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Man dies after attack at state hospital

Romney and Lin are Times staff writers.

A psychiatric patient beaten in the face by a fellow patient at a state-run mental hospital in San Bernardino died Monday, two weeks after the initial attack, authorities said.

The death of Gilbert Anthony Mendoza may raise new questions about conditions at Patton State Hospital, which has been under federal scrutiny for several years. Coroners officials said Tuesday they have not yet determined what caused Mendoza’s death.

A scathing U.S. Department of Justice report in 2006 found that the hospital suffered from high rates of patient-on-patient violence and repeated suicide attempts by hanging.

Mendoza was severely beaten Nov. 24, four days after his 49th birthday. On Dec. 2, the San Bernardino County district attorney charged Terence Robinson with battery with serious bodily injury.

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Robinson, 25, was being held at the West Valley Detention Center in Rancho Cucamonga. A preliminary hearing in his case is scheduled for Thursday in San Bernardino County Superior Court.

Mendoza was pronounced dead Monday afternoon after he was taken from Patton to St. Bernardine Medical Center, said San Bernardino County sheriff’s spokeswoman Sandy Fatland.

David Pretzer, who like Mendoza was being treated in the hospital’s Unit 34, said Mendoza was beaten badly in the face by another patient during a Narcotics Anonymous meeting in the hospital’s dining hall.

“This guy started hitting him again and again in the face real hard,” said Pretzer, 42, who considered Mendoza a close friend. “They got him back to the unit, and they had to patch up his face with gauze and tape.”

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Pretzer said that after the attack Mendoza needed stitches on the side of his face, down his nose and between his eyebrows and was briefly hospitalized after the incident “at least once or twice.” Back on the unit, however, Mendoza “kept bleeding out of his nose. He was bleeding real hard.”

On Monday, Pretzer said, his friend began to have trouble breathing and lost consciousness. He described Mendoza as a peaceful and generous man who often shared his food with other patients on the unit. “He was really nice. Stable all the time, hardly ever lashing out at anyone,” he said.

Pretzer said he did not believe the assailant’s intent was deadly.

Nancy Kincaid, a spokeswoman for the state Department of Mental Health, said she could not talk about the specifics of the case because of patient privacy rules and the ongoing probe.

“It is a great concern for the hospital and the department when something like this occurs,” Kincaid said.

Patton mainly houses severely mentally ill people referred by the criminal courts. The last time a patient was slain at Patton was in 2006. Two other patients were slain in separate incidents the previous year. Before 2005, the hospital had not had a slaying in 11 years.Mendoza’s death came the same week that a federally appointed monitor and his team of inspectors were at the hospital to check progress on a consent judgment reached in federal court in 2006 that called for sweeping reforms.

The decree outlined a detailed prescription to prevent suicides and assaults at the state’s troubled mental hospitals. At least one psychiatrist at Patton said he believed conditions have worsened during the period of federal oversight, in part because of a sharp increase in demand for documentation that he says has left clinicians less time for patient care.

“Everyone is so fatigued doing paperwork,” said the psychiatrist, who asked not to be named out of fear it could jeopardize his job. “The assault rate has increased.”

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Data posted on the website of the state Department of Mental Health show there have been recent increases in patient-on-patient aggression resulting in major injury as well as increases in the number of self-inflicted major injuries.

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leora.romney@latimes.com

ron.lin@latimes.com


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