Union says it warned about mental patient outings

Union says it warned about mental patient outings
Phillip Arnold Paul
SEATTLE (AP) - Two days after an insane killer escaped from a field trip organized by his mental hospital, the union that represents mental hospital workers said it had become concerned about the type of patients allowed to participate in such outings.

Police continued to search Saturday for 47-year-old Phillip Arnold Paul, who walked away from the Spokane County Fair during an outing Thursday with 30 other Eastern State Hospital patients.

A police helicopter will canvass from the air, and officers will check transient camps and monitor railroad lines in the search for Paul, authorities said.

"The manhunt continues," said Spokane County sheriff's spokesman Dave Reagan. "We truly suspect he is headed for Sunnyside. His parents live there."

Paul had been committed after he was acquitted by reason of insanity in the 1987 slaying of an elderly woman, whose body he soaked in gasoline to throw off search dogs. Paul buried the woman's remains in her flower garden.

Patients must be cleared by a treatment team before they can go on trips to stores, parks, and other sites, said Dr. Rob Henry, director of forensic services at Eastern State. They wear street clothing and staff members are required to keep each patient within eyesight at all times.

But Paul's inclusion in Thursday's field trip to the fair drew sharp criticism from Gov. Chris Gregoire and the union that represents Eastern State Hospital workers.

Greg Davis, president of Washington Federation of State Employees Local 782, said the union has expressed concerns about public outings to hospital management during official and unofficial meetings.

In recent years, the types of patients allowed to participate in the outings has become more inclusive, Davis said.

"Under older policy, a patient (like Paul) would not have been included in that outing," he said. "That outing is for the best of the best ... patients with years of compliance and excellent behavior, people who the courts agree are ready to re-enter society."

A Yakima County judge had ruled two weeks ago that Paul remained a threat to the public because of his aggressive behavior and his decreased awareness of his psychosis, The Spokesman-Review reported Saturday.

The Spokane newspaper reported that Paul had repeatedly tried to win full release from his court-ordered commitment, especially after fathering a child with a woman during a conditional release.

Davis said allowing patients like Paul to go on field trips can put hospital workers and the public at risk.

After Paul's escape, the Department of Social and Health Services ordered an immediate end to trips like the one taken Thursday and launched an investigation into the practice.

Paul is a white male, 5-foot-8, 220 pounds, with brownish-gray hair, blue eyes and a goatee. At the time of his escape, he was wearing a red windbreaker jacket, with a T-shirt and jeans.

The sheriff's office said Friday that his medication should keep him stable for 14 days.

Paul had escaped before.

In 1991, he walked away during a day trip to a Washington lake and was later captured. Paul attacked a sheriff's deputy in the jail booking area, knocking him unconscious, and was convicted of first-degree escape and second-degree assault.

Reagan said Paul's parents in Sunnyside, about 150 miles southwest of Spokane, were the only family members who have kept in constant touch with him. He had been known to call them daily while he was at Eastern State Hospital.