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Chris Halsne: Reporting 'The Suicide Bed'

This extraordinary investigation exposes a pattern of cover-up, altered records, and secrecy surrounding a series of deaths inside a state-run mental hospital. KIRO-Seattle's Team 7 Investigators dug into 29 recent cases of suicide or attempted suicide and found mentally ill patients repeatedly had access to the means to kill themselves without proper monitoring by state hospital workers.

Who was suppose to be watching young Anthony Gordon when he propped up his bed, tied a sheet to his neck, then killed himself just feet from a nurses station? He was only at the hospital one day.

Read the stories on KIRO's Web site here and here.

How did you get started? (tip, editor assignment, etc.)
The mother of a suicide victim called to ask for some help in getting
information about how her son died.

What were the key sources? (people, documents, etc.)
Internal hospital reports, emails, hall monitor videotape, current and former staff members of Western State Hospital. Psychiatrists and Psychologists familiar with mental ward procedure and policy.

What was the biggest roadblock you had to overcome?
Our investigative unit obtained all relevant documentation through internal sources and outside agencies. The mental hospital, with help from the Washington Attorney General's office, successfully denied us access to all records associated with individual patient care, suicides, and injury at Western State. We searched for duplicate records, filed with other state and federal agencies and
found some success. After obtaining the a copy of the hall monitoring videotape from a confidential source, the AG deemed it 'confidential,' asked for its return and received a court-ordered seal of the original.

Do you have any advice for journalists working on a similar story?
Be prepared to step into some wildly unpredictable & emotional situations. The sadness and anger and the lack-of-understanding by the families of suicide victims is intensely personal. Covering suicides is historically taboo, but remember that this kind of investigation is more about mental health and potential state cover-ups.

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