Patient will stay at state hospital
Lawyer criticizes board’s decision, saying it breaks a previous agreement
By Alan Gustafson
April 1, 2010
In a controversial ruling Wednesday, a state board decided that an Oregon State Hospital patient must remain at the psychiatric facility until his attorney finds a suitable place for him to live.
Steve Gorham, a Salem lawyer representing Richard Laing, accused the state Psychiatric Security Review Board of breaking its previous agreement with his client. The agreement called for Laing to be freed once he finished a prison stint for escaping from the state hospital in 2005.
Gorham blasted the board’s decision.
“It’s no wonder the state hospital is overcrowded when the board can’t even follow the law,” he said after the hearing. “The bottom line is, never make an agreement with the state of Oregon, because they will violate it.”
In May 2008, the board cut a deal with Laing, leading to him being moved from OSH to the Department of Corrections to serve a negotiated 32-month prison sentence for his November 2005 escape. Upon completion of his sentence, Laing, barring mental health problems, would be released into the community and serve a two-year term of post-prison supervision, according to the agreement.
Laing completed his prison time March 18 and was taken back to the state hospital, pending the outcome of Wednesday’s hearing.
During the hourlong hearing, Gorham argued that Laing doesn’t have a mental illness and doesn’t belong at the state hospital.
Laing entered OSH in 2002 after getting drunk and hitting his Portland landlord in the head with a coffee mug. His heavy drinking caused alcohol-induced psychosis, but his symptoms cleared once he was taken into custody, records show.
Laing pleaded guilty except for insanity to avoid a 70-month mandatory prison term for assault.
His November 2005 escape from OSH came on the heels of repeated denials by the PSRB of his release requests. Given a pass to visit the Salem library, Laing hopped a bus to Portland.
During two years on the lam, Laing was arrested once for sleeping under a Portland bridge, but he experienced no mental health problems and had no other scrapes with the law, Gorham said.
Laing was captured in October 2007, when the executive director of the PSRB, Mary Claire Buckley, spotted him on a Portland street and alerted police.
In prison, Laing diligently attended Alcoholics Anonymous meetings and received a 30 percent “earned time” reduction in his sentence.
Laing, 70, does not show symptoms of mental health deterioration, according to a recent report written by Dr. Luvy Ruiz-Martinez, a state hospital psychiatrist.
Appearing before the review board Wednesday, Ruiz-Martinez described Laing as “very charming, very interesting.” But she told the board that it would take her about a month to perform a full mental health evaluation.
Gorham told the board that Laing should be allowed to go back into the community on post-prison supervision, as specified by the 2008 agreement, which he called binding.
Under that scenario, Laing planned to start off at a Portland halfway house for newly released prison inmates and eventually move into a hotel room or apartment. He intended to pay his rent with monthly Social Security income and wages earned by selling newspapers.
Douglas Marshall, a senior state assistant attorney general, told the board that he concurred with Gorham’s assertion about the 2008 agreement. He, too, called it binding.
But the board ruled otherwise after a half-hour of closed-door deliberations. The panel said Laing will remain at the state hospital until Gorham delivers a plan spelling out living arrangements deemed acceptable by the PSRB.
Outside the hearing room, Gorham strongly criticized the PSRB and Laing’s ongoing hospitalization.
“They should have discharged him,” he said. “He’s no more dangerous than you or I.”
Laing said he intended to sue the PSRB.
“That was a joke,” he said. “They went against their own attorney general. I’m going to sue them for false imprisonment.”
To open hospital doors for Laing, Gorham said he will attempt to craft a housing plan that will pass muster with the PSRB.
“Hopefully, sooner rather than later,” he said. “If this is what is going to get him out, we’ll do what we can.”