Change the law, keep the public safe

  • Monday, September 28, 2009 8:20pm
  • Opinion

By State Rep.

Christopher Hurst

My wife and I saw Crosby, Stills, and Nash at the Puyallup fair, a fun memory. As a former police detective and commander of a homicide task force, I’ve seen things I’d like to forget. As a lawmaker – and chair of the House committee that deals with crime and public safety – I can’t imagine why it’d make sense for mental hospitals to take a criminally insane murderer on a field trip to the fair.

Phillip Paul carefully planned his escape, taking his guitar along with a backpack full of freeze-dried food, $50 and his personal belongings from the mental hospital. After his escape, he armed himself with a weapon – a hand scythe – and acquired a change of clothes while making it 200 miles from the mental hospital.

By now we all know the story. In 1987, Paul brutally murdered 78-year-old Ruth Mottley, a retired teacher and pillar of the community, a person so respected she’d been listed as one of our state’s 100 most influential women.

Doctors diagnosed him as a paranoid schizophrenic and criminally insane. Instead of going to prison for murder, he was found not guilty by reason of insanity and committed to Eastern State Hospital.

But there’s a difference between being not guilty by reason of insanity and being unable to function.

Phillip Paul can function. He may not legally know right from wrong, but he knows that he wants out. He successfully petitioned the court to move him to the far less restrictive Carlyle, where he fathered a child and lived until this past January, when the court found that his condition had deteriorated.

I’m shocked the court let him move there at all.

Only four years after Ruth Mottley was murdered, Paul escaped, and when he was captured that time, he knocked out and severely injured a deputy.

Never again.

Our state’s mental hospitals aren’t run by law enforcement. They’re overseen by the Department of Social and Health Services which has put a hold on these sorts of field trips. I’m sure there will be meetings and recommendations, but I’m proposing a simple new law that will protect the public from people like Phillip Paul.

If you’ve committed a violent crime and you’re committed to a mental institution, no field trips and you never travel outside the mental hospital without (a) shackles and (b) a staff member with the gear and training to handle violence.

Now, this isn’t cruel. Shackles aren’t handcuffs. They’re designed to be comfortable and worn for a long time. You just can’t run away or hurt people.

It also makes sense to have a staffer there who’s trained and ready for any escape attempts or attacks, especially with people like Paul who already have a history not only of killing defenseless 78-year-old women, but putting young, fit deputies in the hospital. This protects the public and protects the hospital staff.

Let’s do the right thing when it comes to the criminally insane. Let’s protect the public and do what’s smart to prevent people like Phillip Paul from escaping again.

Rep. Christopher Hurst (D-Greenwater) serves the 31st Legislative District in the state House of Representatives. He is a retired undercover detective and commander of a homicide task force. He is chair of the Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness Committee.

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