Western State Hospital and the Attorney General Office did not invoke a 2013 law aimed at addressing the release of potentially violent patients into the community in a recent effort to place a man charged with murder.
Four months ago, leaders of Western State Hospital tried to release a mentally ill man charged with murder to an adult family home in Lakewood, a few blocks from an elementary school.
The outcry was swift and loud: Lakewood Mayor Don Anderson, state Sen. Steve O’Ban and Pierce County Prosecutor Mark Lindquist led the chorus, pleading their case to Gov. Jay Inslee. As a result, the release of Lawrence David Butterfield, 62, was postponed, and he returned to the confines of the state hospital.
The debate over the aborted release continued, marked by a simple question: Why? Why would the hospital release Butterfield when four separate psychological evaluations labeled him as dangerous and noted his risk to reoffend in the future?
One answer: State attorneys and hospital leaders either sidestepped or believed they could not invoke a 2013 law designed to address such circumstances, according to information obtained by The News Tribune.
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A series of decisions by clinicians at Western State and lawyers for the state Attorney General’s Office allowed Butterfield’s proposed release to go forward without any of the additional scrutiny and oversight the law was intended to provide.
O’Ban, R-Lakewood, was not happy to learn that.
“If there’s a mechanism that exists and applies, and it wasn’t applied, that’s a concern,” he said in a recent interview.
State Rep. Christine Kilduff, D-Lakewood, has filed a bill in advance of next year’s legislative session that would add more teeth to the 2013 law, creating new powers of intervention for prosecutors and local law- enforcement leaders.
Kilduff hopes her bill will provide a legal fix — but an examination of the process surrounding Butterfield’s case suggests that the existing law might have applied if state and hospital leaders had used the tools it provided.
Citing laws governing patient privacy, representatives of the state Department of Social and Health Services (DSHS) and the state Attorney General’s Office say they can’t discuss Butterfield’s case or even acknowledge its existence.
Court records related to the criminal charges against him are open to the public, but legal…