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Family of Eastern State Hospital patient who died in 2013 files lawsuit

The family of a Tri-Cities man who died after being found bloody and unconscious on the floor of an Eastern State Hospital restroom in 2013 is suing.

Misael Rodriguez, 43, was involuntarily committed for observation purposes in mid-August of that year and suffered the fatal injuries 11 days later in what his family members allege was an assault by another patient, according to a lawsuit filed in Spokane County Superior Court last week on behalf of the victim’s children. Rodriguez died Nov. 13, 2013, without regaining consciousness.

Although the lawsuit alleges Rodriguez was attacked by patient Marco Guzman, state officials say the Spokane County Sheriff’s Office investigated and made no recommendation about whether any criminal charges were warranted, and that medical information indicated the death was the result of natural causes.

John Wiley, a spokesman for the state Department of Social and Health Services, said privacy laws restrict what the agency can discuss but confirmed a lawsuit has been filed against Eastern State Hospital over a fatal incident that occurred there in 2013. The hospital is operated by DSHS.

“The death of a patient was a tragic and unexpected event,” Wiley said. “It is of great concern to the hospital and we have expressed condolences to the family.”

But the family’s lawyers and others note that the scene already had been cleaned before investigators were notified and that the cause of death remains unclear. The Spokane County Medical Examiner’s Office would say only that it hasn’t signed the death certificate.

The lawsuit marks the first public disclosure about the fatal 2013 incident and comes just months after the state settled with the family of an Eastern State patient strangled in 2012. The homicide, allegedly committed by a fellow patient who later told staff she’d just killed someone, led to a temporary loss of accreditation and a management shakeup at the mental institution.

The new suit accuses Eastern State Hospital of failing to properly supervise the alleged attacker, Guzman, who is described as requiring constant line-of-sight monitoring by staff. Both men had been involuntarily committed.

It’s unclear why Rodriguez, whose obituary indicated he’d worked as a security guard, had been sent to Eastern State.

Guzman, who was sent to Eastern State after being deemed mentally incompetent to stand trial on unspecified charges in Yakima, was seen following Rodriguez into the restroom without being accompanied by staff, which the suit indicates was required. Nine minutes after Guzman was seen leaving the restroom, staff members found Rodriguez unconscious on the floor near a stall toilet bleeding from a gash on his eyebrow and a deep bruise to his ear.

The victim’s adult daughter, Kenia Rodriguez, and teenage son, Alejandro Rodriguez, contend that if Eastern State had followed its procedures and properly supervised Guzman, their father would still be alive. They are represented by Spokane lawyers Michael D. Franklin and Kelly E. Konkright.

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