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Houston police barred from Kingwood Pines Hospital during teen ‘riot’

December 20, 2018

Houston police dispatched to the troubled Kingwood Pines Hospital last Saturday as at least six teenagers staged a riot inside were barred from entering the building because of their duty weapons.

The response by law enforcement to the psychiatric hospital in northeast Harris County over the weekend is now the subject of a Houston Police Department investigation, spokesman Kese Smith confirmed.

Boys and girls in the adolescent unit were “throwing things against the walls, fighting, screaming and fighting the staff” when a panicked employee called 911 around 8:30 p.m. Saturday, according to an initial police report. One employee who spoke to the Houston Chronicle described the ordeal as a riot and said it lasted more than two hours.

At least one Houston police officer and an EMS unit were dispatched to make a welfare check at the Kingwood hospital at 2001 Ladbrook Drive, police said, but no arrests were made. It was not known if anyone — patients or staff — required medical attention.

Smith was unable to elaborate on the nature of the investigation other than to say it would impact several divisions in the police agency.

The 116-bed hospital is owned by the for-profit medical chain Universal Health Services and treats adults and children for an array of behavioral issues that include self-harm, depression and suicide attempts. The company bought the Kingwood facility in 2010 and operates more than two dozen hospitals throughout Texas, including four in the Houston area.

A UHS spokeswoman did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The hospital’s adolescent unit is where the federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services previously warned of low staffing and at least two lawsuits have alleged that two patients sexually assaulted two girls, including a 13-year-old patient struggling with depression. The latest suit filed in January accused hospital administrators of negligence for “failing to provide a safe and secure environment” for the young patients.

An earlier lawsuit from 2010 has since been settled but included a sworn statement from a Dallas psychiatrist who said there was no “indication that adequate or competent staffing was provided by Kingwood Pines” when the sexual assault took place.

The hospital disputed the claims in both lawsuits.

One of the police officers who responded described in radio traffic that 20 minutes after the first call he was unable to enter the unit.

“They will not let us go inside without relinquishing our firearms,” the unidentified officer said, according to the police recording. “We’re waiting to get an update about what’s going on inside there, but right now there is no exigent circumstances involving serious bodily injury or death.”

“But property damage, I think, is going on,” he added.

In a document titled “Responding to the Mentally Ill: A Guide for Texas Peace Officer,” which is used to help police officers respond to mental health crises, the Houston Police Department wrote that an officer “does not give up or secure his/her firearm” while responding to calls for service at hospitals or mental health facilities.

Kingwood Pines Hospital CEO Shanti Carter, when reached Tuesday, initially hung up the phone when asked about the Dec.15 incident. She called back an hour later and pledged to address the incident in an email. As of press time, Wednesday, her response had not been received.

An employee who described the calamity blamed at least three teens in the boys’ unit for inciting the brunt of the unrest. Whatever caused them to act out then spread to the girls’ unit, according to the employee who spoke on the condition of anonymity. Many of the teen girls hid during the incident, she said.

“They broke all the computers, wrote on the walls, destroyed nursing stations,” the employee said. “ We tried to calm them down. We are trained to de-escalate, but that was way, way over the top. You couldn’t de-escalate anything.”

One of the girls jumped her from behind “and started pulling my hair,” she said. “Another staff member intervened and took her off my back.”

The employees then locked the door on some of the children to separate the rioting teens from other patients, she said.

“Let them do whatever they want. This is just material stuff,” she said of the damaged equipment. “They can do whatever they want so nobody else gets hurt.”

The decision to prevent Houston police from entering the unit puzzled the staffer and her colleagues because officers previously have responded to incidents at the hospital. An officer in the police call center who spoke to the Chronicle after the incident said the hospital generates a large volume of emergency calls.

nicole.hensley@chron.com

@nkhensley

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