Documentary provides insight and explores mental illness at Oregon State Hospital

By Michelle Cole, The Oregonian, Portland, Ore.

June 25–The latest film about Oregon’s infamous state mental hospital contains scenes from Hollywood’s “One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest,” but the stories it tells are real.

“Guilty Except for Insanity” is a 90-minute documentary offering viewers a chance to get to know three men and two women who are patients at the Oregon State Hospital. It chronicles the haunting events that landed them in the hospital, what life is like on the ward and just how difficult it is to get better and get out.

The film started as a class project for Portland State University psychology professor Jan Haaken, who turned more than two years and 70 interviews into a documentary slated for its Portland premiere Sunday night.

Haaken talked with The Oregonian Thursday about the film, including her plans to do a final edit in response to the feedback she gets from Sunday’s audience. Here is condensed version of that interview:

The five patients you featured have interesting yet terrible stories how did you choose them?

I wanted ethnic diversity and gender diversity. I found that over half of the patients we approached wanted to have their story told. Those stories, in one way or another, involve people whose lives had fallen apart quite a bit before the state steps in — and we step in with a heavy boot.

What did you learn from making this film?
I started thinking the hospital was an evil place. I don’t any more. I see these places as shock absorbers in a very troubled system.

During the time you were making this documentary, there were a number of controversial events, yet you don’t mention the patient who was dead in his bed for hours before staff noticed or the ongoing U.S. Department of Justice investigation. Was that on purpose?
Yes. I wanted to focus on the people in the hospital and those who carry out the work.

What do you want Oregon viewers to take away from your documentary?
The film is different from social-problem documentaries in that it doesn’t direct you to do a particular thing at the end or offer a clear resolution in terms of who the bad guy is.

People carry these images of the “criminally insane,” I’m hoping people will see more of the complex humanity.

Have the patients and staff seen this film and will any of them be there for the Portland premiere?
Yes. All five of the featured patients will be with me and taking questions and comments from the audience.

— Michelle Cole

Documentary Website:


Shenkman considering using insanity defense

By Karen Florin Day Staff Writer
Results of mental evaluation awaited

The attorney for Richard J. Shenkman is considering an insanity defense and will make a decision once he receives a report from a doctor who is evaluating his client.

Shenkman, 61, is facing a slew of criminal charges related to his divorce from ex-wife Nancy Tyler, which police said turned violent on several occasions. In March 2007, he allegedly burned down Tyler’s house in Niantic. In July 2009, police said he kidnapped his ex-wife at gunpoint and held her hostage in his South Windsor home. He torched the home after Tyler escaped, police said.

Shenkman may pursue the insanity defense in the hostage case, which is being heard in Hartford Superior Court. During an appearance Thursday, defense attorney Hugh Keefe said he would be receiving a report from the doctor who is evaluating Shenkman’s mental condition and would notify the court before Shenkman’s Aug. 26 court date if he plans to pursue the “not guilty by reason of mental disease or defect” defense. Should Shenkman pursue the insanity defense, the state may want to order its own psychological evaluation, according to proscutor Vicki L. Melchiorre.

To be found not guilty by reason of mental disease or defect in Connecticut, a judge or jury must determine the defendant “lacked substantial capacity, as a result of mental disease or defect, either to appreciate the wrongfulness of his conduct or to control his conduct within the requirements of the law.” Once that finding has been made, the person is committed to a mental facility – usually the Whiting Forensic Institute in Middletown – and is under the care of the Psychiatric Security Review Board.

Also Thursday, Judge David P. Gold authorized the release of $37,500 put up as collateral for bail by Shenkman’s brother in one of the divorce-related criminal cases. Tyler, who has not been able to collect $180,000 that a judge ordered Shenkman to pay her as part of the divorce proceedings, had objected last month to the release of the money. Melchiorre said she spoke to an attorney for Mark Shenkman, who confirmed that the money belonged to Mark Shenkman and not his brother, “even though it is being funneled to (Richard),” Melchiorre said.

New London judge Susan B. Handy revoked Shenkman’s bail in the Niantic arson case following last summer’s hostage incident. In Hartford his remaining bonds are $12.5 million for the hostage case and $100 cash for an earlier case alleging he violated a protective order that required him to have no contact with Tyler.


