WUSA Reporter Got Few Answers About Death Of Man Who Sought Help At Hospital & Was Shot Instead

Talking to Reporter Peggy Fox

Talking to Reporter Peggy Fox

(12-20-16) WUSA Reporter Peggy Fox set out yesterday to discover why a man in apparent mental stress was fatally shot on the hospital grounds where he had been taken by police for evaluation. Unfortunately, she wasn’t able to learn anything more than I was when I raised questions in my blog about the death. The hospital said it couldn’t comment because of HIPAA laws while Commonwealth Attorney Raymond F. Morrogh said there was little anyone could do because persons with mental illnesses have “rights” and can’t be held for treatment in a hospital without posing an “imminent danger” to themselves or others.

For the record, there was no indication in a report that Morrogh released last Friday that Yovani Amaya Gomez ever refused treatment, a rejection that surely would have been noted in his medical file. After the mass shooting on the Virginia Tech campus in 2007, the words “imminent danger” were dropped from Virginia’s criteria for involuntary treatment. The current criteria is that an individual can be temporarily held if there is a:

“Substantial likelihood that (a) person will in the near future • Cause serious physical harm to self or others as evidenced by recent behavior causing, attempting, or threatening harm and other relevant information, if any; or • Suffer serious harm due to lack of capacity to protect himself from harm or to provide for his basic human needs § 37.2-808(A)

I served on an advisory panel that helped draft that language and it was loosened specifically to give medical personnel more leeway.

The point of my blog was not to challenge Morrogh’s conclusion that Deputy Sheriff P. McPartlin was justified in fatally wounding Gomez. Rather, I asked why detectives had not delved deeper into what happened shortly before the shooting when Gomez was in the emergency room at Fairfax Inova Hospital. Answers to a list of questions that I posed might have been helpful in preventing future shootings.  You can watch Peggy Fox’s report here.  Or continue reading her transcript.

Here is a transcript of her report.

WASHINGTON (WUSA9) – There is strong criticism against Inova Fairfax Hospital in the shooting death of a man who was released from the emergency room. The man was shot by a sheriff’s deputy on August 15, 2016.

Commonwealth’s Attorney Ray Morrogh released his report Friday and ruled the deputy acted in self-defense, but his report showed there were signs Yovani Gomez may have been suffering a mental health crisis.

The 29-year-old spoke little English. He used the term “loco” and also pointed to his head while saying “voices.” The Merrifield Crisis Center is about a two-minute drive from the hospital’s ER. Instead, Gomez was released from the hospital. Soon after, he severely injured a security guard and then was shot and killed by a Fairfax County Sheriff’s deputy.

“There were lots of red flags here,” said mental health advocate Pete Earley, who saw similarities in the treatment of Gomez and his own son.

“My son has bi-polar disorder, and in that very same hospital was asked, ‘can you explain what crying over spilled milk meant.’ Well, yeah he could do that.  He could tell you the date, the time, and who the president was, but he still thought God was sending him on a secret mission, and he was psychotic,” said Earley.

Gomez was transported to the hospital after a police officer thought he needed help and called for an ambulance. The ER doctors asked Gomez a lot of questions and brought in a Spanish-speaking nurse. He was asked if he planned to hurt himself, and his answer was ‘no.’  After several hours, the hospital released him.

“He knew where he was. He knew why he was there. His behavior was normal. He was kept for several hours and released,” Morrogh said.

But because Gomez seemed confused, according to Morrogh, a security guard walked him to a nearby bus stop. Soon after, Gomez grabbed a metal sign pole and struck a security guard with it. When he charged the deputy, Gomez was shot and killed.

“We need to know exactly what happened in that hospital,” Earley demanded. “Did a psychiatrist examine him? ER doctors are not psychiatrists.”

Earley blamed Morrogh’s report for not examining what happened at the hospital.

“Mentally ill people, if he was mentally ill, they have rights, too.  And hospitals can’t hold them nor can the police unless they present themselves to be in imminent danger to themselves or others.  In this case, on the records at least, it did not appear to the hospital personnel that he presented such a danger,” said Morrogh.

A spokesman for Inova Health said privacy rules prevents the hospital from releasing any information about patients, including treatment, even if the patient is now dead.

Commonwealth’s Attorney Ray Morrogh said his job was to determine whether there was criminality involved in the shooting and it’s up to a civil court to determine whether the hospital acted appropriately. That will only be examined if a lawsuit is filed.

About the author:

Pete Earley is the bestselling author of such books as The Hot House and Crazy. When he is not spending time with his family, he tours the globe advocating for mental health reform.

Learn more about Pete.