The 3rd Circuit Court of Appeal has reversed and returned to district court in Lafayette a ruling clearing University Medical Center — now known as University Hospital and Clinics — of culpability in the 2011 death of a Lafayette woman who was bludgeoned to death with a baseball bat by her psychotic boyfriend.
Sadairea Rubin was a 35-year-old graduate of UL Lafayette with a degree in sociology/criminal justice when she was murdered by 31-year-old Douglas Johnson, her boyfriend of several years. Johnson, who is currently confined to a state mental-health facility after being found not guilty of second-degree murder by reason of insanity, killed Rubin on Aug. 23, 2011, hours after being released from UMC where he had been transported by Lafayette police following a psychotic episode at the apartment complex on North Meyers Drive where he and Rubin lived.
Rubin’s parents filed a civil suit against UMC alleging that Johnson should not have been released 90 minutes after being admitted, but Lafayette District Judge Michelle Breaux issued a summary judgment in favor of UMC, clearing the hospital and its staff of responsibility in the murder.
The appeals court, however, found that there was a fundamental absence of communication between admitting staff at UMC and the mental-health professionals who interviewed and observed Johnson prior to his release. Specifically, the appellate panel found, the admitting nurse and a physician were told by the Lafayette Police officer who transported Johnson to the hospital that he had been behaving in a psychotic manner prior to transport. Johnson, the court record shows, had not only a few weeks earlier killed his dog with the same baseball bat he used to kill Rubin, citing in the case of the dog that the voice of God ordered him to kill the animal, but on the day he was transported to UMC he spoke of hearing voices and had kicked in his landlord’s door at the apartment complex because he was certain there was a dead body inside.
Neighbors also told the officer that the night before the murder of Rubin Johnson had been observed on his knees in a rainstorm crying out to God.
Those details relayed by the police officer to the admitting staff were not passed along to the staff who interviewed and observed Johnson, and the patient had calmed by the time his mental health evaluation was conducted, leading to his release. The hospital would have had to issue a so-called Physician’s Emergency Certificate involuntarily admitting Johnson to mental health care, but absent the pre-transport information from the police officer found no cause to do so.
A clinical psychologist filed an affidavit on behalf of Rubin's parents in the civil suit taking the staff at UMC to task for how Johnson’s case was handled:
[Johnson’s] evaulation at UMC was grossly flawed, initially by minimizing, or discounting the observations of the arresting officer. All of the individuals in the chain of evaluation spent no more than a few minutes with the patient, never establishing the rapport necessary to find out what was going on with him emotionally. Without this personal connection, little pertinent information can be gleaned, especially in individuals suffering from paranoid or delusional ideation. ...There does appear to be a serious neglect of duty to perform the necessary and comprehensive evaluation that the presenting complaints noted by the arresting officer indicated.
“Thus, the trial court’s judgment that there was no breach of the standard of care required of physicians examining a mentally ill patient is not appropriate at the summary judgment stage of the proceedings,” writes Judge Sylvia Cooks on behalf of the three-judge appellate panel.
Read the full opinion here.