Bratcher stays at OSH


SALEM – Jessie L. Bratcher will remain at the Oregon State Hospital, the state Psychiatric Security Review Board (PSRB) has decided.

Bratcher’s confinement was the subject of an April 28 hearing before the PSRB, the state panel that now is in control of his fate.

A Grant County jury last December found Bratcher guilty except for insanity for the shooting death a John Day man, Jose Ceja Medina, in 2008. He was turned over to the jurisdiction of the PSRB for life.

Bratcher was diagnosed with post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) stemming from his military service in Iraq.

The hearing in April was his first session before the review board. The board routinely sets hearings in such cases every two years, but Bratcher also has the right to request a hearing as often as every six months.

Grant County District Attorney Ryan Joslin, who attended the hearing, said the board had three questions to consider: Does Bratcher still have the mental disease or defect, PTSD? When the condition is active, is he a threat to the community? And could he be safely monitored in the community, rather than in the hospital?

The board said yes to the first two questions and no to the last, ruling that Bratcher should remain confined to the state hospital.

Markku Sario, Bratcher’s attorney, was seeking – at trial and before the PSRB – to have his client sent to New Directions, a secure treatment facility that specializes in veterans with PTSD. The founder of the Los Angeles-based facility for veterans even testified for the defense in Bratcher’s trial.

However, Sario said there seem to have been some changes in the management of the program since then, and he was surprised when New Directions notified the PSRB that Bratcher had not been analyzed or assessed for admission.

Sario said he’s looking into the situation, and he will continue to press for Bratcher to be sent to New Directions or some other PTSD program. He noted that the state hospital has no program focusing on PTSD.

Meanwhile, he said Bratcher is doing well at the hospital in Salem, attending group counseling and working on stress reduction techniques. His symptoms are “in remission,” Sario said.

“He’s very invested in his treatment,” he said.

Sario said that with many more Oregon veterans coming home with PTSD, after serving the nation in the Middle East, specialized programs are going to be a critical need.


Amanda Stott-Smith pleads guilty to drowning son, attempting to drown daughter

Amanda Stott-Smith
Nearly a year after Amanda Jo Stott-Smith was taken into custody in a downtown Portland parking garage, the 32-year-old woman pleaded guilty Tuesday in Multnomah County Circuit Court to the drowning death of her 4-year-old son and attempted drowning of her 7-year-old daughter.

Stott-Smith will be 67 before she will be eligible to apply for parole, under a negotiated plea deal that avoids trial in a gut-wrenching case that gripped the community.

Police say Stott-Smith pushed her children off the Sellwood Bridge into the Willamette River in the early-morning hours of May 23. The incident happened during her weekend visitation with the children, who lived with their dad. Eldon Jay Rebhan Smith died; his sister, now 8, survived.

Stott-Smith told investigators that she dropped both children off the bridge in an act of revenge against their father, Jason Smith, who was her estranged husband. She believed he was having an affair with a family friend. He had gained custody of the two children a month earlier, in late April 2009.

Stott-Smith had faced an eight-count indictment but pleaded guilty to one count each of aggravated murder and attempted aggravated murder.

“I’m guilty,” Stott-Smith said to each count Tuesday afternoon, standing before Judge Julie E. Frantz.

She will face a life sentence with the possibility of parole after a minimum of 35 years in prison, Deputy District Attorney John Casalino said. She’ll be on post-prison supervision for life.

Her sentencing will be April 22.

Stott-Smith, wearing her long, brown hair down and dressed in a black sweater over a blue shirt with black slacks and heels, sat between her two attorneys, Kenneth Hadley Jr. and Deborah Burdzik.

Sheriff’s deputies kept a chain around her ankles and waist, but her appearance was in stark contrast to her previous court appearances, when she wore either blue jail garb or a green suicide protective vest.

She looked behind her before the hearing began, apparently to see who was attending.

Jason Smith, the father of the two children Amanda Jo Stott-Smith threw off the Sellwood Bridge, listens to Tuesday’s court proceedings. His daughter, who survived, now lives with him in Eugene.

