Psych Ward Patient Killed With Sharpened Spoon While Staff Was Distracted On Their Phones

An advocacy group said Wednesday that staffers at D.C.’s public psychiatric hospital were preoccupied with their phones and computers during a gruesome patient’s death.

An elderly patient diagnosed with schizoaffective disorder, David Dowdell, 65, was killed by another patient that wandered into his room. The murder took place in March at St. Elizabeth’s Hospital.

According to court documents, investigators found Charles Lee standing over Dowdell in a blood-spattered room with two broken plastic spoons nearby, twisting his foot on his neck.

28-year-old Lee, who lives in Southeast Washington, was charged with Dowdell’s murder in the first degree. Currently, the case is pending in court.

In court documents, Lee said he “just needed to kill someone,” and sharpened a spoon to use as a weapon to murder Dowdell. Lee told police he bit Dowdell’s throat “just for safety,” police said.

An advocacy group for St. Elizabeths patients, Disability Rights D.C., reported on Wednesday that Dowdell was killed after staff failed to follow multiple hospital policies aimed at preventing such incidents and protecting patients’ safety.

During a review of video footage, Lee exited his room five times before finally entering Dowdell’s. Seven staff members who were supposed to monitor patients looked at phones and computers, talked to one another, or simply weren’t there, according to the report.

In the report, the nurse walked with a flashlight through the hallways but didn’t look through Dowdell’s window. The nurse then falsely reported that Dowdell and the other patient were in their beds.

The report also notes that there was no security guard on duty, despite one of the security guards being assigned to the unit where the murder took place.

A number of recommendations were made in the report, including reviewing footage of staff to determine whether they are fulfilling their assigned duties and conducting random inspections