Linda Gipson is not guilty of assaulting a patient at Whidbey General Hospital.
The jurors deliberated for about 90 minutes before returning the verdict in Island County District Court Friday afternoon.
They found that Gipson, the chief nursing officer at Whidbey General Hospital, is not guilty of fourth-degree assault.
The case was unusual for the District Court in the high-profile nature of the defendant and complexity of the case, which involved numerous witnesses, including experts in the medical field.
Gipson, 63, was accused of assault for grabbing a mental-health patient by the chin while the woman was in four-point restraints in May 2014.
The jury made a special finding that Gipson’s “use of force was lawful by a preponderance of evidence,” according to Island County Prosecutor Greg Banks. He said that means she may be able to recoup her attorney’s fees and other costs through a state account set up to reimburse people who are found not guilty by reason of self-defense.
Several nurses who were in the room testified against Gipson, saying that her actions were unnecessary and that Gipson acted inappropriately out of anger directed toward a troublesome patient. A nurse that Gipson fired after she complained about her actions has since moved and wasn’t able to testify.
Gipson, however, took the stand last Wednesday and testified that she was following her years of training in responding to an attention-seeking, troublesome mental health patient by redirecting her attention.
She described how she was responding to a “code gray” that was called because the patient was unruly and trying to escape from her restraints. She said she entered the patient’s room and found that the nurses weren’t following protocol in dealing with the patient.
“I was profoundly disappointed that the staff had handled themselves so poorly,” she said.
Gipson testified that the woman had pulled an arm out of her restraints and she held the woman’s chin while another nurse fixed the restraints.
Gipson and several defense witnesses testified that it’s a common technique in dealing with unruly patients.
Brenden Hansen, a doctor at Whidbey General Hospital, testified for the defense; he worked with Gipson in running the emergency department.
He said he’s very familiar with the patient, who has been diagnosed with borderline personality disorder and often arrives at the emergency room after becoming intoxicated.
He said people with that disorder tend to be very unpredictable. He said the woman has assaulted staff at the hospital previously.
Hansen testified that it’s a common technique to “control a patient’s head,” to focus their attention and prevent them from hurting themselves or others. He said it can be necessary even when the patient is restrained.
Hansen said he read the reports by the other nurses and other documents and concluded that Gipson acted appropriately.
“I think there was a misinterpretation by the people on the bedside,” he said.
On cross examination, Hansen conceded that it is never appropriate for a medical provider to put their hands on a patient as a punishment or retaliation. He also agreed that the medical-surgical wing, where the patient was being held, is a different environment than the emergency room.
The 30-year-old patient testified earlier in the week. She claimed that she doesn’t suffer from borderline personality disorder and contradicted evidence presented in the court about her history of assaulting staff members at Whidbey General and other hospitals.
She claimed that Gipson choked her. She also admitted that she was suing the hospital over the incident.
After the verdict, Island County Prosecutor Greg Banks said he respects the jury’s decision and that it was a difficult case. He said his office didn’t bring charges on the word of the patient, but that three eyewitness nurses put their jobs on the line to testify about what they had seen.
“I felt it was a case that needed to be decided by a jury,” he said.