The patients at Washington state’s largest psychiatric hospital said they didn’t immediately report the alleged abuse because they feared retaliation. (This story has been updated, as the state revised its account of what happened to the employee once the abuse allegations were made.)
Prosecutors have charged an employee at Washington state’s largest psychiatric hospital with four counts of molesting four patients, according to court records made public Friday.
Christopher Conley, 47, was charged Thursday with taking “indecent liberties” with the four women between April 1 and May 8 while working as a psychiatric security attendant, according to charging documents filed by Pierce County Deputy Prosecuting Attorney Erica Eggertsen.
Western State Hospital’s security learned about the claims made by two patients on May 8 and conducted an investigation. During that probe, two other patients made similar claims.
The 800-bed facility is already under scrutiny by the federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services over concerns involving patient safety. Officials at the Lakewood hospital have signed a detailed agreement with federal regulators to fix safety problems or lose millions of federal dollars.
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The Associated Press was not able to reach Conley, and it wasn’t immediately clear if he had an attorney. His arraignment in Pierce County Superior Court was set for Dec. 15.
Conley was removed from direct patient care May 9, Kathy Spears, spokeswoman for the Department of Health and Social Services, said Friday evening. She said a supervisor was suspended for 10 days because that person did not report the abuse allegations to superiors. Earlier Friday the department had said Conley had been placed on alternative assignment May 16, but revised its statement after further review.
“Patient safety and protection has been one of my top priorities since fully taking over the duties of CEO in mid-May,” Cheryl Strange said in a statement. “I am relieved to know that the former employee was not working with patients for another 8 days after the allegations, as was reported earlier. However, I will hold people accountable for not immediately reporting allegations of abuse and neglect to the proper supervising leadership.”
The women said that Conley bragged about knowing the “blind spots” for the cameras on the ward, but other cameras were able to capture his actions. Other patients also witnessed Conley’s behavior with the patients that included touching and sexual comments, Eggertsen said.
Investigators compared the women’s claims with security-camera videos and determined the claims were valid, Eggertsen said. The hospital reported the case to Lakewood Police Department on June 6, according to a police press release.
The patients, who ranged in age from 28 to 47, said they didn’t report Conley’s behavior because they feared retaliation.
“They said the defendant threatened them with getting their time extended so they would have to stay longer at WSH,” Eggertsen said.
They also claimed Conley would give them candy with the expectation that they would allow him to touch them sexually, the prosecutor said.