Insane Policies

On Sept. 17, Philip Arnold Paul was on a field trip from Eastern State Mental Hospital to the Spokane County Fair when he escaped. He was captured three days and $37,000 later.

On Sept. 17, Philip Arnold Paul was on a field trip from Eastern State Mental Hospital to the Spokane County Fair when he escaped. He was captured three days and $37,000 later. As the media dug up the details, it became glaringly obvious that his escape could easily have been prevented if someone had been paying more attention. But it also could have been much worse.

Authorities found him in clichéd maniac style: hitchhiking on the side of a rural road with a scythe in his backpack. For those of you not familiar, a scythe is a long, curved blade attached to a handle that is used as a primitive harvesting tool as well as the weapon typically shown in illustrations of the Grim Reaper. I wonder where he even got that.

In 1987, Paul was 25 years old and living in Sunnyside, Wash. He was hearing voices in his head telling him an elderly woman was a witch who was casting spells on him. He then proceeded to murder 78-year-old Ruth Motley by snapping her neck and slashing her throat. He soaked the body in gasoline and buried the woman in her own flower garden. He was diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia and labeled criminally insane. His brother, Tom Paul, told Associated Press reporters that Philip has spent most of his life institutionalized while being on and off a variety of medications. He has repeatedly proven he is too unstable to live in society, according to Tom.

Washington state law (RCW 10.77.010) defines a criminally insane person as “any person who has been acquitted of a crime charged by reason of insanity, and thereupon found to be a substantial danger to other persons or to present a substantial likelihood of committing criminal acts jeopardizing public safety or security unless kept under further control by the court or other persons or institutions.”

According to the Washington Department of Human and Social Services (DSHS) Web site, Eastern State Hospital—where Paul resided—has an 83-bed forensic services unit where patients with a history of criminal or sexual offenses are housed. It was remodeled in 2000 with state-of-the-art security construction, including locked and controlled buildings with security fences. The Web site goes on to say that patients eventually earn privileges, which progress into trips off of the ward and sometimes into the community. These privileges are under “doctor’s orders” and patients are not allowed to leave the hospital without a security agent if they are a danger to themselves or the community.

According to the Associated Press, Paul had petitioned to be released to a downtown Spokane residential facility in early September and had been turned down by a judge who found him to be “a threat to society.” Clearly, the conditions and restrictions described on the department’s Web site were not followed.

Either Paul should not have even been on the field trip, or there should have been a security agent along to monitor him. It seems that this procedure hasn’t been followed in some time because, in 1991, Paul escaped on a similar field trip just four years after he committed the murder.

The Washington Federation of State Employees is a union representing some of Eastern Hospital’s workers. After Paul’s escape, the union released a statement saying they had long opposed such field trips and the union workers believed Paul to be an extreme escape risk. These same workers had previously fought for an end to such outings for forensic patients. Obviously, the escape could have been avoided if someone in authority had listened to these workers.

Susan Dreyfus, secretary for the Washington DSHS, ordered a halt to all such field trips for forensic patients in all three of Washington’s state mental institutions shortly after Paul’s escape. Harold Wilson, CEO for 10 years at Eastern Hospital, has submitted his resignation effective Oct. 1, Washington DSHS announced. So now it seems the administrators are, in a sense, acknowledging their glaring oversights. Oops—I guess hindsight is 20/20.