Jason Smith, who has had no contact with Stott-Smith since the event, walked into the courtroom with the prosecutor. He was accompanied by his lawyer, Laura Schantz, and sat in the front row.

“I think he’s doing it for the sake of his son, Eldon, and daughter,” Schantz said.

The judge noted that Stott-Smith is on a medication called Abilify, commonly prescribed for depression, and asked if she clearly understood the plea deal. “Yes,” she replied.

Stott-Smith wore a blank expression throughout most of the hearing. She briefly closed her eyes as the judge explained that she was pleading guilty to having intentionally caused the death of her son and intentionally attempting to cause the death of her daughter.

Casalino said the children’s father, who did not speak during or after the hearing, supported the sentence.

Around 1 a.m. May 23, about six hours after she picked up the children for her weekend visit, Stott-Smith, distraught and crying, called Jason Smith and told him, “Help me, help me. … You’ve taken my joy away. … Don’t have my kids anymore. Why have you done this to me?”

Jason Smith, according to court documents, told police he kept asking, “Are the kids OK? Where are the kids?”

The first calls to 9-1-1 reporting screams near the Sellwood Bridge came in about 1:20 a.m. Several residents were drawn outside, having heard a splash, then screams and moans from the river.

David Haag and his companion, Cheryl Robb, who lived in a floating home northwest of the bridge, got in their boat and maneuvered close to the children. They found the girl, her head and one leg out of the water, gasping for air.

Haag then noticed the boy, dived in and pulled the children from the water. He and Robb took them to the Oregon Yacht Club dock, where Sgt. Peter Simpson performed CPR on Eldon. It was too late to save him, but the girl was helped by paramedics.

Jason Smith called Tualatin police at 2:49 a.m., worried about the children’s welfare. Meanwhile, Portland police began tracking Stott-Smith by following her cell phone signal. They found her on the ninth floor of a downtown parking garage, where an officer grabbed her as she tried to jump about 10:25 a.m.

The previous summer, Stott-Smith’s family had raised concerns in court about her ability to care for her children because of alcohol abuse, and her mother, grandmother and brother-in-law took the awkward step of testifying against her.

Schantz said Tuesday that Smith’s daughter is doing “fantastic.” She lives with her dad in Eugene. She has received counseling and continues to take swimming lessons, a skill that saved her life.

“You’d think she’d be afraid, but she’s not. She loves to swim,” Schantz said.

Other relatives on Stott-Smith’s side of the family, as well as Portland homicide Detectives Michele Michaels and Bryan Steed, who handled the case, also attended the hearing.

The plea deal came after four settlement hearings. With it, Stott-Smith avoided a potential death sentence or true life in prison sentence were the case to go to trial. If she had pleaded guilty except for insanity, she would have been under the supervision of the Oregon Psychiatric Security Review Board, and the board would have determined when she might have been released or returned to the community.

— Maxine Bernstein

OSH Client Intends to Sue The PSRB

Patient will stay at state hospital
Lawyer criticizes board’s decision, saying it breaks a previous agreement

By Alan Gustafson
Statesman Journal
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.”

Patient has been trying to prove he’s not mentally ill


Cooped up at Oregon State Hospital, Richard Laing became a frustrated and fiery critic of patient care and hospital conditions.

Despite evidence that he wasn’t mentally ill, Laing couldn’t get out of the crowded, run-down mental institution.

In late 2005, he took off. Given a solo pass to visit Salem Public Library, Laing hopped a bus and left town.

Nearly two years later, police collared Laing in Portland. His negotiated punishment for the escape: 32 months in prison.

Laing figured he got a good deal. As he saw it, serving prison time was preferable to being stuck at the psychiatric facility, and he would be free upon completing his sentence.

Much to his dismay, Laing now is back inside the hospital he hates. He was hauled back to OSH on March 18, the day he completed his prison sentence for the 2005 escape.

A hearing today before the state Psychiatric Security Review Board will determine whether Laing, 70, remains at the mental hospital or receives a green light to live in the community — subject to post-prison supervision and separate monitoring by the PSRB.

