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Mental Health Patient Shot By Hospital Police

A Houston man who was shot and stunned while hospitalized for a psychotic episode is suing St. Joseph Medical Center in Houston for more than $100,000 of damages.

Alan Pean was a student at the University of Houston last August when he experienced a psychotic episode with hallucinations. He drove himself to St. Joseph and was hospitalized overnight. Though hospital staff was aware of his history of bipolar and had spoken with his parents, Pean was admitted to a surgical floor for minor injuries related to the car accident he had on the way to the hospital. He did not see a psychiatrist.

For his pain, Pean was given a muscle relaxant that has a known side effect of aggravating psychotic episodes. When nobody was in the room, he disconnected himself from his IV, stripped, and ran to the hallway. Per protocol, a hospital staff member called two, off-duty Houston Police Department (HPD) officers to the scene.

When the police officers arrived, Pean was in his room. They barged into the room and overtook Pean. The officers claim that Pean was aggressive and that Pean hit and cut the officers. One of the officers shot Pean in the chest, and handcuffed him as he lay on the floor. Pean survived though the bullet was millimeters from his heart.

The officers called for help, but did not inform hospital staff that they had shot Pean. Pean was treated for the wound only after a doctor noticed a pool of blood under Pean, and demanded that the handcuffs be removed. Pean lost a third of his blood.

The police department charged Pean with aggravated assault with a deadly weapon; the officers allege that Pean used furniture around the room to attack them. But in March, a grand jury released Pean from all charges for insufficient evidence.

The Houston Chronicle found that the HPD had quietly cleared the two officers of policy violations.

The practice of having armed guards and police officers in hospitals is becoming more common. The increase is attributed to the growing violence against hospital staff, but many of the incidents that result in serious violence occur with mental health patients. Currently, more than half of all hospitals have some kind of security armed with guns.

Medical professionals who work with mental health patients are usually strongly opposed to weapons around the patients because misunderstandings can quickly lead to severe outcomes. Since the start of this year across the country, one mental health patient was shot in another hospital, and two mental health patients were tased. Hospitals in Pennsylvania and Indiana have been disciplined by the government for their use of force against patients.

If Pean had been aggressive with only hospital staff around, he would not have been shot or charged with two felonies.

But further, if hospital doctors had admitted Pean to the psychiatric ward after warnings of his psychotic episode, Pean would not have been given aggravating drugs and might not have had any incident.

About the Author

Briggs Bedigian
Briggs Bedigian

H. Briggs Bedigian (“Briggs”) is a founding partner of Gilman & Bedigian, LLC.  Prior to forming Gilman & Bedigian, LLC, Briggs was a partner at Wais, Vogelstein and Bedigian, LLC, where he was the head of the firm’s litigation practice.  Briggs’ legal practice is focused on representing clients involved in medical malpractice and catastrophic personal injury cases. 

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