Creigh Deeds signals that he may sue over his mentally ill son’s treatment and death

State Sen. R. Creigh Deeds is preserving his right to sue an agency that last year failed to find a hospital bed for his mentally ill son, who then stabbed the senator before killing himself.

In a three-page letter mailed this week, Deeds notified the Rockbridge Area Community Services Board, as well as the governments of the four counties it serves, that a suit is possible. The notice was required within six months of the incident to keep open the option to sue, but it does not ensure that Deeds will, said his lead counsel, Monica Mroz.

Deeds wrote in the letter that he blames employees of the board for “negligence and gross negligence” in mishandling a crucial six-hour window for admitting his 24-year-old son, Austin “Gus” Deeds, to a hospital.

Deeds (Bath), the Democratic nominee for governor in 2009, has only occasionally spoken publicly about the attack. But his letter reveals previously unknown details about the case, including an allegation that it took the psychiatric evaluator more than an hour to arrive at the hospital after he was called, leading to the expiration of an emergency custody order before a hospital bed could be found for his son.

Deeds also wrote that the evaluator, Mike Gentry, contacted only seven facilities — not the 10 he claimed to have contacted — and did not fax the younger Deeds’s report to three private hospitals, two of which later said they had beds available.

“Instead of a deliberative clinical fact-finding process to assess Gus’s dangerousness to self or others, including self-care, most of Mike Gentry’s efforts were directed toward locating a private psychiatric facility and administrative activities,” the letter said.

“The limited uninterrupted face-to-face time to conduct a clinical risk assessment was an insufficient amount of time for a thorough Pre-admission Screening Report.”

The board did not return a call seeking comment.

The chain of events began the morning of Nov. 18, when Deeds called the Rockbridge Area Community Services Board expressing concern about his son’s behavior.

A county magistrate issued an emergency custody order for Austin Deeds. It was set to expire in four hours.

After he was taken to Bath Community Hospital, an emergency services supervisor from the community services board assigned Gentry to the case, according to Deeds’s letter. It took him at least 70 minutes to drive to the hospital, meaning his face-to-face evaluation of Austin Deeds did not begin until the order was about to expire, the letter states.

Deeds “conveyed the urgency of the situation to Mike Gentry, and indicated that Gus had been engaged in destructive behavior and that Creigh believed he was a danger to himself and others,” the letter says.

After calling two private hospitals, Gentry sought and received a two-hour extension from the magistrate. After that, Gentry “was provided with clinically significant information from a family member, including the very serious risks associated with not hospitalizing Gus,” the letter says.

Using a list issued by the board, Gentry claimed to have contacted 10 facilities, but phone records show he contacted only seven and did not fax copies of Austin Deeds’s psychiatric report to three private hospitals on the list, according to the letter.

Officials from two of those facilities later said they had beds available on that day. Gentry also did not contact at least 19 private inpatient facilities on the list, Deeds said.

In addition, he wrote that Sentara RMH Medical Center never received Austin Deeds’s report because the fax number on Gentry’s list was wrong. The emergency order expired at 6:26 p.m. and Austin Deeds was released.

The next morning, he stabbed his father 13 times before fatally shooting himself with a rifle.

The elder Deeds was hospitalized for three days, and his face remains scarred from the attack.

Jenna Portnoy covers Virginia politics for The Washington Post.
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