Sex reveals possible security problem at mental health facility

Sex points to a possible security lapse in a Fresno County psychiatric facility.
January 24, 2014 2:20:18 PM PST
Sex points to a possible security lapse in a Fresno County psychiatric facility.

"They're not being supervised, so situations like this happen and everyone becomes a danger to everybody else," said public defender Stephanie Negin.

An Action News investigation uncovered how it happened between people deemed dangerous because of extreme mental health problems.

The Psychiatric Health Facility is also known as the PHF unit and it's a place for people with mental health issues so serious, they've been deemed dangerous to themselves or others, or gravely disabled.

Cameras aren't typically allowed in, but a recent rape case shed some light on possible security problems. Action News cameras have been inside the PHF unit just once in, in 2009, for a patient's court hearing. Otherwise, privacy concerns keep its operations shrouded in mystery.

The walls of the PHF unit are often home to people who need help.

"It is a lot of people who suffer from serious mental illnesses," Negin said. "They are placed there under 5150 holds, under conservatorship holds."

Negin represents a frequent visitor to the unit. Wesley Alexander, 48, has been institutionalized several times since he was diagnosed with schizophrenia at the age of 19. His mental health troubles led him to hijack a Greyhound bus in 2010 after he'd just left another facility in Bakersfield. Now, Alexander has pleaded "no contest" to sexual battery for a 2012 incident, just days after he checked into the PHF unit.

Police reports show there were three nurses on duty at the time and one of them noticed Alexander missing during a once-every-15-minutes check on patients. The nurse found Alexander and a female patient having intercourse, separated them, and called the sheriff's office to come make an arrest.

"How is it that two people who are a danger to themselves or others gravely disabled because of a mental illness are left unsupervised to the extent that they can have consensual sexual intercourse?" Negin asked.

Action News tried to ask administrators about the incident and the security on site, but never got any answers. The Fresno County security office says it responds to some calls at the facility, and sheriff's deputies escort inmates who are committed, like the man we saw there in 2009.

But otherwise, visitors say doctors and nurses are the only line of defense. ABC30 legal analyst Tony Capozzi says that seems problematic.

"They're there because they're a danger to themselves and a danger to someone else," Capozzi said. "There should be people there overseeing them, making sure they're a danger to no one."

Alexander told his parents and investigators the woman invited him into her room and he thought the act was consensual. But because of the victim's own mental health issues, she's not considered able to make decisions on her own. Capozzi said Fresno County could be held liable for the apparent security lapse.

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