Friday, April 4, 2008

Patient's killing shocks state hospital

Los Angeles Times

Already under pressure to make reforms, the Atascadero facility is now dealing with the death of Lawrence Paul Rael. Another patient has been charged with murder. (full story)

Wednesday, April 2, 2008

Sex predator accused of killing inmate

Two men were serving time in the same unit at Atascadero State Hospital
By John Simerman

A sexually violent predator committed to Atascadero State Hospital was found dead Sunday morning and another man in the same unit was arrested on suspicion of murder, a hospital spokesman said Monday.

Spokesman Craig Dacus said he thought it would be the first patient homicide in the 54-year history of a facility that houses about 1,000 patients near Highway 101 south of Paso Robles.

The body of Lawrence Rael, 37, was found in his bed about 8 a.m., Dacus said. Police arrested Richard McKee, 44, a sexually violent predator who was committed to the state hospital in 2005.

Dacus said he did not know if a weapon was used, but McKee also was arrested on suspicion of assault with a deadly weapon for a separate incident with a different victim the same day. An investigation into Rael's death continued Monday.

"How that dead body got there we can't definitely say," Dacus said. "We're waiting for the investigation to pan out."

Court records show that McKee of San Diego was convicted in 1991 of lewd acts against an 11-year-old baby sitter and in 1998 for lewd acts against his 8-year-old niece. According to the Megan's Law Web site, Rael also was convicted for lewd acts with a child younger than 14.

McKee was originally admitted as a mentally disordered offender, then in August was reclassified as a sexually violent predator, or SVP, and switched units.

Both men were housed with other SVPs in Unit 22, where each patient lives in his own narrow room. Only the
units themselves, and not the rooms, are locked at night, Dacus said.

Only 36 SVPs are left at Atascadero, with more than 400 having moved to Coalinga State Hospital, which opened in 2005. Peter Tolles, a former Unit 22 patient now at Coalinga, said that those remaining at Atascadero were held in two units, with Unit 22 designated for more "dysfunctional men that have both medical and emotional problems."

Tolles said his complaints about fights in the unit went ignored. Nancy Kincaid of the state Department of Mental Health said she could not document the unit's history of assaults Monday, but she reiterated that the agency investigates all complaints and allegations.

Tolles said he knew Rael as "Shaky," for his frequent shaking, even in his sleep. Rael entered Atascadero in 1998. "He was a pretty happy-go-lucky, jovial individual in comparison to many of the men on the unit," Tolles said.

McKee was being held Monday at San Luis Obispo County Jail. After they found the body, officials placed the state hospital on lockdown for most of the day Sunday, Dacus said.

Reach John Simerman at 925-943-8072 or

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

Murdered ASH patient worried about alleged killer who just lost major court appeal


The man suspected of strangling a fellow Atascadero State Hospital (ASH) patient to death with a towel over the weekend was on the losing end of an important, recent California Fourth District Court of Appeal decision upholding the constitutionality of Proposition 83, the so-called Jessica’s Law.

Also, hospital officials reportedly ignored at least a week of repeated warnings from patients about violent and threatening behavior by the man, Richard Earl McKee, now held on suspicion in the slaying of Lawrence Paul “Shaky” Rael late Saturday or early Sunday. And the victim’s father told several patients he was initially informed by hospital officials that his son “had hanged himself.”
Rael, found in his bed Sunday morning by hospital employees, was killed sometime after 10:30 p.m. Saturday, after he talked on the telephone to another patient and was said to have expressed his increasing fear of McKee.
A second victim, Raymond Chester, was injured in the attack and was discovered unconscious in his own bed after suffering damage to his limbs and ribs, according to witnesses. No further report on his condition was immediately available.

The murder and assault occurred as a federal judge in another case was demanding ASH officials show cause why they should not be held in contempt of court in the aftermath of a finding that two employees violated the civil rights of a patient.

According to a woman who answered the phone at ASH, no spokesperson would be available to talk to media on Monday regarding any issue because it is a state holiday, Caesar Chavez Day. She additionally declined to identify, or to put in touch with, the hospital’s on-call medical director for comment.
Suspect McKee until recently was considered by the California Department of Mental Health to be a mentally disordered offender (MDO). As such, he would by law be separated from other patients in the facility not similarly designated. But in mid-March, McKee was reclassified for inclusion in the sexually violent predator (SVP) program and became, in hospital lexicon, a dual-confinement patient.
McKee, 35, originally imprisoned for lewd acts on children, had sought to be released from state custody by claiming he was not dangerous to the public. McKee argued that provisions of Proposition 83, the so-called Jessica’s Law, were inadequate to insure that only those persons with a diagnosed, current mental illness -- one making them dangerous to the public -- could continue to be confined.
The Court of Appeal decision confirmed McKee’s involuntary commitment at ASH March 21.
Immediately after that court decision, McKee was placed in Unit 22 at ASH, and others in the SVP program said they began to inform staff that McKee was bullying and threatening people in the unit, and becoming increasingly aggressive and violent. Their claims went unheeded, according to one patient, Peter Tolls.
Rael talked on the telephone to his friend, fellow patient Ron “Bear” Barrett, according to Tolls, at about 10:30 p.m. Saturday, sounding upbeat on the one hand but also expressing fear of McKee.

In a prior case involving a similar failure to protect a patient, a federal judge ruled that two ASH employees violated one patient’s civil rights and ordered the pair to pay $1,000 to that SVP patient. The judge now wants to know why the ASH employees have not yet done so.

U.S. Central District Judge S. James Sotero ruled in December that employees Melissa A. Roper and Michael C. Groom were found to have made “a substantial departure from professional judgment, practice and standards” and thus were responsible for injuries suffered by patient Theodric Van Smith in assaults on him by other two patients.

ASH officials in that case also had been repeatedly warned, by patients, staff and state and federal law enforcement agencies that Smith might become a target of attack for his testimony against two Pelican Bay State Prison guards. Peggy Phaklides, a litigation manager for ASH, said in January the hospital is considering appealing Smith’s civil judgment.

ASH patient arrested for allegedly killing fellow patient

by Stephen Curran

A patient at Atascadero State Hospital has been arrested in connection with the death of another man in the facility’s custody Sunday.

Richard McKee, 44, is accused of killing Lawrence Rael, a fellow patient on Unit 22. McKee was also charged with assault with a deadly weapon in connection with an unrelated assault, hospital spokesman Craig Dacus said.

Rael, 37, had been a patient at ASH since 1998, Dacus said.

McKee has been a patient at ASH since 2005, Dacus said. According to the Megan’s Law database, McKee was convicted of lewd or lascivious acts with a child under 14.

Rael’s death remained under investigation this afternoon, Dacus said. No additional details have been released.