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Mental Patients are Being Killed in California

cartoon c 2002 by charles amsellem
Mental Patients are Being Killed in California
Mental Patients are Being Killed in California
The case of Samuel Rangel has gotten officials of the state of California concerned. If you're talking about the Patton State Hospital, in Riverside, his case has gotten them frying on the hot seat. That's because his mother, Rita Rangel, is struggling to find meaning through activism regarding the life of her son. Samuel was killed by the facility's negligence and gross incompitence.

Samuel was a student at Los Angeles City College studying psychology. He was declared schitzophrenic and was taking medication for the condition. After neglecting his medication for a period of time, he made a verbal threat to his father and then the police were called to deal with the situation. They charged him with making a terrorist threat and placed him under arrest. He was jailed and 72 hours later, he was brought before a judge who ordered him to be placed under a 90 day psychological evaluation at the Riverside medical facility. Samuel then pleaded with the judge not to send him to a mental hospital and to be allowed to do community service or something else. He was cautioned not to speak out of turn and was led away by sherriffs.

Six sherriffs, who could not muster enough compassion or understanding for Mr Rangel's condition, proceeded to savagely beat and kick him while he was handcuffed. His mother didnt find out about this until later. Thirty days later. For all that time, she sought out information about her son's wherabouts and pleaded for communication or visits but was stonewalled, delayed and given excuses by the county jail. Then she recieved a phone call from her son; The first he was given since his hearing. He told his mother about the beatings and that "...I was beaten for playing the fool in court and I was placed in the hole for thirty days so that my bruises would heal before I was transfered."

Within four hours of his arrival, before he was assigned a room and before his records even arrived at the Patton Hospital, he would be dead. The staff demanded that he take psychotropic drugs and when he refused he was told that all patients are expected to take the medication that they are given. Then, he was taken down by no less than nine orderlies. One approached him from behind and threw a padded blanket over his head. They then threw him on the floor and sat on him. Somehow, with a combined weight of 2000 pounds on his body, he managed to cry out that he couldn't breath. Witnesses reminded the orderlies that he stated he couldnt breath, and one of them responded, "Nah, he just wants up." They sat there on top of him until he suffocated to death.

Samuel's nightmare was finally over but his mother's was just beginning. "They just lied to me all the way across, " Miss Rangel stated in an interveiw. When she spoke to the staff of the mental institution they told her "we dont know how he died but we have some burial plans we can direct you to." They also told her that "we think he was drunk and there may have been an accident." She had to get the witnesses testimony through clever maneuvering rather than getting it straight from the staff themselves.

Understandably, Samuel's mother was skeptical of getting a truthful story from the authorities and luckily had a freind of the family that worked at the coroner's office. After the official autopsy, she paid thousands of dollars for a private one. Both autopsies cofirmed that he died of asphyxia. A blockage of the air passageway. One of the orderlies put his knee on Samuel's throat; an illegal and lethal maneuver. Also, the coroner told her that her son was black and blue all over. Aside from the fresh wounds, many of Samuel's beating injuries were still evident even after 30 days. Psychologists and psychiatrists say that Samuel's story is not unusual. Institutional abuse of scitzophrenics is rampant and out of control.

After these events, two hospital staff members claimed disablility due to stress arising from the incident. It was one of the most horrible at the facility but not the first one. It also resulted in an additional person quitting his job and citing the killing as the reason. The state has offered an insulting financial settlement that Rengel refused. The attorney general's office refused to represent the hospital in this matter and directed them to find their own representation. In describing the way the city treats its mental patients Miss Rengel states, "There are still people there that are getting assaulted...the conditions are atrocious for mental health patients but the public is unaware its going on, and I dont think they care unless it hits their home. This is not a 'me' thing; it affects the whole community. This is a 'we' thing."

Samuel died at the age of 29 on June 1, 1999 and his mother is courageously on a showdown for justice. There will be a major civil rights case in spite of the state's insistence that she settle. It has gotten the attention of Sen Richard Pelanco and there is talk of a 'Rengel law' about the whole affair. "It's very sad (that) he went through that, "says Rita, "He went there for help and he was met with death."