Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Predator attacks mentally incompetent patient

At least predator's privacy was not violated

The facts that led to a patient being sexually molested at Manatee Glens -- by a registered sexual predator, authorities believe -- don't include any policy violation, it seems.

But what those facts do clearly violate is common sense.

As told by the Manatee County Sheriff's Office, the details aren't complicated.

Thomas Ango Oliver is listed by the state as a sexual predator, mainly because of his conviction on charges of molesting a 10-year-old child.

When released from the state prison system just before Christmas, Oliver, 40, moved to a boarding house in Palmetto.The Sheriff's Office notified neighbors of his predator status, as required by law.

And when Oliver's behavior led to concerned calls, a sheriff's deputy was sent to check on him. That's all good.

That deputy decided Oliver should be taken for evaluation under the Baker Act, which allows forced psychiatric reviews for people thought to have mental health problems that seem to make them a threat to themselves or others.

Manatee Glens has long handled Baker Act cases and has a reputation for doing so competently. Those brought in are often depressed or mentally ill and potentially suicidal.

More than a few have some sort of arrest record, perhaps involving drugs and such. But not many are so dangerous as to be a grave threat while under the close supervision that Manatee Glens provides.

Very few -- almost none -- are officially classified sexual predators. Oliver was an unusual case.

But when the deputy brought him in and made a point of mentioning that Oliver had been released from prison days earlier, a sheriff's spokesman says, the deputy didn't mention that Oliver was a sexual predator.

To be clear: The deputy knew. He just didn't mention it.

That's hard to figure. There was good reason to mention it, and no apparent reason not to. Though no policy spells out what Manatee Glens should or must be told, good sense certainly required a mention that Oliver was on the sexual predator list.

Heck, even the gossipy nature of ordinary human interactions encourages sharing that information. Cops had just been posting fliers about the guy's predator status, so why become shy about discussing it?

Soon after this odd lapse, Oliver managed to get a mentally incompetent patient alone in a room at Manatee Glens and, the arrest report says, was in the process of a sexual act with her when a staff member discovered him.

Mary Ruiz, the president of Manatee Glens, is unable to talk much about this, because of our extreme patient confidentiality laws. But she answered some generic questions, notably this one: Why the heck wouldn't intake staff ask a deputy about a patient's criminal history if the deputy had mentioned one?

That's the first thing almost anyone would want to know about when told that someone they must supervise has just been released from prison.

Asking would have made the difference. A quick check of the Department of Corrections Web site would have done the trick, too. You'd think that would be routine.

I was not satisfied with the answer. Ruiz said that since so many Baker Act patients have an arrest record, usually of a much lesser sort, the word of a recent release isn't much of a red flag.

That's like an airline executive saying planes are usually in such good repair that no one saw a need for a pre-flight checklist.

I have to suspect Manatee Glens intake staff somehow felt it was improper to ask. And if that sounds impossible, think about the extreme confidentiality laws I just mentioned. As Ruiz interprets them -- correctly, I assume -- they prevent her even now from so much as acknowledging that Oliver was ever there.

The man was arrested at Manatee Glens while a patient and charged with committing a sexual assault there on another patient, but Ruiz is required to totally protect Oliver's privacy.

Manatee Glens and the Sheriff's Office, and other agencies including some local hospitals, now plan to create policies about what information must be handed over when the Sheriff's Office brings a felon as a patient.

Good idea, obviously. It's amazing no such policy existed already.

But even without a policy, common sense would have done the job.

Tom Lyons' column runs on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Sundays. He can be contacted at or (941) 361-4964.

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