Laing’s bid to get out of the state hospital renews his long-running battle to prove he’s not mentally ill.

“If you’re not crazy, you don’t belong in a mental institution,” he said by telephone this week from Ward 50G in the hospital’s forensic psychiatric program.

Steve Gorham, a Salem attorney representing Laing, said his client should be discharged from OSH.

“It’s clear that he has been in the state hospital for years and not been treated for anything there,” Gorham said. “He’s not under any medication.”

Laing had no mental health problems while on escape status from the hospital and received no psychiatric treatment during his prison stint, Gorham said.

“It seems to me that there’s pretty good evidence that he doesn’t have a psychiatric illness,” he said.

Laing entered OSH in 2002 after getting drunk and hitting his Portland landlord in the head with a coffee cup. He was in the throes of an alcohol-induced psychosis.

Laing said he pleaded guilty except for insanity to avoid a 70-month mandatory prison term for assault.

In Oregon, criminal defendants found guilty of crimes but insane at the time go to the hospital’s forensic program for treatment instead of prison. More than 400 forensic patients are housed at OSH.

Laing was unable to get out of the hospital, even though therapists and staffers said he had no symptoms of mental illness.

The state Psychiatric Security Review Board, which monitors the progress of forensic patients and controls their discharge dates, repeatedly turned down Laing’s release requests amid concerns about his checkered participation in group therapy sessions, whether he would be accepted into a community-based program for drug and alcohol abusers and his prospects for staying sober on the outside.

In December 2004, the Statesman Journal profiled Laing in a story that raised questions about his hospitalization.

It reported that taxpayers had shelled out $300,000 for his stay at OSH and quoted Laing’s assessment of the tab: “You could put somebody in a Hilton Hotel for that kind of price. It’s just insane.”

The following November, the PSRB again refused to release Laing.

Fed up, Laing used his off-grounds pass like a ticket to freedom. Instead of going to the city library, he boarded a Greyhound bus to Portland.

The escapee stayed free for almost two years, sleeping under bridges and roaming Portland. His meager income came from selling newspapers and collecting cans and bottles for refunds.

Laing’s days on the lam ended in October 2006. By happenstance, he was spotted on a Portland street by Mary Claire Buckley, executive director of the Psychiatric Security Review Board.

Buckley called police and she followed Laing until officers arrived and put him in handcuffs.

Laing looks back on Buckley’s role in his capture with a mix of irony and disbelief.

“It was just a fluke. I’m walking around in downtown Portland and I just walked right into her,” he said. “She had her cell phone and called police. Of all the things.”

Laing served part of his prison sentence at the Snake River Correctional Institution in Eastern Oregon. Last year, he was transferred to the Oregon State Correctional Institution in Salem.

Laing got a break when about nine months were lopped off his sentence through a controversial early-release program approved by the 2009 Legislature. To save money on lockup costs, lawmakers approved an expanded “earned time” program for prisoners. The new law increased from 20 percent to 30 percent the amount of time many inmates could have shaved off their sentences.

Laing’s prison time expired March 18, but he didn’t go free. Instead, he was sent back to the mental hospital, pending the outcome of today’s hearing before the PSRB.

Returning to OSH has rekindled Laing’s hatred of the hospital. He describes it as a crowded and violent warehouse.

Laing said he was punched in the face last week by another patient, a sneak attack that came as Laing was watching television on Ward 50C. Two blows to the face broke his prescription glasses and left him shaken.

“I’m no spring chicken anymore,” he said.

By Laing’s account, the assault was committed by a patient assigned one-on-one staff supervision due to recurring acts of violence.

“In 22 months in state prison, this never happened to me,” he said. “I’m back here eight days and some nut hits me in the head.”

Laing faces two years of post-prison supervision once he leaves OSH. In addition, he will continue to be monitored by the PSRB.

As Laing hopes for board approval to leave the hospital, he is taking legal action against the state.

After being assaulted, Laing filed a tort claim notice with the state, alleging the hospital was negligent in failing to properly supervise his attacker. Laing said he intends to sue the state unless he’s offered an out-of-court settlement. or (503) 399-6709

State hospital adviser re-admitted as patient

A conditionally released mental patient who serves on the Oregon State Hospital advisory board is back inside the psychiatric facility after a relapse of mental illness.

