The California Department of State Hospitals has released additional information on its lockdown of Coalinga State Hospital, saying that vandalism and “disruptive behavior” resulting in several arrests led to the decision to bar visitors.
According to the department, the lockdown began Friday night shortly after patients “engaged in disruptive behavior that presented a threat to the safety and security of other patients, staff and the facility.” Six windows and several electronic signs have been broken or destroyed, and several toilets were jammed. Some patients refused to attend classes or return to their units for patient counts.
The hospital houses about 1,300 patients, most of whom are sexually violent predators.
No patients have been charged for the vandalism, department spokesman Ralph Montano said Wednesday, but three were charged with felony obstruction of a public officer and misdemeanor rioting charges stemming from an incident Tuesday night. Two patients suffered minor injuries.
The lockdown will be in place until further notice, Montano said.
Additional staff, including police officers, have been called in to help manage the facility. These employees are helping to ensure patient and staff safety, the department said.
The riots appear to be in response to a change in hospital rules. Patients are no longer allowed to have any devices with internet access or hard drive storage. Patients were allegedly using these devices to store and share child pornography.
The department said the recent rule change affected every state hospital, but only the patients at Coalinga have “responded in this way.”
On Tuesday, patients and family members described a far more chaotic scene to The Bee. One patient accused others of throwing urine on coffee shop employees and starting fires. Another estimated the damage at about 60 windows smashed.
The Fresno County District Attorney’s office has filed child pornography charges against 18 hospital patients since September 2016, assistant district attorney Steve Wright said Wednesday. Four additional cases have already led to convictions.
Patient Anthony Sharp was one of the residents most recently convicted of child pornography, Wright said. Sharp had more 230 images and videos on personal electronic and storage devices. He was sentenced to 25 years to life, as he had nine strikes from prior sexual assault convictions.
The devices Sharp used are now banned under the hospital’s new rules, Wright added.
Another patient, Kevin Chavez, recently pleaded guilty to several child pornography charges after he was found with child pornography at the hospital four times. He used cell phones to smuggle in the pornography, Wright said. He was sentenced to eight years in prison.
Wright also said there are “a significant number of additional cases that are still being investigated.”