For years the City of Lakewood has heard concerns and complaints from residents upset with the proliferation of adult family home businesses within city limits.
Community outrage over the misuse of these home businesses hit a tipping point in 2018 after a number of high-profile incidents involving Western State Hospital and its patients, and after news broke that the state Department of Social and Health Services (DSHS) intended to release multiple violent offenders from state-run facilities into adult family home businesses in Lakewood.
The public and city officials started asking questions about this practice in 2017. That’s when the city learned of DSHS’s involvement in the planned release of accused killer Lawrence Butterfield. The state intended to release him from Western State into an adult family home business in Lakewood to live alongside vulnerable adults.
The last time Butterfield lived with someone in a residential setting he killed them. He was found incompetent to stand trial three times in that murder case and was ordered to return to Western State, where he has lived most of his life.
Despite mental health evaluations stating Butterfield was a high risk to commit dangerous behavior again, DSHS was prepared to release him into a communal residential setting alongside some of the city’s most vulnerable residents without proper safeguards or public notification.
Ultimately Butterfield’s release was halted due to public outcry and pressure from elected leadership in Lakewood and the 28th Legislative District.
The experience did not sit well with Lakewood leaders.
It prompted the question: If DSHS was about to release this individual into an adult family home business, who else has the agency released into the community?
A DISTURBING PICTURE
City leaders wanted answers.
Multiple public records requests were filed with DSHS and the city’s Legal Department started researching court cases involving DSHS and Western State.
While the release of information has been slow, the little that has trickled out paints a disturbing picture.
The state is almost exclusively using adult family home businesses to provide long-term care for the mentally ill, including those with a history of violence, according to public records.
One record released by the state shows in the last five years, 407 patients were discharged from Western State. Of those, 80 percent were placed in an adult family home business.
Only 82 people were released elsewhere.
Court cases show repeated disregard by DSHS officials for the professional opinions of psychiatrists and clinical staff who explicitly recommended patients remain in a secure setting.
In April 2017 two psychiatrists and a nursing supervisor from Western State filed complaints against hospital administrators alleging clinical judgements were ignored in favor of moving patients into less restrictive placements, including community settings.
One of the psychiatrists learned hospital executive management ordered the discharge of his patients. He noted his concerns in an email to then-hospital CEO Cheryl Strange and Medical Director James Polo, stating:
“Many patients are suddenly on the discharge list who have absolutely no clinical business being there. For example, I have a patient who is intermittently on 2:1 v. 1:1 for assaultiveness (sic), and for whom the standard psychotropic agents have little to no lasting effect. She has regular AROI’s, incident reports, staff injuries and so forth … I have many patients similar to this one.”
Based on the state’s statistics that 80 percent of its Western State releases over a five year period went into adult family home businesses, it is safe to assume the majority of these individuals were sent to live in unsecure homes in the community.
Most likely many of those adult family home businesses were in Lakewood.
ADULT FAMILY HOME BUSINESS BOOM
The number of adult family home businesses approved by DSHS to open in Lakewood has increased at an alarming rate.
In the first 10 months of 2018 alone the city saw 20 home businesses open – from 73 in January to 93 in October, according to state licensing information.
Lakewood’s share of adult family home businesses represent roughly 28 percent of the total number of adult family home businesses in all of Pierce County, yet Lakewood’s population accounts for only 7 percent of the county’s total population.
This disproportionate number flies in the face of the Pierce County Countywide Planning Policies, which state adult family home businesses must be established proportionately throughout the county.
By statutory definition, these homes should blend in and become part of the neighborhood.
That has not occurred in Lakewood. Instead more than half of these homes are located in Lakewood’s Oakbrook neighborhood, a planned development nestled along the Chambers Creek Canyon in Lakewood’s north end.
Oakbrook is now ground zero for adult family home businesses, with many of these homes opening next door to each other or within the same block. The result is the transformation of the residential neighborhood into a quasi-commercial setting with high-traffic.
Some of these home businesses see regular visits by first responders, including the city’s Behavioral Health Contact team which handles calls involving individuals experiencing mental health complications.
Lakewood regularly receives complaints from its residents concerned about these changes in their neighborhood, yet the city has no recourse.
LAKEWOOD LAWSUIT DENIED
In the spring of 2018 the Lakewood City Council adopted two ordinances – one to keep enhanced services facilities out of residential neighborhoods and added language to Lakewood Municipal Code to further define an “adult family home”; the other enacted a moratorium on issuing city business licenses to adult family home businesses.
In May 2018 the city filed a lawsuit against DSHS and the state saying the placement of violent offenders and registered sex offenders in an adult family home business violates state law.
A month later the state filed counterclaims, calling the city’s ordinances discriminatory and in violation of federal and state fair housing laws.
