House committee approves Shea bill restricting outings of certain mentally-ill patients

A bill prompted by the escape last fall of criminally-insane killer Phillip Paul won approval today in the House Human Services Committee. House Bill 2717, prime-sponsored by Rep. Matt Shea, R-Spokane Valley, would restrict outings of certain institutionalized mentally-ill patients.

In September, Paul, who had brutally murdered an elderly Sunnyside woman in 1987, was taken on a “therapeutic outing” with other Eastern State Hospital patients to “Family Day” at the Spokane County Fair, where he simply walked away. It took two hours before authorities were notified and three days before Paul was recaptured some 250 miles away in Goldendale, Washington.

Shea says the measure is aimed to prevent this kind of escape in the future.

“I think the entire city of Spokane and all of Eastern Washington were in shock when this killer was taken to the fairgrounds where children were with their families and he walked off. Phillip Paul had escaped custody in the past, so those in charge at the Department of Social and Health Services should have known he was a high flight-risk patient. It’s totally inexcusable that such a dangerous man was taken on an outing and let loose among families,” said Shea. “We must assure the public that this will never be allowed to happen again!”

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 the state institution where he or she has been committed, except under certain circumstances. Those exceptions include:

  • when necessary medical or legal proceedings are not available in the facility where the person is confined;
  • visits to the bedside of an immediate family member who is seriously ill;
  • attendance at the funeral of an immediate family member; and
  • court-authorized outings.

The measure now goes to the House Rules Committee for further consideration.

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