Shea’s bill restricting forensic patient outings signed into law

Patients at state mental hospitals who have been judged criminally insane will soon be severely restricted from leaving their facilities under a bill sponsored by Rep. Matt Shea and signed into law today by Gov. Christine Gregoire.

Shea authored House Bill 2717 in response to the escape last September of Philip Paul, who simply walked away from an Eastern State Hospital “therapeutic outing” during “Family Day” at the Spokane County Fair. It took two hours before authorities were notified of his escape at the fairgrounds and three days before he was recaptured some 250 miles away in Goldendale, Washington. The incident made national headlines.

Paul had been committed to the hospital after he was found not guilty by reason of insanity for the 1987 murder of a Sunnyside woman.

“Philip Paul’s escape paralyzed the greater Spokane area with fear. He was allowed to be within feet of our children and families at the fairgrounds. This is a dangerous and violent man who brutally murdered an elderly woman. He should have never been taken out of the mental hospital to put the public at risk. This legislation is meant to ensure that dangerous forensic patients remain separated from the public except under very specific circumstances so this can never happen again,” said Shea, R-Spokane Valley.

Under the bill, a person committed to a state facility for the purpose of determining competency, restoring competency, or as the result of a finding of not guilty by reason of insanity, would not be allowed to leave that facility except for:

  • necessary medical or legal proceedings not available in the facility where he or she is confined;
  • visits to the bedside of a member of an immediate family member who is seriously ill;
  • attendance at the funeral of an immediate family member; or
  • authorized by the court.

Prior to any authorized release, the bill requires the Department of Social and Health Services to give notification to any county or city law enforcement agency having jurisdiction in the location of the patient’s destination.

“The 4th District and the citizens of Washington are now safer,” Shea added.

Shea’s measure was among 19 public-safety bills signed today by the governor in Lakewood. The signing ceremony was held at the Lakewood Police Department in honor and remembrance of four of its police officers who lost their lives in a shootout last November at a coffee shop in Spanaway.

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Washington State House Republican Communications