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Marion County Sheriff won’t transport patients from Oregon State Hospital

The office is citing three state judges’ decisions that contradict the federal judge’s ruling
Oregon State Hospital in Salem. | OREGON HEALTH AUTHORITY
March 22, 2023

A controversial federal court order requiring patients be discharged from the Oregon State Hospital within certain time limits is foundering for an unexpected reason: the Marion County Sheriff’s office is refusing to transport newly discharged patients where they’re supposed to go.

Citing three state judges’ decisions that contradict the federal opinion issued by U.S. District Judge Michael Mosman last September, the sheriff’s office is declining to transport patients to their home counties, according to new court filings made available Wednesday. Now advocates are requesting Mosman issue a new order — one that demands the sheriff’s office comply with his previous one.

The new filings represent the latest clash in the longstanding legal tussle over the bottleneck at the Oregon State Hospital caused by limited psychiatric beds, which has involved human rights, public safety and the state’s lagging mental health infrastructure. Mosman’s order sparked immediate blowback from some patient advocates as well as district attorneys — some of whom filed motions leading to the same state judge orders that have complicated the implementation of Mosman’s order.

The state hospital and the Marion County Sheriff’s Office did not immediately respond to requests for comment. 

The transport issue came to light in an affidavit filed Wednesday by Derek Wehr, state hospital deputy superintendent. Wehr said the state hospital is seeking to comply with Mosman’s order establishing a timeline for patients facing prosecution who need treatment to “aid and assist” in their defense. But he said the hospital’s efforts are being stymied. 

“OSH relies on transportation provided by County Sheriffs to discharge patients from inpatient restoration back to their county of origin,” Wehr said in the affidavit. “I understand that the Marion County Sheriff’s Office is currently declining to transport patients on instructions from OSH because of the above-described state-court orders.”

Attorneys for Disability Rights Oregon and Metropolitan Public Defender Services, groups involved in state hospital litigation, on Wednesday filed a motion asking Mosman to order the Marion Sheriff’s Office to transport patients ready for discharge under the timeline. The motion from the groups argued that county sheriffs are “integral” to the state hospital’s compliance with Mosman’s previous order. 

“Therefore, because the county sheriffs must work with OSH and vice versa, the county sheriffs are active participants with OSH,” reads the motion. 

The groups argued that the federal court order trumps the state orders under the U.S. Constitution. 

The admissions bottleneck at the state hospital has long been a headache for administrators and the subject of long-running litigation from disability rights advocates. Mosman in September of last year issued a landmark order limiting how long patients accused of crimes could be kept at the state hospital to receive treatment depending on the severity of their alleged offense. The length of treatment ranges from 90 days to a year. 

The order has drawn criticism from advocates alarmed that patients wouldn’t receive adequate treatment and prosecutors worried about public safety. Now, the Marion County Sheriff’s Office, which covers the state hospital, is caught between conflicting state and federal court orders. 

Wehr’s affidavit centers on three patients (accused of crimes including attempted murder, burglary, unlawful use of a weapon and others) who should have been discharged earlier this month under the timeline in Mosman’s order. They remain at the state hospital because the Marion County Sheriff’s Office declined to transport them to the local jail as the first step being sent back to their home counties, according to the affidavit.

The affidavit includes three orders from state judges that representatives from the sheriff’s office cited in their refusal to transport patients. Each judge’s order referenced previous decisions committing each patient to the state hospital until they’ve received enough treatment to help defend themselves against charges. 

Wehr’s affidavit included a letter from Marion County Circuit Court Judge Audrey Broyles giving a terse warning to state hospital Superintendent Dolores Matteucci about discharging patients in violation of state court orders. 

Broyles wrote that on February 16 she was notified that the Marion County sheriff’s personnel had been instructed by hospital staff to transport a patient facing six counts of attempted murder in the first degree and arson in the first degree from 2021. 

Hospital staff repeatedly told sheriff’s personnel that Broyles had ordered the patient to be transported to the local jail, according to the letter. Broyles continued that her February order committing them to the state hospital remained in place. 

“I trust that this will not happen again,” wrote Broyles. “Future attempts of this nature may result in a contempt of court action.”

Earlier this month, Mosman allowed for some flexibility from his previous order. He granted a request from the state hospital to keep five patients in the facility for an extra 60 days to allow more time to find a secure place after their release.  

You can reach Jake at [email protected] or via Twitter @jakethomas2009.