Feds Investigating Abuse Charges At Atascadero — (Fox 11 KRXI Reno)

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Fox 11 KRXI Reno

POSTED: 2:51 pm PDT June 27, 2005

SAN FRANCISCO — Federal investigators are looking into allegations of abuse at Atascadero State Hospital. A patients’ rights group says the abuse included overmedicating patients, overusing restraints and in one incident, a former staffer who faces criminal charges of having sex with a patient.

A spokesman for the Department of Justice confirmed Monday an investigation by the civil rights division of U.S. Attorney General Office is ongoing, but refused to elaborate.

“The investigation remains active,” Eric Holland said.

The hospital, a locked facility near San Luis Obispo, houses and treats California’s criminally insane as well as sexually violent predators.

Allegations of abuse by staff at Atascadero made during the last six months include improper use of restraints and misdiagnosing and overmedicating patients, according to Jeff Griffin, an investigator with the Los Angeles-based Citizens Commission on Human Rights who submitted reports to the Justice Department.

“I’ve got a file drawer full of signed affidavits and complaints,” Griffin said.

Hospital spokeswoman Barrie Hafler did not immediately return a call seeking comment about the federal investigation.

In May, Jacqueline Lucille Collins, a psychiatric technician who worked at Atascadero from May 2001 until earlier this month, was charged with two misdemeanor counts of sexual acts with a patient at a state facility. A hospital spokeswoman would not say whether Collins was fired.

The alleged incident took place on Jan. 1 with a sexually violent predator. Men who receive that designation are considered the worst of the state’s rapists and child molesters. They are diverted from prison into Atascadero, where they receive involuntary treatment until they are deemed no longer a threat to society.

Collins is scheduled to be arraigned July 14, according to the San Luis Obispo district attorney’s office.

Patient John Kreischer, a convicted rapist and child molester who been locked up in prison or at Atascadero since 1987, said sex between offenders and staffers is common.

“It’s going on in my unit every day,” Kreischer told The Associated Press by phone Monday. “Other staff see it and don’t say anything. … It’s unethical and should not happen.”

But Kreischer said other aspects of the hospital disturb him more than the sex.

“I was misdiagnosed as depressed, so they prescribed me antidepressants,” he said. “When you give me Zoloft and Paxil, it’s like rocket fuel.”

Kreischer said the drugs made him angry, agitated and aggressive and he got into trouble for punching windows and threatening staff. After three years, a doctor correctly diagnosed him as bipolar, changed his prescription and it was “like night and day.”

Patients don’t interact directly with a diagnosing psychiatrist, he said.

“The more medicine they can pile on somebody, the more zombie-like they are, then they can deal with them,” he said. “I’ve never seen so much medication in my life.”

While Kreischer admits he dropped out of treatment because it was “a farce” — most offenders don’t actively participate in Atascadero’s program — he thinks if it were run “efficiently and honestly, it would be a hell of a program.”

He said he hopes the federal investigation will result in setting up an independent oversight committee for Atascadero “so there’s someone checking on their procedures.”