A federal judge on Friday denied a Temporary Restraining Order (TRO) requested on behalf of patients at Coalinga State Hospital to stop the confiscation and destruction of their personal electronics, including computers and electronic storage devices. The judge made his decision from the bench after more than an hour of oral argument from attorneys representing both the patients and the state hospital.
“This decision will significantly harm hundreds of patients at Coalinga State Hospital who will lose important legal documents, treatment records and personal writings including novels and poetry,” stated ACSOL Executive Director Janice Bellucci.
At issue in the case is whether emergency regulations issued by the Department of State Hospitals (DSH) on January 2 violate the First and Fourteenth Amendments of the U.S. Constitution. According to DSH, the emergency regulations were needed due to an “epidemic” of child pornography at the hospital.
This statement is inconsistent with a letter from the Legal Services Division of DSH dated January 12, 2018, which states that during the 12 years in which Coalinga has been operating, only 29 people have been arrested and 17 people convicted of possessing child pornography. The letter also states there have been a total of 2,387 patients at Coalinga during that time.
“Therefore according to the agency’s legal division, only 1 percent of the patients at Coalinga have been charged with possession of child pornography and only about half of them have been convicted of that offense,” stated Bellucci. “DSH is now punishing almost 1,300 people for the crimes of a few.”
Due to the expected confiscation and destruction of electronics, a few patients at Coalinga protested by damaging government property including a clock and windows. Immediately after the protest, DSH issued a lockdown on all patients which included prohibitions to leave the unit to which they were assigned, to access the hospital library, and to go to the post office. In addition, patients have had no outside visitors since January 14.
“At the beginning of the lockdown, patients at Coalinga were also cut off from communicating with their attorneys. This situation has improved slightly although phone calls are limited to a maximum of 15 minutes,” stated Bellucci.
During the TRO hearing and in legal documents filed by DSH and the Executive Director of Coalinga, the government testified that the lockdown at Coalinga had ended. The government failed to provide a date on which the lockdown ended and as of this date, patients continue to be confined to their units and no visitors are allowed.