Mike Adelman, appointed to the OSH advisory board last year by Gov. Ted Kulongoski, landed back in the state hospital after what he described as “a manic episode.”

The state Psychiatric Security Review Board revoked his conditional release March 18, acting on a county case manager’s concerns about Adelman’s deteriorating mental health.

Now housed in the hospital’s forensic program, Adelman said by telephone that he hopes for a quick recovery and short stint of care at the Salem facility.

“Relapse is a part of life,” he said. “It happens, and you recover from it, and you get back on track as fast as you can.”

Adelman’s hopes for a fast release from the facility hinge on evaluations of his mental health by hospital therapists and a review of his case by the PSRB. A board hearing is scheduled for April 7.

“The board will decide on that date whether he’s ready to go back out, and where that should be,” said Mary Claire Buckley, PSRB executive director. “He had graduated to an independent level. A determination has to be made as to whether he should be at that level or whether for a period of time he should go to a supervised type of housing.”

Adelman’s conditional release was revoked based on the recommendation of his Marion County case manager, according to a March 18 affidavit written by a PSRB staff member.

It says the case manager, Bev Shoopman, reported to the PSRB that he had been hostile, irritable and “unwilling or unable to take direction from her,” and that “in her opinion, Mr. Adleman’s conditional release should be revoked because his mental health has deteriorated such that he can no longer be managed (in) the community.”

Adelman, 42, initially was committed to the state hospital in December 2003 after a Marion County judge found him guilty except for insanity of arson and resisting arrest.

In Oregon, criminal defendants found guilty of crimes but insane at the time go to the forensic program for treatment instead of to prison. More than 400 forensic patients are housed in outdated, crowded facilities along Center Street NE in central Salem.

The PSRB reviews each patient’s progress at the hospital and determines patient discharge dates.

Conditionally released patients can be sent back to the hospital for violating conditions set by the board or because of recurring mental illness.

In 2005, Adelman was conditionally released from OSH after about 16 months of treatment. Back in the community, he made regular visits with his case manager and progressed to independent living. He also became an advocate for better patient care and conditions at the state hospital.

Adelman linked his recent psychiatric problems, in part, to flawed medication management and a rocky relationship with his case manager. As his condition deteriorated, he experienced sleeplessness and mania.

Before his conditional release was revoked, Adelman was hospitalized for about a week at Salem Hospital’s psychiatric center. By March 18, therapists there determined that he was ready to be discharged, according to the PSRB affidavit. However, Shoopman reported to the PSRB that Adelman still required hospitalization.

“In Ms. Shoopman’s opinion, Mr. Adelman cannot be managed in the community,” states the PSRB affidavit. “This opinion is based on her past experience with Mr. Adelman when he has been in a similar manic state.”

On the afternoon of March 18, Adelman was transported from Salem Hospital to the state hospital. That same afternoon, the most recent meeting of the hospital advisory board occurred at OSH.

Adelman said he was disappointed about not being able to attend the board meeting. He also described his return to the forensic program as “rough, really rough.”

Adelman initially was housed on Ward 50G, a medium-security treatment unit packed with 40 patients. He shared a room with four other patients.

“The ward’s overcrowded. Every single bed is full,” he said.

A day or two after Adelman was admitted to the ward, an altercation occurred — one patient assaulted another in the 50G laundry room. The violent patient was moved to a maximum-security unit.

For Adelman, the assault revived bad memories about violence he witnessed and experienced during his previous hospital stay. In an upbeat development Friday afternoon, Adelman said he was looking forward to a planned transfer to a minimum-security unit.

“I’ve heard the milieu is a lot better,” he said. “The patients are good, and I’ve heard they allow you a lot more privileges.”

Hospital superintendent Roy Orr said Friday in an e-mail to members of the advisory board that Adelman’s position on the panel will be placed on hold.

“We all know recovery is non-linear,” Orr wrote. “It is not a step-by-step process. It involves some setbacks, and it involves learning from experience.

“I know we all support Mike in his recovery and look forward to his return to active board membership.” or (503) 399-6709