LAKEWOOD — A judge has ruled that the names of people in police reports involving alleged crimes are public records even if the people are patients at a Washington state psychiatric hospital.
The News Tribune reports that Pierce County Superior Court Judge Jack Nevin issued the ruling Friday.
“Police reports are not health care records, and suspects in criminal actions are not patients, insofar as law enforcement is concerned,” he said.
The state Department of Social and Health Services and Disability Rights Washington, a nonprofit that protects the rights of people with disabilities, sought to prevent The News Tribune from identifying a Western State Hospital patient accused of attacking a nurse. Authorities say the attacker vaulted over a nurse’s station, knocked the nurse down, choked her and bit off part of her ear.
The state agency and Disability Rights Washington sued the city of Lakewood seeking to prevent the city from turning over information to the newspaper, including the patient’s name. The newspaper, The Associated Press, the Seattle Times and other media outlets intervened in the case.
The state Department of Social and Health Services and Disability Rights Washington contended that a state law concerning confidentiality of mental health records required the man not be identified. The two entities also sought a ruling that would apply to future disclosures.
Attorney Michele Earl-Hubbard represented the news organizations and said the names of patients identified in police reports were of public interest. She also said withholding the information would prevent the public from knowing if the state and hospital were doing enough to protect other patients and staff.
Keeping the information hidden “actually puts patient safety at risk,” she said.
Nevin took about a week before issuing his ruling.
“The pertinent question in this case is whether in this case a police report directly relates to a patient’s health care,” he said. “I do not believe that it does.”
The reported attack on the nurse occurred in September. A police report named 29-year-old Christopher Adams Jones as the attacker. He’s charged with second-degree assault.
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