The woman who was allegedly assaulted by the head nurse at Whidbey General Hospital has filed a lawsuit against the hospital district.
An attorney representing Linda Gipson, chief nursing officer, took the offensive in an interview with the Whidbey News-Times this week. Andrew Schwarz of the Seattle firm Schwarz-Garrison called the lawsuit and the criminal allegations against his client “absurd.”
“It’s an outrageous abuse of the legal system both in terms of the civil action and the criminal action,” he said.
Officials at both the sheriff’s office and the prosecutor’s office, however, said they are simply doing their jobs without bias and that the criminal case against Gipson was based on a thorough investigation with multiple independent witnesses.
Prosecutors charged Gipson with fourth-degree assault earlier this year. The pre-trial hearing in district court was recently moved to Dec. 2.
Seattle attorney Gregory Skidmore filed the civil lawsuit in Island County Superior Court Sept. 26. It alleges that Gipson choked the patient while she was in four-point restraints because of mental health issues.
The lawsuit asks for damages related to battery, assault, intentional infliction of emotional distress, corporate negligence, medical negligence and negligent infliction of emotional distress.
Skidmore did not return a call for comment.
Schwarz said the filing of the lawsuit before the criminal case is “really foolish” and will allow him to question the woman’s motives in the criminal trial.
“It makes her motives quite clear,” he said. “She’s seeking to get money out of this.”
He said the allegations against Gipson are completely without merit. He claims that investigators and officials at the Island County Sheriff’s Office and the Island County Prosecutor’s Office were politically motivated in going after Gipson.
Schwarz said there’s ongoing tension between the hospital and the sheriff’s office about how to deal with mental-health patients. He said the hospital don’t have staff with expertise in psychiatric disorders, but it is being asked by law enforcement to essentially “warehouse” patients until they can be transferred.
He claims the criminal case against Gipson is “retaliation.”
Schwarz said the alleged victim has a long history of mental illness and “violent, hysterical acts at the hospital.” On May 13, the day of the alleged assault, the woman injured a nurse and was acting out, he said.
He claims that Gipson walked into a scene of chaos and took charge by touching the restrained woman on the chin, redirecting her attention in an appropriate manner.
Schwarz said Gipson’s actions were reviewed by a number of mental-health professionals and they found her actions “completely appropriate.”
Other nurses in the room and the victim offered a different versions of events. One nurse said she tightly clenched her neck; another said she tightly squeezed the woman’s face, the police report states.
Schwarz said the alleged victim has previously made allegations that she was assaulted by deputies. He claims, based on a public-records request, that the sheriff’s office didn’t investigate those complaints.
He said the woman was charged multiple times with interfering with medical services and assaulting staff at hospital, but the cases never seem to be resolved.
He emphasized that Gipson is a retired lieutenant colonel with the U.S. Army who has dedicated her life to the service of others.
“She has been a tireless advocate for her patients,” he said.
Schwarz said Gipson fired a nurse “from a temp agency” not because she complained about the alleged assault, but because she refused to take part in a de-briefing following the incident.
He added that Gipson was hired to “shake things up” at the hospital and has made some enemies in the process.
“People don’t like change,” he said.
Kelly Mauck, undersheriff with the Island County Sheriff’s Office, said Schwarz’s claims about his office are “patently false.”
Mauck is charged with investigating complaints against deputies. He said the alleged victim has only ever filed one complaint with the sheriff’s office. In fact, she just recently filed the written complaint about an incident that occurred more than a year ago; she claims a deputy mistreated her after she was arrested at the hospital for disorderly conduct.
Mauck said he is taking the complaint seriously and investigating.
Mauck said deputies and staff at the hospital have long had a good working relationship.
Sheriff Mark Brown also said Schwarz is off base. He said Coupeville Marshal Rick Norrie, who’s employed by the sheriff’s office, simply did his job by responding to numerous complaints, investigating those complaints and submitting the report to the prosecutor’s office.
“There was no political motivation,” he said. “That’s what we do.”
Island County Prosecutor Greg Banks said he hadn’t seen the lawsuit. He said the filing of the lawsuit shouldn’t make a difference in the criminal case, but that the defense might “try to make something out of it” if the alleged victim takes the stand.
Banks pointed out that the nurses as “independent eye witnesses” reported the alleged crime to the police before the victim did.
“That’s unusual in these kinds of cases,” he said.
Banks said that Schwarz’s comments about investigators’ motivation are “offensive.”
“We will rely on the facts to make the case,” he said.