RICHMOND — State Sen. R. Creigh Deeds has filed a $6 million wrongful death lawsuit against the state of Virginia, a mental health evaluator and an agency that did not find a hospital bed for his mentally ill son, who in 2013 stabbed the senator before killing himself.
The lawsuit alleges that the mental health evaluator, Michael Gentry, and the Rockbridge Area Community Services Board exhibited gross negligence and medical malpractice by mishandling a crucial six-hour window for admitting Deeds’ son on Nov. 18, 2013.
“Virginia’s mental health care system failed my son, Gus,” Deeds said in a statement. “I am committed that my son’s needless death shall not be in vain, and that no other Virginia family suffer this tragedy.”
In seeking a psychiatric bed, the lawsuit says, Gentry failed to contact hospitals that were later found to have had beds available for 24-year-old Austin “Gus” Deeds, a William & Mary student. The suit further alleges that Gentry brushed off pleas from the young man’s mother, Pamela Miller Mayhew.
“Pam begged Gentry to have Gus hospitalized,” according to the lawsuit. “Pam told Gentry that Gus was in a very bad place. She told Gentry that Gus would kill Creigh and himself if he was not hospitalized.”
The next morning, Gus Deeds stabbed his father 13 times with a knife before fatally shooting himself with a rifle. Deeds (Bath), the Democratic nominee for governor in 2009, was hospitalized for three days. His face remains scarred from the attack.
The lawsuit was filed in November in Bath County Circuit Court and circulated to reporters Tuesday.
A spokesman for Attorney General Mark Herring, who represents the state in the lawsuit, said his office is reviewing it.
“Attorney General Herring served with Sen. Deeds for years in the Senate and, like everyone, has nothing but respect for him. We just found out about this suit so we’ll have to review it with our client agency and reply to it as appropriate,” Michael Kelly said.
John Young, executive director of Rockbridge Area Community Services Board, declined to comment Tuesday. Attempts to reach Gentry were unsuccessful.
The tragedy prompted widespread support to improve the state’s mental health system. Months later, the legislature passed and Gov. Terry McAuliffe (D) signed a law that allows more time to find psychiatric placements for patients under custody orders. It also compels the state to maintain a “real-time” online registry of available beds, a project that had been in the works for years but did not come to fruition until after Austin Deeds’s death.
The lawsuit lays out the circumstances leading up to the attack.
On Nov. 18, 2013, a local judge issued an emergency custody order for Austin Deeds after his father expressed grave concern about his behavior, and the young man was taken to Bath Community Hospital.
He waited for several hours before the Rockbridge Area Community Services Board dispatched Gentry to conduct an evaluation. The lawsuit says Gentry knew or should have known of the young man’s history of mental illness and previous suicide attempts.
Gentry did not evaluate him until the initial four-hour custody order was nearly expired. Yet he quickly determined that Austin Deeds met the criteria for hospitalization and began calling facilities to find a placement, while the local judge extended the custody order for two additional hours.
Of a list of more than two dozen facilities, Gentry contacted seven private facilities — although he said he contacted 10, according to the lawsuit.
He faxed Rockingham Memorial Hospital twice, but it was later revealed that he had the wrong number and did not follow up. At least five area hospitals, including Rockingham, had beds available, the lawsuit says.
The state has long been aware of shortcomings in the mental health services system.
After the mass shooting at Virginia Tech, the state inspector general in 2012 published a report that highlighted the problem of “streeting,” or releasing people who pose a threat to themselves or others because a psychiatric bed is unavailable, according to the lawsuit.
At the time, the state did not implement recommendations from that report, including the creation of an online bed registry and interventions for when a bed is not found, the lawsuit says.
The Rockbridge Area Community Services Board — which covers Rockbridge, Bath, Lexington and Buena Vista — administers services for individuals in mental health crisis on behalf of the state Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Services.