Monday, June 1, 2009

Abusive staff at psychiatric hospitals are good recruits for police and Department of Corrections

The May 30, 2009 “News & Observer” article titled “Retrial bad news for former Cherry workers,” was very insightful. It told how two male employees at Cherry Hospital, a state psychiatric facility, beat up a thirty year old handicapped man, punching him and kicking him in the head and torso for about three minutes. The assault was witnessed by two female health care technicians who the assailants tried to coerce into remaining silent. At an initial trial, the two were convicted of misdemeanor assault and sentenced to four weekends in jail and 50 hours of community service by a Wayne County judge. They decided to appeal their case before a jury trial and were again convicted, but with a harsher sentence: 60 days in jail, $250.00 fine, and accumulated fees for their court appointed attorneys.

Decent, civilized people of good conscience do not condone the brutal behavior of the employees. However, the article by N&O staff write Michael Biesecker did point out that of 192 cases in 2008, in which internal hospital investigations confirmed that patients were abused by hospital staff, in fewer than 13% of those cases were employees charged with crimes. The article stated that many of these individuals who assaulted patients were allowed to quietly resign or transfer to other government jobs, sometimes as police officers or prison guards. For these people, who are no more than thugs, the police force is the last place they should be allowed to work. It should be an automatic disqualifier.

I guess the rationale for allowing abusive brutes to work as correctional officers is that the people do not care if prisoners (especially those who are poor, disenfranchised, and people of color) are soundly beaten and abused. It certainly would give credence to the severe beating that Timothy Helms sustained while in solitary confinement. (Although Department of Corrections Secretary Alvin W. Keller, Jr. believes Helms sustained two skull fractures and welts over his body, consistent with billy clubs, secondary to falling and hitting his head on the concrete floor.)

The procedure of allowing state employed wrong-doers to quietly resign was evidently offered to an unidentified corrections officer who sprayed pepper foam on quadriplegic Timothy Helms for his refusal to stop banging on a door and cursing. However, since the DOC is withholding the officer’s identity, it is not possible to confirm that any disciplinary action has been, or will be taken.

The article stated that local prosecutors were often reluctant to take cases of assault and abuse to trial, but it did not offer a reason for this reluctance. Maybe it has to do with difficulty in finding someone to fill the position of employees at mental health facilities, or maybe the empathy of the public towards people with mental illness is not much greater than that for inmates.

In an attempt to appear engaged, Attorney General Roy Cooper issued a statement saying his office would continue (implying that it currently is) to pursue state hospital employees who abuse those in their care. State psychiatric patients are not the only ones who are threatened with physical abuse by staff in state facilities. The inmates in the North Carolina prisons are, as well. The attorney general made no statement about the torture and abuse the inmates suffer at the hands of correctional officers. Attorney General Cooper issued no statement about the beating Timothy Helms suffered and the delay in seeking treatment which resulted in quadriplegia. Maybe that is because, like DOC Secretary Keller, he believes that Mr. Helms fell and injured himself. Besides, after an intensive investigation, the State Bureau of Investigation, with all of its state-of-the-art forensics assisted acumen, was unable to determine how Mr. Helms received the two skull fractures and multiple welts to his body (consistent with billy clubs) while in solitary confinement.

Because of the lack of commitment by the state to see that inmates are treated humanely and with respect, heavy-handed attacks, not unlike those against Timothy Helms, Theodore Jerry Williams, and others, will unfortunately persist.

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