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Queens Chronicle

State under fire for Creedmoor escapes

Office of Mental Health vows review, but declines specifics due to ‘confidentiality’

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Posted: Thursday, February 6, 2014 10:30 am | Updated: 1:47 am, Thu Feb 13, 2014.

It was straight out of a Saturday morning children’s television comedy — a man confined to a hospital is able to confound security by the ingenious tactic of switching clothes with one of his visitors and allegedly sauntering right out the door.

Only residents, elected officials and police are not laughing over the fact that Raymond Morillo, who was confined to Creedmoor after completing a sentence for manslaughter and assault, was able to do just that on Jan. 28, and get more than 1,000 miles away before he was caught at a bus station in Memphis, Tenn. the next night.

Morillo was the second Creedmoor resident to flee the site in 10 months. Marcos Cabrera was reported missing from the hospital on March 7, 2013. The NYPD said on Monday that he was found shortly afterward at Bellevue Hospital in Manhattan.

In public statements, community meetings and on official letterhead, people are calling on the state Office of Mental Health, which oversees the hospital.

But residents and officials say OMH has been less than forthcoming in response to calls for an explanation.

“Escaped patients are a very rare occurrence within OMH’s secure psychiatric centers,” agency spokesman Ben Rosen said in a statement emailed to the Chronicle.

Per state law and OMH policy, Rosen said, any escaped patient “is immediately reported to local law enforcement,” and all “significant incidents” which occur within a facility are reported to the Justice Center for the Protection of Persons with Special Needs.

“OMH policy and regulations require reporting and a thorough investigation to determine root causes of serious adverse events and, when appropriate, to require policy changes be made to prevent reoccurrence,” the statement added.

Additionally, patients are permitted under the state’s Mental Hygiene Law to receive visitors and wear their own clothing unless a doctor orders otherwise.

The statement did not specify the definition of “immediate,” “serious adverse events” or “appropriate.”

No mention was made of potential discipline of staff.

Rosen declined to discuss the Morillo or Cabrera incidents, citing patient confidentiality considerations.

Speaking before more than 20 concerned residents at the monthly meeting of the 105th Precinct Community Council at the Queens Village station house on Jan. 29, Deputy Inspector Michael Coyle, the commanding officer, said police notified civic leaders of Morillo’s escape as soon as they were alerted by state officials, all while engaging in a massive search.

“We called in all our detectives,” Deputy Inspector Michael Coyle, commander of the 105th Precinct told a crowd of residents the next night. “We had bloodhounds. We had helicopters in the air. We had guys in from Midtown. And that was just our initial response.”

Lt. Dennis Klein, head of the 105th’s Detective Squad, told the group that police questioneded two people suspected of helping Morillo.

“And they are cooperating,” Klein said. Morillo would be caught in Memphis less than three hours later.

The NYPD said on Monday that one person, 35-year-old Ronal Pacheco, whose address and relationship to Morillo were unavailable, has been charged with third-degree burglary, criminal impersonation and obstruction of government administration in relation to the case.

Klein added that Morillo was less than one week away from a Feb. 4 hearing that might have resulted in his being released from custody.

“Maybe he was afraid they wouldn’t,” Coyle said.

Morillo served more than 14 years for assault resulting from a 1998 incident in which two men were slashed on a subway platform, and manslaughter when a man was shot to death during an altercation involving Morillo and others.

Coyle and Klein said he had served his full sentence, but had been confined because he was deemed too dangerous to release.

That, and a lack of timely notification of the public, was what concerned most residents at last Wednesday’s meeting.

“Once I heard there had been an escape, I began notifying people,” said Frank Toner, president of the Rocky Hill Civic Association. “I think I may have worried people more than necessary.”

NYPD Assistant Chief David Barrere, who had been appointed commanding officer of Patrol Borough Queens South days before the escape, said he will investigate what can be done to improve communication.

“It’s disturbing,” he said.

Coyle said police can make suggestions and recommendations to site security personnel, but have little or no authority within their fence line.

“I’d love to take over their security, but we can’t,” he said.

Speaking at the 105th, Bob Friedrich, president of the Glen Oaks Village Co-op, pointed out that his development with 10,000 residents is right near Creedmoor, as are Alley Pond Park, a Little League baseball complex, half a dozen playgrounds and Martin Van Buren High School.

“I don’t want you to improve their security,” Friedrich told police brass. “I want them to improve their security. Your officers already have enough to do.”

Friedrich, Toner and 12 other civic association leaders from Eastern Queens United Civic released a statement on Friday laying out a seven-point plan they want to see implemented including a full investigation of the Morillo incident.

Other requests include preparation of a new security plan for the site; increased funding from OMH for upgraded security; disclosure and transparency as to the types of individuals housed at Creedmoor; a community notification protocol; and the inclusion of civic associations in the preparation of security plans.

They want the same input at the Zucker-Hillside Hospital in Glen Oaks.

State Sen. Tony Avella (D-Bayside), in a letter to Acting OMH Commissioner Ann Marie Sullivan dated Jan. 29, also said a detailed investigation is necessary, and requested a meeting with OMH representatives in his Albany office this week.

“I would like to be fully briefed in person by the agency on exactly what occurred, including how much time passed before it was discovered that the patient escaped the secure unit, how and when law enforcement authorities were notified and how this breach of security can be prevented in the future,” Avella wrote.

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