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Citing security concerns, judge orders Western State Hospital escapee to remain in federal custody

Anthony Garver, a murder suspect who sparked a statewide manhunt following an escape from Western State Hospital earlier this month, will be held in federal custody for evaluation, a judge ruled Thursday.

U.S. District Court Senior Judge Edward F. Shea said returning Garver - who has a history of escaping custody dating back to 2009 - to the state hospital would give him pause.

“There’s reason to be concerned about the security of that institution,” said Shea, noting that Garver, 28, escaped along with Mark Alexander Adams and others earlier this month. The escapes prompted Gov. Jay Inslee to fire Ron Adler, CEO of the institution in Lakewood, Washington.

Garver, clad in a white Spokane County Jail jumpsuit, remained silent during the proceedings, as his attorney, Pete Schweda, argued that Western had the most experience treating Garver and should be allowed to evaluate his competency.

But in testimony via telephone, Sarah Coats of the Washington Attorney General’s Office said state institutions would be under no legal obligation to re-evaluate Garver absent the reopening of his murder case.

“His competency can’t be reviewed unless new criminal charges are filed,” Coats said.

After the hearing, state officials refused to comment directly on Garver’s situation, citing federal laws that guarantee a patient’s right to privacy. But under state law, a competency evaluation can only be ordered if criminal charges are pending and a court orders them, said Kathy Spears of the Department of Social and Health Services in an email.

A Snohomish County judge last year found Garver incompetent to stand trial on a first-degree murder charge stemming from the fatal stabbing of 20-year-old Phillipa S. Evans-Lopez in June 2013. The order effectively closed the case.

Since then, Garver had been serving six-month stays at Western aimed at restoring his competency before he escaped.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Stephanie van Marter asked Coats whether it would be possible for Garver to walk free because there were no pending criminal charges in state court against him, if the judge didn’t order a competency evaluation in federal court. Coats said discharge paperwork filed in Garver’s case earlier this month by state employees cleared him of both legal and medical holds on his case and opened the door to his release if new charges weren’t filed.

“There is no murder case at this time,” prosecutor van Marter told Shea. “There is no guarantee there will be a murder case.”

The local prosecutor would be informed before a patient held under felony commitment laws is released, Spears said. In some cases involving violent felonies, law enforcement and the Public Safety Review Panel would also be notified.

Shea asked Coats if the discharge paperwork was filed “in error” by the state. Coats said under oath she did not have the authority to answer that question, but told Shea the Attorney General’s Office was looking into whether the paperwork needed to be corrected.

Even though Coats mentioned the discharge paperwork in open court, the attorney general’s office can’t comment on it, Peter Lavallee, an agency spokesman, said later. “It’s a weird situation,” he said.

Where Garver will receive his mental evaluation was not decided in court Thursday. Shea told Schweda he was considering a federal institution in Springfield, Missouri, as a potential site. Locations in Rochester, Minnesota, and Butner, North Carolina, were also mentioned. Shea is expected to make a written ruling determining where Garver will be incarcerated.

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