Arizona mental hospital withholds sex assault records; insiders say patients at risk

For nearly a year, officials have failed to turn over public records regarding sex assaults at the Arizona State Hospital despite laws that requires them to provide them "promptly."

The ABC15 Investigators filed a public records request in August, seeking copies of incident reports related to sex assault allegations made by patients at the mental hospital for a three-year period.

“They’ve broken the law,” said David Cullier, a public records expert and dean of the University of Arizona journalism school. “The law is very specific. Government agencies must reply promptly to a public records request."

“Either they are trying to hide something or they are inept and need a new record-management system,” he said.

"Happens all of the time"

The Arizona State Hospital is a last resort for the seriously mentally ill and criminally insane. Roughly 230 patients are confined at the Phoenix facility located at 24th Street and Van Buren.

The hospital also has a unit for sexually violent offenders.

ABC15 requested the sex assault records after multiple employees described incidents of troubling sexual behavior and possible sex assaults.

We are not naming the employees for fear of retaliation.

Employees told ABC15 patients openly expose themselves to other patients and staff. In some cases, several patients will do it all at once.

“(It) happens all of the time, almost every shift,” one employee said.

Several sources have also said a former employee was found in an “inappropriate” situation in with a patient earlier this year.

A state spokesperson sent ABC15 a short statement denying the allegation. They declined to discuss any specifics.

"While the Department is prohibited from commenting on personnel matters, the information you presented about a staff member is false," the statement said.

In that incident, a Phoenix police dispatch report obtained by ABC15 said “social worker having a mental breakdown and is being detained by security.” The report continues, “Several security have her pinned on the ground and requesting PD assist.”

ABC15 is not naming the employee because she was not charged with a crime. However, Phoenix Police have had contact with the employee twice before the incident at the hospital, records show.

In one of those incidents, an officer wrote: “(Suspect) works in psych (sic) hospital, and according to her family on scene, lost one of her patients, and is having difficulty dealing with the loss. (Suspect) said ‘God’ told her the patient is suffering, and therefore she must suffer, and that is why she removed her clothing, and kept yelling she was going to be raped like the patient was.”

Incomplete information released

ABC15’s initial request for records and information was made on August 16, 2013.

A copy of that records request can be seen here .  

Among other things, the request was made for “a copy of all critical incident reports, including any final findings or actions, for all sex assaults at the Arizona State Hospital for 2011, 2012, 2013.”

In November, officials only released a copy of their policies and a basic list of sex assault allegations. The list did not include any information about what happened and is missing 2011 and most of 2013.

After repeated follow-up requests for the incident reports, the state has not complied.  ABC15 plans to continue to fight to obtain the public records and is considering legal action.

“It’s unconscionable that they would hide this information,” Cuillier said. “This is our public hospital. This is our money. And these are people who are being put at risk, and we need to know what’s going on.”

Limited Records, More Concerns

The limited information released by the state does raise questions about the state hospital’s ability to prevent and respond to sex assaults.  

This list provided to ABC15 only includes allegations from Jan. 2012 to March 2013.  During that period, it shows 28 sex assault allegations.

In the Arizona State Hospital’s policies for sexual interaction between patients , it states that “if it is believed sexual assault did occur” that staff should “notify police” and “call a SANE (Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner)” if police do not to do a sex assault examination.

But Phoenix Police records show that the department was only notified three times during the 15-month period. A hospital spokesperson also said no sexual assault examination kits were given.

Contact ABC15 Investigator Dave Biscobing at dbiscobing@abc15.com .

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