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April 16, 2014

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Lead plaintiff in patient-dumping lawsuit to governor: ‘We’re not supposed to be treated that way ’

Updated Wednesday, June 12, 2013 | 3:04 p.m.

A former patient of the state-operated Rawson-Neal Psychiatric Hospital who was put on a bus for a one-way trip to Sacramento, Calif., where he had no family or friends, said he wanted Gov. Brian Sandoval to walk – or ride – in his shoes.

James Flavy Coy Brown, 48, is the lead plaintiff in a class-action lawsuit filed Tuesday in U.S. District Court in Las Vegas. The American Civil Liberties Union of Nevada filed the suit on behalf of Brown and others against the state of Nevada challenging an alleged state policy of pushing psychiatric patients on to other states.

Brown, appearing Wednesday at a news conference, said he’d like Sandoval to be drugged, forced into a taxi, then put on a bus headed for a strange place. During the ride, Sandoval’s sustenance would be a few bottles of a state-supplied nutritional shake and peanut butter crackers; everyone else on the bus would eat food from Taco Bell and McDonald’s.

Brown said that was what he had to endure, and he’d like to see if the governor’s reaction would be different if he were forced to experience the same.

“We were dumped off like unwanted people and we’re not supposed to be treated that way because we’re human beings,” Brown said.

Rawson-Neal in Las Vegas has been under fire since an investigation earlier this year by the Sacramento Bee uncovered Brown’s harrowing trip, which did not include any Nevada-arranged followup care at his destination. Brown was admitted to Rawson-Neal on Feb. 9 as a psychotic, having auditory hallucinations and suicidal tendencies, according to the lawsuit. Two days later, on Feb. 11, he was involuntarily discharged, drugged and placed on the bus for Sacramento.

Brown’s attorney Mark Merin said there could be additional lawsuits from cities outraged about having to pay for services for Nevada’s patients. Merin said he’s spoken with city attorneys in Sacramento, Los Angeles and San Francisco who reported they were looking at potentially joining the ACLU suit or filing separately.

ACLU lawyer Allen Lichtenstein said the ACLU was stepping in because it was the only way to ensure patient-dumping stops. A few firings and policy changes are what governments do when they don’t want to dig deeper, he said.

The Nevada Department of Health and Human Services issued a statement Wednesday, pointing to new measures in place at Rawson-Neal that add protections for patients who might be discharged.

Sandoval released a statement in April saying it wasn’t Nevada’s policy to dump patients and that improperly discharging one patient was one too many.

One instance of an improper discharge spurred three separate investigations and resulted in policy changes and disciplinary action, according to Sandoval’s statement.

The complaint filed Tuesday estimates since 2008 some 1,500 patients were sent out of state with no followup care to places where they had no connections.

The ACLU will conduct a nationwide retrieval of stories from psychiatric patients they believe were shipped out of Nevada.

The lawsuit hopefully will provide answers to questions the government isn’t asking, Litchtenstein said, such as how many people were affected, how the practice came about and why patients were sent where they were.

Brown said he was with other patients on the bus and when they compared tickets they were baffled to find they were all headed for different places.

Brown has since been reunited with his daughter Shotzy Harrison, 25, who was overjoyed to he reunited with her father whom she had presumed to be dead.

Harrison said she was outraged Rawson-Neal didn’t try to contact her and that she would have come to get him. The two now live together in North Carolina.

Sandoval's spokeswoman Mary-Sarah Kinner said in a statement, "Rawson Neal Psychiatric Hospital has been, and continues to be an accredited and licensed facility. Governor Sandoval will continue to monitor and receive regular briefings on Rawson Neal."

Kinner referred specific questions about the lawsuit to the Nevada Attorney General's Office.

Jennifer López, a spokeswoman for Attorney General Catherine Cortez Masto, said in a statement, "The Nevada Attorney General's Office will work with our clients to file an official response on their behalf."

The lawsuit seeks class-action status, unspecified actual and punitive damages, and asks the court to issue temporary and permanent injunctions barring the state from continuing or repeating the contested practices.

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