Chief nursing officer trial begins in Island County

Island County Deputy Prosecutor Jacqueline Lawrence shows the jury how Linda Gipson

The prosecution and defense laid out their arguments Thursday afternoon in the criminal case against a Whidbey General Hospital administrator accused of assaulting a patient last summer.

Jury selection took up most of the day in what the judge has said may be the longest trial at Island County District Court in three decades.

Linda Gipson, the 63-year-old chief nursing officer at Whidbey General Hospital, is facing one count of fourth-degree assault, a misdemeanor charge, for allegedly grabbing a mental health patient by the face May 13, according to court documents.

In opening statements, Island County Deputy Prosecutor Jacqueline Lawrence said Gipson “charged” into the room, grabbed the patient and told her, “You have lost your rights, you have lost your privileges.”

Lawrence emphasized over and over that the patient was in “four-point, locked, medical restraints” and that she had no way to protect herself. She mimed for the jury how Gipson allegedly grabbed the woman by the jaw, calling it “a simple assault.”

“What happened after that simple assault is where it gets complicated,” she said.

One of the nurses who was caring for the patient confronted Gipson about the assault; Gipson came up with “a litany of different excuses” — like she was spitting or trying to bite — to justify her actions, Lawrence said.

When the nurse refused to accept the excuses, Gipson fired her from the hospital.

Lawrence said Gipson then called 9-1-1 to report that the patient had assaulted a nurse several hours previously; she said the nurse wasn’t injured, didn’t report the incident and didn’t want the police notified.

Gipson made the call, Lawrence said, only after she was confronted by a nurse, the alleged victim and the alleged victim’s father.

On the other side, Gipson’s attorney, Andrew Schwarz of Seattle, told the jury repeatedly that the reality of the situation was more complex.

“I ask you to consider that life is seldom black and white as was just presented to you,” he said.

Schwarz emphasized that the 30-year-old patient has a long history of mental illness. He said she was diagnosed with a borderline personality disorder, which is very difficult to treat and results in emotional outbursts and unpredictable behavior.

He said she had been admitted to the hospital many times previously and had assaulted nurses and doctors many times.

“This is not the kind of person who is a little bit depressed,” he said.

He warned the jurors that the “30 seconds” in which the alleged assault took place is going to be “dissected and dissected and dissected” during the trial.

“What you’re going to see is that the witnesses aren’t going to agree,” he said.

Schwarz gave a different version of events. He said Gipson took the patient by the chin and told her, “Look into my eyes. Focus on me. You need to calm down.”

He said experts will testify that her actions were a “very important technique” used to redirect an upset patient’s attention. He said Gipson was responding to a “code gray” at the hospital, which means medical personnel are supposed to respond to a combative patient or other emergency.

“Somebody had to take charge and make sure that nobody got hurt,” he said.

“Linda Gipson committed no crime,” he added.