Before the case was heard, the city’s legal team learned the state planned to release three, Level 3 registered sex offenders into the same adult family home business in Lakewood. All three men were deemed sexually violent predators by the courts and were living at the Special Commitment Center on McNeil Island.
None of the men are from Pierce County. They committed their crimes in Mason, Thurston and Spokane counties.
In July 2018 the city filed a temporary injunction to prevent their release. Their criminal history includes the murder of an 11-year-old girl and heinous crimes committed against young children. All three are determined a high-risk to reoffend.
Pierce County Superior Court Judge Elizabeth Martin denied the request stating the city had no standing to challenge the state’s placement.
In September the full lawsuit was before Judge Martin.
In testimony before the judge the state’s attorney stated explicitly that DSHS is not involved in the placement of individuals into settings outside of the state’s care.
Yet in separate legal proceedings involving the placement of the sexually violent predators from McNeil Island, court records show DSHS entered into a contract with the operator of the adult family home business at 6805 86th St. SW in Lakewood to place the men at the location.
These men are slated to be in the home by the end of November 2018. They will be within walking distance of five schools, including three elementary schools and two middle schools, and at least seven child care facilities, 10 school bus stops and a number of parks, playgrounds and religious facilities.
In her decision, Judge Martin ruled against the city indicating state law pre-empts local jurisdictions from regulating adult family home businesses. She made it clear any changes to the law need to come from the state legislature and the Governor’s Office.
With no way to regulate these businesses, Lakewood’s leadership looked to the 28th Legislative District for help. So too did Lakewood residents who are fed up with the lack of accountability and lack of transparency.
PREDICTABLE AND PREVENTABLE
On Oct. 23, 2018 the North Lakewood Neighborhood Association held a town-hall meeting where members of the public were invited to ask questions of 28th District legislators and two candidates vying for their seats in the November 2018 election.
There was resounding agreement that more needs to be done to ensure adult family home businesses don’t continue to be DSHS’s long-term solution to providing care for violent offenders currently residing at Western State or McNeil Island.
At the meeting the community and elected leaders noted it was only a matter of time before something terrible happened.
Four days later that terrible something did happen – around a dining room table at an adult family home business in Oakbrook.
That is where a 57-year-old resident with a traumatic brain injury was punched in the face by another resident. The head injury from that assault was so severe the 57-year-old later died.
His death was predictable and preventable.
The man accused of committing the assault, John Douglas Quitorio, 54, was placed in the home by DSHS. Public records show Quitorio was committed to Western State three times.
Police reports show he has a history of assault against other patients, as well as hospital staff at Western State and St. Joseph’s Medical Center. In 2013 he assaulted nurses at St. Joseph’s on three separate occasions in a one-week period.
In 2016 while at St. Joseph’s awaiting admittance to Western State he attacked a bed-ridden patient, assaulting the person and punching them in the head. While at Western State, Lakewood Police responded multiple times to incidents involving Quitorio where hospital staff indicated he frequently assaulted them.
Lakewood leaders support adult family home businesses and believe they serve a valuable role in our community. These businesses offer a residential setting for seniors to age in place and receive care, and a place for adults with developmental disabilities to live independently while receiving assistance with daily needs.
But DSHS is using these businesses for other purposes.
The state is prioritizing its need to move people out of its facilities over guaranteeing the facility where the people are placed is equipped to meet their complex needs.
We now know the consequence of that decision.
In light of the information learned over the course of the last year and the recent death of a vulnerable adult living at an adult family homes business in the city, Lakewood leaders are seeking answers from DSHS and the Governor’s Office.
Specifically Lakewood has requested executive action be taken to halt the release of violent offenders and sexually violent predators into adult family home businesses until the state can study the issue and find a better solution. This action can easily be accomplished by DSHS or the Governor’s Office.
City leadership is also working with its 28th Legislative District delegation to find a legislative solution to address the public safety concerns. The following solutions are proposed by the City for the State Legislature and Governor’s Office to pursue:
- Confirm the definition of an adult family home business as being a place to care for vulnerable adults;
- Make it illegal to put predatory criminals into Adult Family Home businesses;
- Remove the part of the law that allows Adult Family Home businesses to convert into Enhanced Services Facilities (ESF) and prohibit ESFs from locating in residential zoned neighborhoods;
- Make the process for court review of people who go into Adult Family Home businesses from prison or a state hospital open and transparent to the public and provide for local input;
- Address proliferation of so many Adult Family Home businesses in Lakewood and other communities;
- Require the state to comply with existing “fair share” laws and return violent offenders to their county of origin upon their release from state-run institutions; and
- Form a task force to provide a comprehensive review of how Adult Family Home businesses operate in the state and identify legislative solutions to address outstanding concerns (task force should have specific begin and end date with deadline for report to State Legislature).