MORGANTON, N.C. - On average, more than a dozen people a year escape from state psychiatric hospitals in North Carolina, but the state says a notification policy is in place which protects patients, staff members and the community.
Channel 9’s Dave Faherty learned local law enforcement officials are concerned that parts of that policy are not being followed and that is putting people at risk.
For 17 days this summer, Joey Clipse was on the run after court records show he escaped from Broughton Hospital in Morganton.
Mitchell County Sheriff Donald Street said that before Clipse ended up at the hospital, he was arrested in the county for leading deputies on a high-speed chase and ramming a patrol car.
“He actually hit our vehicle, took off the road and ran down in a pasture and he jumped out and ran and we caught him behind a church,“ Street said.
Clipse faced serious charges but court documents stated he was incapable of going to trial, so he was served commitment papers ordering him to undergo treatment at Broughton.
But that court-ordered commitment ended in August when court documents show Clipse escaped, with the help of Jamie Lynn Patton, who worked at the hospital.
The two ended up at the Apple Blossom Motel in Black Mountain – 40 miles away. Workers at the motel didn’t know Clipse was a wanted man, nor did they know about his past.
“I had no idea where they were from,” said George Percival. “They just showed up and rented a room and that was it. We had no idea.”
Department of Health and Human Services policy refers to escapes as elopements, stating: “If a patient leaves a state psychiatric hospital without authorization, local law enforcement are notified.”
Over the last three years, there have been 16 escapes from Broughton Hospital. Records show that while Broughton police were contacted each time, public safety officers in Morganton have only been alerted twice.
Channel 9 checked at the two other state-run psychiatric hospitals, in Butner and Goldsboro.
In Butner, where the hospital doesn’t have police, public safety officers were contacted for each one of their 17 elopements.
Goldsboro police said they have not been contacted by Cherry Hospital police since 2017 despite six escapes there during the last two years.
When Clipse escaped, Morganton Public Safety wasn’t contacted for 25 minutes and Burke County Emergency Services said the hospital police didn’t request a reverse 911 call, which nearby resident Bryan Branch said is very concerning.
“I think the neighborhood and surrounding area should be notified in some type of text or a call,” Branch told Channel 9.
Dave asked DHHS about the delay notification and why a reverse 911 call wasn’t done after the escape at Broughton. The department told him the hospital can’t request a reverse 911 and that Broughton police were notified.
It is reviewing the incident and said it will take any necessary corrective measures.
“I was concerned about people’s safety,” Sheriff Street said.
After Clipse’s escape, Street was so worried about the danger to the public that he worked with local prosecutors to have charges reissued against Clipse so that the escape could be broadcast to law enforcement agencies nationally.
He believes psychiatric hospitals should do more to alert law enforcement agencies about escapes, and keep the public informed.
“This situation here, nobody has answered, and is someone going to get hurt the next time something is not done?” the sheriff asked.
DHHS told Channel 9 it is looking forward to moving into the new Broughton Hospital this fall, which department officials believe will provide a more secure and therapeutic environment.
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