State settles with family of slain psychiatric hospital patient

SPOKANE, Wash. (AP) - Washington state has paid $500,000 to the family of a patient who was strangled to death at a psychiatric hospital, settling a lawsuit that accused the facility of failing to adequately supervise patients.

Duane Charley, 56, was strangled with a belt in November 2012 by another patient, Amber Roberts, authorities said. In the wake of the killing, Eastern State Hospital has made changes, the Spokesman-Review reported (http://bit.ly/1iFcvxg ).

The hospital's accreditation was briefly suspended and its chief executive reassigned with the Department of Social and Health Services. Dangerous equipment and items that could be used to strangle, such as belts, shoelaces and electrical cords, were removed.

"Patients have rights, so we have to balance that with safety. It's a hospital, not a prison," department spokesman John Wiley said.

The settlement in March resolved a lawsuit filed by Charley's family against the hospital in Medical Lake. It claimed that Roberts sneaked into Charley's room, crawled on top of him while he slept and wrapped her belt around his neck.

Roberts had been committed as criminally insane for strangling a Yakima woman and has been charged with murder in Charley's death.

The family sued in the hope it would "bring about a focus to the problems out there," attorney Kelly Konkright said, referring to the hospital. "We hope this brings about change, so tragic events like this don't happen in the future."

Charley had been a patient at the hospital since 1995. He was diagnosed with mild mental retardation, schizoaffective disorder and depression, according to court documents. Doctors considered him "gravely disabled," unable to care for his own needs and vulnerable to serious harm if not involuntarily committed.

The night of the killing, Roberts made a game of Charley's death, telling an employee "you're going to have to find him" as she followed the staff member down the hall as he checked rooms, according to court records.

Two psychologists last month deemed Roberts competent to stand trial, which is scheduled for Oct. 13.