Woman brutalized on video at SLO County Mental Health
September 29, 2011
EDITOR’S NOTE: See the video of the assault in the text and William Shirreffs’ criminal past at the bottom of this story.
By KAREN VELIE
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.
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, 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