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Estate of patient strangled at Eastern State Hospital files lawsuit

The estate of an Eastern State Hospital patient who was strangled by another patient is suing the facility, saying its personnel didn’t adequately supervise criminally insane patients.

In a federal lawsuit filed on Friday afternoon, the estate of Duane Charley alleged that Eastern State allowed dangerous patients to keep extension cords, belts, scarves and other potential weapons in their rooms.

Charley was found dead in his room on Nov. 20, 2012 after another patient in that ward told a hospital employee that she had “murdered someone,” according to court documents.

Amber Roberts has been charged with first degree murder in connection with Charley’s death and is in Spokane County Jail on a $1 million bond.

The lawsuit asks for unspecified damages and attorney’s fees. Charley’s estate had previously filed a tort claim with the state for $5 million, said Kelly Konkright, of the Lukins & Annis law firm.

John Wiley, a spokesman for Washington’s Department of Social and Health Services, said the state won’t comment on pending litigation.

The lawsuit, filed in federal court, said Eastern State Hospital patients in the ward for the criminally insane were allowed to “freely roam… at all hours of the day and night,” and that the hospital didn’t restrict access to items that “violently insane patients could use to kill other patients.”

The hospital’s accreditation was briefly suspended after the incident and its CEO left for another position in DSHS.

Court documents say Roberts entered Charley’s room early in the morning, removed a corded belt from her waist and wrapped it around Charley’s neck. After telling an employee that she’d killed Charley, she said, “you’re going to have to find him,” then followed the employee down the hall as he checked the rooms.

Roberts was arrested in 2003 for allegedly choking a 72-year-old Yakima woman. A judge determined she was legally insane and she was institutionalized indefinitely at Eastern State Hospital.

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