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Lawyers Say Language Barrier Kept Migrant Worker in Psychiatric Hospital

June 16, 1992

SALEM, Ore. (AP) _ A migrant worker was freed from a psychiatric ward after two years of confinement his lawyers blamed on a language barrier.

Adolfo Gonzales, 33, was released Monday after a court hearing considered an independent psychological evaluation that gave him a clean bill of mental health.

Gonzales, who comes from the Mexican state of Oaxaca, was committed to the Oregon State Hospital in 1990 after arrests for assaulting a police officer, indecent exposure and trespassing.

He was diagnosed a paranoid schizophrenic. Attempts to communicate with him in English and Spanish failed.

Rebecca Hillyer, a lawyer who interviewed him as part of a re-commitment process in April, found that Gonzales spoke an obscure Indian dialect called Trique.

″They blew it,″ said Hillyer’s co-counsel, Spencer Neal. ″They accused him of being mute. They drugged him up. They kept him in social isolation with people who were certifiably insane.″

State officials refused to answer questions about the case, citing privacy laws.

Court records, however, show that psychiatrists said Gonzales waved his arms, made strange gestures and grimaced a lot. They concluded he was hallucinating and gave him powerful anti-psychotic drugs. A reaction to the drugs two months after he was committed nearly killed him, court records show.

The psychiatrists said Gonzales engaged in petty, destructive behavior, such as ripping messages off bulletin boards and wrecking puzzles put together by other patients.

Neal and Hillyer said the hospital’s evaluations were flawed because of the language barrier. They obtained a court order for an independent evaluation.

The Rev. Dave Zegar, an advocate for migrant workers, said he would escort Gonzales back to Oaxaca. Charges against Gonzales were dropped when he was committed.

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