In re Detention of W.G., 012021 WACA, 53660-9-II

Docket Nº53660-9-II
Opinion JudgeSUTTON, A.C.J.
Party NameIn the Matter of the Detention of: W.G., Appellant.
Judge PanelWe concur: WORSWICK, J., MAXA, J.
Case DateJanuary 20, 2021
CourtCourt of Appeals of Washington

In the Matter of the Detention of: W.G., Appellant.

No. 53660-9-II

Court of Appeals of Washington, Division 2

January 20, 2021



WG appeals from an order extending his involuntary civil commitment by 180 days. WG argues that the evidence was insufficient to establish that he continued to be gravely disabled.1 We disagree, and affirm.


I. Original Commitment and Extensions

On October 25, 2016, the superior court dismissed a felony charge of failure to register as a sex offender[2] against WG without prejudice after finding that WG was unable to assist in his own defense and that he was unlikely to regain competence. WG was transferred to Western State Hospital (WSH) to be evaluated for civil commitment.

That same day, WG's treatment providers petitioned for a 180-day involuntary treatment order. On November 17, a commissioner found WG to be gravely disabled and ordered up to 90 days of additional involuntary treatment. Between February 2017 and November 2018, commissioners issued five more orders finding that WG continued to be gravely disabled and ordering up to 180 days of additional involuntary treatment.

II. May 2019 Petition

In May 2019, WG's treatment providers petitioned for yet another 180-day involuntary treatment order, alleging that WG continued to be gravely disabled. One of the petitioners, staff psychologist Dr. Debra Burnison, was the sole witness at the hearing on this petition.

Burnison testified that she had observed WG on the ward, spoken with his treatment team about his progress, reviewed his records, and performed a mental status examination. She diagnosed WG with schizoaffective disorder bipolar type and cognitive disorder not otherwise specified.

Burnison testified that over the past year, WG had become less aggressive and agitated and that he had increased his attendance in his treatment groups. She also testified that WG was able to care for his activities of daily living for the most part, but that he still needed prompting for "things like showering." Verbatim Report of Proceedings (May 20, 2019) (VRP) at 91.

Burnison attributed WG's improvements to a combination of his "medication adherence" and his presence in his current ward. VRP at 90-91. But she also commented that some of his behavioral improvement "could also be an aspect of his cognitive difficulties" that resulted in "increased confusion."3 VRP at 83, 90.

Despite acknowledging WG's improvements, Burnison testified that her biggest concern was that WG continued to deny his mental illness and his need to take medication. She noted that although WG currently took his medication voluntarily, he had no insight into his mental health, and he had admitted to her that he took his medication because he wanted to avoid being forcibly medicated by injection.

Burnison also testified that WG "continue[d] to display delusional thinking" and disorientation. VRP at 83. She testified that he thought that (1) it was 2012, (2) he was a "federal officer," (3) he had been at WSH for 10 years, (4) he had been discharged from WSH and was not supposed to be there, and (5) WSH was "some sort of disciplinarian's place" rather than a hospital. VRP at 84-85. WG also denied being required to register as a sex offender or any history of criminal charges involving his daughters, claiming that his sex offender status was instead based on "a mistake in his military record." VRP at 85. Additionally, WG continued to assert that he could be discharged to live near his daughters and had expressed "that he wants to live with his wife and his daughters," despite not being married, not having seen his daughters for 40 years, and his daughters not wanting him to know where they were. VRP at 84.

When the petitioners' counsel asked Burnison if, in her professional opinion, WG "would be able to consistently meet his basic health and safety needs" if released, Burnison responded that he would not. VRP at 86. She testified that this inability would be due to both his mental disorder and his cognitive deficits. Burnison also opined that his deficiencies would also put him at risk of serious physical harm if released.

As to WG's mental health history, Burnison testified that this was WG's sixth hospital admission since his first from 1998 to 2002. She stated that he had initially been released into a special program because of "the difficulty of finding a community placement." VRP at 87. WG was readmitted to WSH from the special program in 2003, but he left WSH against medical advice. He was then admitted again in 2005, 2008, and 2009. WG's 2009 admission continued until 2014.

Burnison noted that the lengthy admission from 2009 through 2014 was related to WG's refusal to register as a sex offender, and she commented that he was refusing to register now as well. Burnison testified that when she examined WG, he had stated "that he would consider registering a sex offender." VRP at 88. But when she followed up with WG's social worker, Burnison learned that "he does not consistently state that to his treatment team." VRP at 88. WG had also refused to consider a placement in an adult family home.

Burnison further testified that WG was not capable of making rational decisions regarding his psychiatric treatment and that he would not seek out or comply with mental health care if he was released. Based on her assessment of WG, she concluded that it was in his best interest to remain at WSH and that his needs would not be met in a less-restrictive alternative to total confinement. Burnison noted, however, that if WG were to "consistently agree[] to register as a sex offender and agree[] to an adult family home placement," he could be considered for "the discharge list." VRP at 88.

After hearing Burnison's testimony and the parties' arguments, the commissioner entered written findings of fact and conclusions of law and an order for up to 180 days of additional involuntary treatment. The commissioner found that (1) WG continued to be gravely disabled, and (2) WG, "as a result of a mental disorder[, ] is in danger...

To continue reading