It was after dark last Friday night, and Marty L. Smith was alone when he knocked on Larry W. Clark's door in Poulsbo. Smith's job — —...
It was after dark last Friday night, and Marty L. Smith was alone when he knocked on Larry W. Clark’s door in Poulsbo.
Smith’s job — a crisis responder for the state mental-health system — is inherently dangerous. But Smith had done the work for years, and, according to Poulsbo police, Clark was familiar to the local mental-health agency.
Smith had been summoned by Clark’s mother, who told neighbors that her son had schizophrenia and was not taking his medications. Instead of consenting to a hospitalization, Clark attacked Smith with his fists and then a carving knife, according to charging papers, as Clark’s mother screamed for help outside.
Smith, 46, died in Clark’s dining room. He is the first designated mental-health professional (DMHP) to die on the job in Washington since 1987.
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The death chilled the specialized 300-member field. Under state law, DMHPs determine whether people in mental-health crises should be involuntarily committed to psychiatric hospitals.
Kitsap Mental Health, the nonprofit agency that employed Smith, declined to answer questions about Smith or its safety policies Monday, except to say it was Smith’s decision to head out alone.
“Right now, doing Monday-morning quarterbacking is not part of the process. As we debrief, we’ll be looking at everything,” said Rebecca Wilson, the agency’s spokeswoman.
Appearing in Kitsap County Superior Court on Monday, Clark, 33, declined to enter a plea on a first-degree-murder charge and is being held on $1 million bail. He was convicted in 1994 of child rape and had registered as a Level 2 sex offender at his mother’s address last month, according to the Kitsap County Sheriff’s Office.
After the hearing, Kitsap County deputy prosecutor Christian Casad said it was common for DMHPs to work alone. “Mental workers have to go evaluate people for mental problems at all times, day or night,” he said.
Many of those evaluations happen in hospital emergency rooms. When called out to people’s homes, DMHPs in many counties, including King County, travel in pairs or call for police escort if necessary.
While some colleagues questioned why Smith went to Clark’s house alone, others said it illustrated an unsettling truth.
“I don’t know that you can ever totally prevent something like this from happening,” said Amnon Shoenfeld, head of King County’s mental-health system.
Scott Kuhle, president emeritus of the state DMHP association, said he would never go out on a case alone, and he avoids home-based evaluations by asking police to take the patient to an emergency room.
“This to me is extremely important: If a person shows any concerning behavior, I walk away. I’m not a policeman. I don’t have a black belt,” said Kuhle, of Pullman.
Shoenfeld said DMHPs should assess the risk based on the information they have. “If we can go without police, there are times when we can divert [a patient] to voluntary treatment. There are times when you can be seen as the helper, not ‘The Man,’ ” he said. “That said, there’s going to be times, when no matter all the work you do to know the history, sometimes you just don’t know. It’s an unpredictable business.”
According to court papers, Smith asked Clark to voluntarily commit himself for an evaluation. When Clark resisted, Smith called 911 for police to take him for involuntary treatment. Clark snapped and police said he later admitted to killing Smith.
After the attack, “He kept saying, ‘He had it coming, he had it coming,’ ” said Brad Mathisen, a neighbor.
The last work-related death of a DMHP in the state was of Norm Fournier in 1987. The 51-year-old Pierce County administrator was shot through a screen door by a man who then killed himself.
In February, state Child Protective Services (CPS) worker Edith Vance was attacked by a machete-wielding father as she investigated a child-neglect complaint. A Ferry County sheriff’s deputy killed Vance’s attacker, and the state Legislature ordered stronger protections for CPS staff. A report is due Dec. 1.
Jonathan Martin: 206-464-2605 or email@example.com