Therapist sued in police shooting of mentally ill man

Anthony Benavidez

The sister of a 24-year-old mentally ill man shot and killed by police in 2017 has filed a lawsuit against the therapist who released him from a hospital the day before the shooting, saying her failure to recognize his need to be admitted and monitored led to his death.

Anthony Benavidez, who had been diagnosed with schizophrenia, was shot and killed in July 2017 in a midtown apartment following a standoff with Santa Fe police SWAT team members.

According to a wrongful-death complaint filed Wednesday in state District Court by Roseanne Lopez, her brother arrived at Christus St. Vincent Regional Medical Center in an ambulance around 11 a.m. the day before he was killed. He was sent to the hospital by Santa Fe County sheriff’s deputies who were enforcing an eviction order.

Sheriff’s office reports said the deputies had sent Benavidez to Christus St. Vincent for a psychiatric evaluation because he was acting strange at the apartment, with its windows and walls painted black, and was in such disarray they were concerned about his health.

The lawsuit says Tamara Dubinsky, the licensed professional clinical counselor who evaluated Benavidez, determined he did not meet criteria for admission to the hospital’s psychiatric ward and discharged him.

Authorities have said Benavidez returned to his apartment complex that night and broke into the unit where he had been living. The following day, Santa Fe police arrived with a caseworker to persuade him to the leave the apartment, but he assaulted the caseworker with a knife and remained holed up in the dwelling. A SWAT team arrived, initiating an hourslong standoff.

Benavidez eventually began tossing various chemicals and homemade explosive devices at police, according to reports, and officers responded by fatally shooting him through a window.

Reports said Benavidez was wielding a knife when officers shot him.

In her complaint this week, Lopez says when her brother was released from the hospital, he was “still unwilling to take medication, was unable to nourish himself and was homeless. … During the times that Anthony was a patient at Christus St. Vincent, [Dubinsky] failed to possess and apply the knowledge and to use the skill and care ordinarily used by reasonably well-qualified healthcare employees in the same field under similar circumstances.”

The lawsuit seeks an unspecified amount of damages and legal fees.

Dubinsky did not respond to a message seeking comment late Thursday.

Christus St. Vincent spokesman Arturo Delgado said he had not seen the lawsuit and was unable to comment.

(3) comments

Steve Bringe

While in crisis I've been admitted inpatient many times through the years (bipolar, etc.). While also in crisis, many times I wasn't admitted inpatient. All things equal, when I'm in crisis and I end up in ER for evaluation, I need to be inpatient.

Looking back over my career of mental health crises, the reason sometimes I was admitted but not others had to do with:

How was I presenting in that ten minute window when I finally got my psych evaluation from the admitting provider.

The problem is I rapid cycle while in bipolar crisis I can go in on the edge of killing myself and when I was evaluated I'm bouncing off the ceiling manic. Asked the limited criteria "Are you currently suicidal and have a plan" when I'm finally seen, the answer in that ten minute window would be "No." So I'm sent home, and through rapid cycling I'm on the edge of killing myself again.

Providers in a psych ER make their decision in a very short interview using archaic and narrow criteria. Is it the fault of the provider? Even though it would be irritating every time I was sent home after being in the ER for hours - and I did try to kill myself once after being sent home - it's the failure of the admission process and not the provider is how I see it.

Now, when asked if I'm actively suicidal with a plan, I simply state "If I go home I won't be safe."

I'm admitted every time.

On the law enforcement side of this issue I also have a few insights. Having developef two hours of Albuquerque Police Departments's 40 hour CIT program, and trained APD in peer/police deescalation, I'm always concerned by these sorts of incidents.

Dan Frazier

I hope the suit succeeds. Hospitals need to do be held accountable for who they release, and how. I am thinking of another Santa Fe case in the news right now where a drunk driver crashed, injuring himself and two others in his vehicle. The police wanted to put him in jail, but were forced to bring him to a hospital because of his injuries. The hospital patched him up and immediately released him. He did not go back to jail, nor, to my knowledge, were any arrangements made to assure he would not continue to drink and drive.

Peter Neal

It's got a lot to do with money; whether or not the patient or the patient's insurance company will pay....

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