Escape of second ‘dangerous’ Larned hospital patient spurs external security analysis

Both men managed to walk out of psychiatric facility undetected by staff

By: - January 4, 2022 5:58 pm
Escape and capture of Larned State Hospital patient Isaac Watts prompted Gov. Laura Kelly to order a state agency to promptly hire a consultant to perform a security assessment and recommend improvements at the hospital housing sex offender treatment program. (Grant County Sheriff's Office)

Escape and capture of Larned State Hospital patient Isaac Watts prompted Gov. Laura Kelly to order a state agency to promptly hire a consultant to perform a security assessment and recommend improvements at the hospital housing sex offender treatment program. (Grant County Sheriff’s Office)

TOPEKA — Escape and capture of a Larned State Hospital patient accused of attempted murder Tuesday prompted the governor to order the Kansas Department for Aging and Disability Services to expedite hiring of a firm to evaluate security at the facility housing sexual predators.

The latest flash point was Isaac Watts’ ability to walk away from the state hospital’s crisis stabilization unit Monday night. The 43-year-old man was being detained at the hospital by court order in relation to charges of kidnapping, attempted murder and domestic battery. Hospital video showed him exiting the facility wearing a state-issued jacket. He was subsequently taken into custody at a Garden City motel.

Security problems at Larned State Hospital were revealed in June 2021 when sex offender John Freeman Colt posed as a physician with a replica staff identification badge and passed through five secured doors and the exterior gates to freedom. In September, after three months on the run, he was captured in Utah.

On Tuesday, Gov. Laura Kelly directed the state agency with responsibility for state hospitals to “expeditiously” hire a company or organization to perform a comprehensive security analysis of Larned State Hospital and produce recommendations for upgrading security.

“This administration is taking action to identify and fix the flaws that allowed two dangerous residents to escape from a state-operated facility (and) to ensure that it does not happen again,” Kelly said.

Larned State Hospital serves the western two-thirds of Kansas with nearly 1,000 employees and capacity to provide treatment for about 450 patients.

Pawnee County Sheriff Scott King told the Great Bend Tribune that Watts learned about an unlocked hospital door from another patient. Watts was able to use a telephone to make certain a vehicle was waiting for him when he walked out of the facility, the Tribune said.

Laura Howard, secretary of the state Department for Aging and Disability Services, said the agency was cooperating with local law enforcement on what was termed an “elopement” from the hospital.

The state agency had been in talks with Correctional Leaders Association to identify firms with experience in secure settings, civil commitment programs and patients with mental health needs. The governor directed the agency to speed the process of selecting a consultant.

“Once we have retained an external firm, we will work closely with them to diagnose the full scope of protocols for elopement responses and a review of staff culture including their experience with the policies and practice,” Howard said.

She anticipated the consultants’ review to begin in February and completion of a written report by April.

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Tim Carpenter
Tim Carpenter

Tim Carpenter has reported on Kansas for 35 years. He covered the Capitol for 16 years at the Topeka Capital-Journal and previously worked for the Lawrence Journal-World and United Press International. He has been recognized for investigative reporting on Kansas government and politics. He won the Kansas Press Association's Victor Murdock Award six times. The William Allen White Foundation honored him four times with its Burton Marvin News Enterprise Award. The Kansas City Press Club twice presented him its Journalist of the Year Award and more recently its Lifetime Achievement Award. He earned an agriculture degree at Kansas State University and grew up on a small dairy and beef cattle farm in Missouri. He is an amateur woodworker and drives Studebaker cars.

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