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Atascadero psychiatric patient arrested in slaying of fellow patient

Laws and LegislationCrimeHomicideJustice SystemTrials and ArbitrationKatcho Achadjian
An Atascadero State Hospital patient is jailed on suspicion of killing another at the psychiatric facility
California's state mental hospitals struggle with increasingly violent patients arriving from jails and prison
A proposed state bill would require dangerous patients to be segregated for special treatment when possible

A 34-year-old Atascadero State Hospital patient with several felony convictions for violent assaults has been arrested in connection with the slaying of a fellow patient at the state psychiatric facility.

Adam Paul Cary was booked into San Luis Obispo County Jail on suspicion of murder at 10:38 p.m. Wednesday -- about eight and a half hours after staff at the Central Coast hospital were alerted to a critically injured patient in a dorm room, a spokesman with the California Department of State Hospitals said in a statement.

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FOR THE RECORD

A previous version of this post said a hospital technician was groped under her clothing. She was groped through her clothing.

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The employees tried to revive the patient but he died in the hospital's urgent care unit a short time later. His name has not yet been released, pending notification of his family.

Reports initially indicated there were two patients present in the room who may have been involved in the slaying, but only Cary was arrested. One psychiatric technician injured his back and wrist while responding to the attack. He was taken to a local hospital for assessment but was not admitted.

"The safety and security of staff and patients has always been one of the highest priorities for the Department of State Hospitals," the statement said, noting that the homicide "will be fully reviewed and assessed."

The department, the statement, added, remains committed "to the ongoing analysis of aggression-related issues in order to identify high risk situations and make modifications to policies and processes system-wide as needed."

Records indicate Cary was charged in connection with a 2003 Riverside County attempted rape and had a prior violent felony offense. Because of his mental illness, he was repeatedly deemed incompetent to stand trial and sent for stabilization to Patton State Hospital in San Bernardino, to a Sylmar facility, and to Napa State Hospital.

He ultimately pleaded guilty to assault with intent to commit rape in early 2011 and received credit for 3,025 days served in jail and state mental hospitals.

The Megan's Law directory of registered sex offenders lists Cary, who is 6-foot-8, as "in custody."  

The Department of State Hospitals did not state when Cary was admitted to Atascadero, which treats men with severe psychiatric illness who are channeled through the criminal justice system. Among them are patients who served prison stints for crimes related to their illness but were deemed too dangerous for release on parole.

Safety has been a chronic concern at the state's five mental hospitals for years, and employee unions and lawmakers have called for additional safeguards for both patients and staff.

A spokeswoman for the California Assn. of Psychiatric Technicians said the homicide should prompt support for an Assembly bill that would create specialized "enhanced treatment units" at all the hospitals for those patients deemed most dangerous.

Atascadero has such a unit, but Wednesday's attack occurred in a regular unit, department spokesman Ken August said.

A separate attack occurred at Napa State Hospital on Saturday, according to Brady Oppenheim, spokeswoman for the psychiatric technician union. In that incident, she said, a patient with a record of 11 recent "assaultive incidents laid in wait in a unit stairwell and attacked a female psychiatric technician."

The employee "activated her alarm and a wide variety of staff sped to her aid," according to a flier prepared by the union. The wireless alarm system at Napa State Hospital is relatively new and was installed after a 2010 slaying of a psychiatric technician there.

August confirmed Saturday's assault and said the technician was "groped through her clothing." The patient was arrested that same day on charges of sexual battery, false imprisonment, and intent to commit rape and was taken to the Napa County jail, he said.

The union cited both incidents in urging support for legislation sponsored by Assemblyman Katcho Achadjian (R-San Luis Obispo).

In addition to calling for special units at all hospitals, the bill would require attacks by patients that cause injury and rise to a level of misdemeanor or felony assault to be referred to the local district attorney.

If the patient is deemed mentally incompetent to face charges and is returned to the hospital, the bill requires that the patient be confined to an enhanced treatment unit until stabilized. 

The five state psychiatric hospitals serve about 6,521 patients, 92% of them arrested in connection with or convicted of a crime linked to their mental illness. The population has become increasingly violent.

According to system-wide data in the Achadjian bill analysis, there were 4,283 incidents involving patient-on-patient aggression and 3,050 aggressive acts against staff in 2012.

Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times
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Laws and LegislationCrimeHomicideJustice SystemTrials and ArbitrationKatcho Achadjian
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