be left with lifelong emotional and visual scars from the inexplicable and societal unacceptable incident,” McKiernan said. “Every citizen of the community should be outraged, embarrassed and scared for their loved ones.”


William Shirreffs’ criminal past

William Shirreffs shortly after his arrest for assault

William Shirreffs, 59, has an extensive history of criminal convictions for violence, drugs, molestation of children, indecent exposure and theft, according to his criminal case information from Kern County Superior Court.

In 2008, Shirreffs was sentenced to 100 days in jail for assault with a deadly weapon and battery with serious bodily harm. In the spring of 2009, the court sentenced Shirreffs to another 100 days, this time for battery of a police officer.

After an early release for good behavior in late 2009, Shirreffs again found himself back in court after another arrest for battery with serious bodily injury.

June 13, 2008 – assault with a deadly weapon and battery with serious bodily harm

January 7, 2009 – trespassing and refusing to leave property

April 14, 2009 – battery on a person

April 17, 2009 – battery against a police officer

June 30, 2009 – petty theft and possession of marijuana

October 19, 2009 – battery with serious bodily harm

May 15, 2010 – child molestation and indecent exposure

June 10, 2010 – possession of a controlled substance

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Maybe I’m mistaken but did I see the creep open the door and walk out of the fenced-in smoking area? That door wasn’t locked at all.

I have to agree with most of the posters here, the county is indeed at fault. CMH has lots of problems but as with every other government agency, throwing a ton of money at it won’t fix anything. It’ll just make sure that the incompetent morons in charge get paid even more money.

A word of advice to the County Supes, settle this one fast because even in this corrupt county, no jury is going to find you not at fault for this. And the monetary award will be enormous.

P.S. this psycho should be locked up and the key thrown away. The article doesn’t say whether he was charged in this attack, even though with a video evidence like that, even our DA could get a conviction. This crazy bastard is escalating in his violent attacks and will eventually kill someone. He needs to be locked up for good.

The charges were eventually dropped by the SLO DA.

That figures.

Man we need a new DA. Someone with cajones. When is he up for re-election again?

So let me get this straight, SLO County is zero tolerance for DUI and throws the book at offenders, but I guess has total indifference to blatant assault and battery with great bodily injury (a felony BTW), especially if it happened at a county-run facility, and might taint the county government. What the hell, they’re just crazy people anyway, right!?!

Didn’t a woman from Morro Bay get sent to CMH for a 72-hour evaluation a few years ago and got left tied up only to eventually choke to death?

Guess that wasn’t anyone’s fault either…

We really need to clean house big time in this county.

One of the basic requirements for legal sufficiency to justify giving a court “territorial jurisdiction” over the case is the exact location where the injury took place.

There are a lot of “mental health facilities” in this area, if you include all the satellite offices of San Luis Obispo County Mental Health. What is the exact address of this facility? Was it in Atascadero or San Luis Obispo?

Did the assault take place at the substandard, mismanaged “psyche wing” of the old General Hospital? Being more specific will give other readers intentionally placed in dangerous circumstances and facilities a way to send a summons and complaint to the right address.

Keep up the righteous cause, CCC, because your local government won’t do it for you. If you put this harsh reality before the public, you will be surprised at how many people have gone through something like this, and for how long it has been going on. The individuals who ochestrated this, and who had the government employee and managerial postions to make these decisions and policies are just a responsible as two criminals who intentionally place two dogs together intending them to fight, and to injure each other, for the purpose of making money off of it.

Wow . . .

Why do we allow people like this guy to live? does he really deserve to? think about it, after looking at his criminal past at what point do we say ” thats it, no more chances as you blew it one too many times”. Does anyone really think that prison or mental help will “fix” this guys problems? At what point does society say “enough is enough” to some of these career criminals who obviously have flawed thought patterns/genetics?

I propose their be a list of “deputy’s” that accept these pieces of excrement like Shirreffs on an “as needed” basis. I’d put a stop to that propensity to attack an innocent “anyone” and at the same time clean out those few teeth he has left in his empty cavern of a brain!

He’d be kept very busy doing menial manual labor hauling a 45# ball and chain with him everywhere he went and each time he felt violent he wouldn’t have to look far for someone ready to accomodate his little punk-like desires.

Sorry, the video just makes me sick and while we can blame the county (obviously they lose this one) I blame the animal who attacked this innocent woman.

This sounds mean so let me off easy and assume I’ve heard the “mental health” arguments about all I can stand.