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Mother of man killed in Va. hospital wants law to separate violent patients

Calling her son "a lamb being fed to the wolves," the mother of an Alexandria man killed at a state psychiatric hospital called Monday for a law that would separate violent patients from others receiving treatment.

Denise Wilkins' son Justin Davis, 22, was on a PCP high in October when she called the police and asked that he be arrested so he could get help with his drug problem. Davis was charged with being drunk in public and resisting arrest, and a judge ordered him restored to competency at a state mental hospital.

Phillips. (Fauquier Co. Sheriff)

Davis was transferred in December from a less-secure mental health facility to Central State Hospital, the state's only maximum security treatment center for those facing or convicted of a crime. His mother isn't sure why he was transferred and the state won't say.

He was found dead in his room Feb. 28. The state medical examiner's office determined he had been strangled.

“My son's only crime was the harm he did to himself,” said Wilkins, surrounded by family and more than a dozen others who rode a charter bus from Alexandria to attend a news conference. “When he cried for help, I sought that help only to lose him through the very institution that was established to provide such help.”

Police are investigating another patient, George Phillips II, who was sent to the hospital to be evaluated for competency to stand trial on charges of bank robbery and attempted murder of a law enforcement officer. According to court records, surveillance video shows Phillips twice entering and leaving Davis' room the night before he was found dead.

Virginia State Police Sgt. Thomas Molnar said Phillips had not been charged and that the investigation is ongoing.

The state Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Services, which runs the mental hospitals, also is conducting an internal investigation, spokeswoman Meghan McGuire said.

Central State houses 210 patients, including 120 in the forensic unit who are either being stabilized or treated to restore competency to stand trial or live in long-term wards because they have been found not guilty by reason of insanity.

McGuire said there is a separate ward for patients deemed a greater risk to assault others.

Buildings and wards are locked, but individual rooms are not because state regulations require that patients receive treatment in the least restrictive manner, McGuire said.

McGuire said she could not comment further because of the ongoing investigation and patient privacy laws.

Wilkins said she has reached out to several legislators about sponsoring “Justin's Law,” which would require that less aggressive offenders are separated from those facing felony charges.

Wilkins talked to her son the night of his death. She said he was scared, and he asked a lot of questions about the afterlife.

“What happens on the other side?” she said he asked her.

The conversation ended around 7 p.m. with her praying with her son and telling him to get some sleep. Before she left for church the next morning, she got a call from the hospital telling her he was found dead in his room.

He was scheduled to be evaluated for possible discharge two days later.

Wilkins described her son as a lovable, caring and gentle-spirited person who made youthful mistakes. She wants his name to live on with a law that could protect other Justins, she said.

Richmond attorney Brooks Hundley said the family had not made a decision whether to sue the hospital. Wilkins said she wanted to see those responsible for her son's death held accountable.

“We're not going to let this thing go,” she said.

This item has been updated since it was first published.

-- Associated Press

By Washington Post Editors  |  April 5, 2010; 2:12 PM ET
Categories:  Alexandria , Updates , Virginia  
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