Western State employee accused of fondling patients

A Western State Hospital employee has been accused of fondling patients at the inpatient psychiatric facility in Lakewood.

Another employee was suspended for not reporting the allegations to superiors.

Pierce County prosecutors Thursday charged Christopher Conley, 48, with four counts of indecent liberties.

Four patients said they were victims of the inappropriate behavior by Conley, including sexual touching and sexual comments, on various occasions in April and May, according to charging papers.

He was a psychiatric security attendant in May when the patients reported the alleged crimes and has since resigned.

Court records did not list an attorney for him.

Hospital security learned about the allegations May 8, according to a statement from the state Department of Social and Health Services.

“The staff member was placed on alternate assignment on May 16 and then placed on home assignment May 23, where he remained until he resigned on July 14, 2016,” the release said.

DSHS initially said Conley wasn’t removed from directly caring for patients until May 16, and that a supervisor was suspended for that. But later Friday DSHS spokeswoman Kathy Spears clarified that he was removed from direct patient care May 9.

The supervisor was suspended for 10 days without pay for failing to report the allegations to superiors, Spears said.

“I will hold people accountable for not immediately reporting allegations of abuse and neglect to the proper supervising leadership,” Western State CEO Cheryl Strange in a second statement.

According to charging papers:

The patients said they feared Conley would retaliate against them for reporting him, and that he threatened them with extending their stays at the hospital.

Conley also gave them candy and told them he expected to be able to touch them inappropriately.

The fondling happened in a TV room, a linen closet and on a patio at the facility, they said.

“The patients reported the defendant bragged to them that he knew the ‘blind spots’ of the cameras on the ward,” Deputy Prosecutor Erica Eggertsen wrote in the declaration for determination of probable cause.

Police don’t think Conley knew about the reach of a camera across the ward from the linen closet, which they said showed him going into the closet with a patient in April.

Surveillance video also showed Conley rubbing that patient’s back, police said.

His arraignment is set for Dec. 15.

A News Tribune database compiled from public records lists Conley’s 2015 salary as $52,700.

Alexis Krell: 253-597-8268, @amkrell