September 12, 2009 in City

Murder suspect has history of mental illness, disabilities

By The Spokesman-Review
 
Dan Pelle photo

Lisa Draper, right, and her children Nicole, 12, and Matthew, 6, talk about Robbie Bishop on Sept. 2.
(Full-size photo)

Doctors could tell the 19-year-old man now charged with killing his pregnant girlfriend had problems from an early age.

His brain didn’t function properly. He suffered from mental illness and needed treatment for developmental disabilities, they said.

But documents show Robbie W. Bishop’s life became a series of missed opportunities and failed interventions, highlighted by a court-ordered release from Spokane County Jail in April because officials at Eastern State Hospital believed, perhaps mistakenly, that they couldn’t give him the services he needed.

“I’m not saying it isn’t his fault, because it is,” said his mother, Lisa Draper. “But I also think the system is to blame.”

In 2002, Disability Rights Washington, an advocacy organization, sued the state of Washington over conditions at mental hospitals like Eastern.

A hospital official feared violating the settlement in that case because of a lack of bed space for Bishop and recommended that charges against him be dismissed, e-mails included in his court file show.

Spokane County Superior Court Judge Maryann Moreno approved a motion to dismiss filed by Bishop’s public defender and ordered the teen to seek counseling through Spokane Mental Health.

He moved back in with his 33-year-old girlfriend, Robin M. Anderson, who had told police in December that Bishop had punched her and committed a burglary, leading to his stint in jail.

Bishop returned to jail last month, accused of killing Anderson by stabbing her more than 50 times with three knives on Aug. 22.

A day earlier, the two had learned their baby was a boy.

Draper said she told her son during a jailhouse visit how many times Anderson was stabbed.

“He said to his grandma, ‘Is that a lot?’ ” Draper said.

Early signs of trouble

In some ways, Bishop’s early childhood was normal. He loved sports and weightlifting. He earned student-of-the-month honors in his second-grade class at Trentwood Elementary School.

But Draper points to an incident six years ago as the time she realized her son might need more help than she could give. His younger sister remembers it: She ran inside and told her mother Robbie had poured gasoline on himself.

At age 7, Nicole Bishop knew that wasn’t OK. But her brother didn’t seem to understand.

The boy had been seeing doctors since age 2, diagnosed with developmental disabilities and mental illnesses.

His family decided to seek a higher level of care. Robbie went to the psychiatric ward at Sacred Heart Medical Center, Draper said, the first of several placements across the state.

In January 2007, police arrested Bishop on a first-degree attempted murder charge for pouring bleach in another resident’s mouth at a group home in Spokane. In May 2007, he attacked an employee at another group home and was jailed for fourth-degree assault.

A doctor at Eastern State Hospital, W. Scott Mabee, diagnosed Bishop with dissociative disorder, meaning he “goes into trances and has no understanding of consequences or cause and effect,” according to court documents.

But Bishop couldn’t be made competent to stand trial on his charges in a reasonable amount of time, Mabee said.

The court could have ordered him to be civilly committed, but public defender Krista Elliot said his group-home placement was adequate.

Judge Greg Sypolt agreed to a deal amending the murder and fourth-degree assault charges to one charge of second-degree assault.

Bishop returned to the group home but left the day he met Anderson.

Fourteen years his senior, Anderson graduated from Shadle Park High School in 1995 and was recognized for her perfect attendance.

She lived with her calico cat, Gaby, and let Bishop move in the day she met him, Draper said.

“There wasn’t anything Robin didn’t love and that didn’t love her,” said her stepfather, Bryce Nordhagen. “It’s just her personality and her aura about her. She was just a sweet kind, loving, caring person.”

The couple fought often, and both families urged them to break up.

But Bishop felt indebted to Anderson because she’d saved him from life in the group home, which he hated, Draper said.

“I wish he had never left that group home,” Draper said. Bishop was jailed in January after Anderson told police he’d broken into the Spokane Valley Meals on Wheels.

He was sent to a place he’d been before: Eastern State Hospital.

But his placement was controversial, documents show.

‘Services are not being provided here’

Patients such as Bishop, referred by the courts, are to be housed in a 12-bed forensic sciences unit, according to terms of the settlement in the Disability Rights Washington lawsuit.

But the unit was full when Bishop was referred there, so he remained in jail.

Dr. Robert Henry, director of the forensic sciences unit, recommended in a March 27 voice mail to Bishop’s public defender that his charges be dropped so he could be released.

“Services are not being provided here,” the doctor said, according to a transcript of the call in court filings.

In an e-mail April 2, Henry reiterated to Reardon, the public defender, that Eastern “is under strict guidelines for how these patients are to be served.”

He continued, “We are currently at our maximum and the waiting time for a bed is unable to be determined at this time.”

Henry did not return phone calls seeking comment.

Bishop returned to live with Anderson about a week later. Nearly five months later, she was dead.

Emily Cooper Pura, a lawyer with Disability Rights Washington, said Henry apparently misinterpreted the settlement, which allows for patients to be housed elsewhere in the hospital and still receive treatment from the 12-bed unit.

“When you have passing of the buck like this, it’s saying, ‘It’s your problem, not mine,’ but it’s recognizing that he had issues,” she said. “And that’s what we find so appalling.”

Privacy laws prohibit the state Department of Social and Health Services from discussing Bishop’s case.

But David Weston, mental health services chief for the mental health division, said experts determine whether to place a patient outside the unit based on individual needs.

“The state hospitals have a very complex and difficult job to do,” Weston said. “Sometimes, in times of scarce resources we end up not being able to provide the services we wish we could provide.”


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