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Jan. 20, 2021

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Daybreak Youth Services files federal lawsuit against Clark County Sheriff’s Office

Nonprofit agency alleges investigators violated federal patient confidentiality laws

By , Columbian Assistant Metro Editor

Daybreak Youth Services has filed a federal lawsuit against the Clark County Sheriff’s Office to prevent investigators from disclosing and using patient records seized during a search of the treatment facility related to allegations of sexual assault and other issues.

The complaint for injunctive relief was filed Friday in U.S. District Court in Tacoma and lists Sheriff Chuck Atkins, Undersheriff Mike Cooke, Sgt. Christopher Luque, Detective Adam Beck and Sgt. Brent Waddell. Efforts to reach Atkins and Cooke, as well as Clark County Prosecutor Tony Golik and Chief Civil Deputy Prosecutor Emily Sheldrick were unsuccessful Friday evening.

The sheriff’s office in June 2018 started investigating alleged criminal conduct at the Brush Prairie youth outpatient and inpatient mental health and substance abuse treatment facility, 11910 N.E. 154th St. Among the allegations are instances of sexual assault, problems with client and staff safety, and what investigators saw as a pattern of inadequate reporting as required by law. Investigators served a series of search warrants Sept. 11 at the facility.

Citing federal confidentiality laws, Daybreak is asking a federal judge to declare that material seized in September by investigators was done so illegally.

The nonprofit agency argues the sheriff’s office did not obtain a required court order allowing for the disclosure of identities of patients seeking substance use disorder treatment and facilities’ patient records, protected under 42 C.F.R. Part 2. Disclosure to police is allowed under certain circumstances, such as “extremely serious” crimes, but Daybreak’s attorney David H. Smith has said investigators cannot claim the allegations fit that criteria.

Daybreak wants a judge to order the material be returned and any copies destroyed, as well as for the sheriff’s office to cease any continued use of the information for investigatory purposes. As part of the lawsuit, the agency filed an emergency motion for a temporary restraining order.

“In flagrant violation of federal law, defendants Atkins, Cooke, Luque, Beck and Waddell are in possession of and using confidential and illegally seized SUD patient records to harm and threaten to harm plaintiff and its current and former SUD patients under false premise their actions were taken to protect Daybreak’s minor patients,” the complaint reads.

Daybreak has said that among the records seized are full names of individuals involved, confidential health care records, hard drives and external thumb drives, and numerous computers.

A motion hearing is set for Monday in federal court.

The agency previously filed a motion in Clark County Superior Court to halt investigators’ examination of the information shortly after it was seized and limit their search. Judge Robert Lewis told attorneys for Daybreak that deputies were acting within the scope of search warrants issued by the court and denied their request for a temporary restraining order.

The sheriff’s office’s investigation prompted the state Department of Health to open its own investigation.

On Nov. 19, the state’s Residential Treatment Facilities and Behavioral Health Agencies program notified Daybreak of its intent to revoke the Brush Prairie facility’s licenses. Daybreak appealed the revocations, which has kept the facility open in the interim. In its appeal, the agency argued the revocations were based on “inaccurate and unsubstantiated” claims.

The criminal investigation has since been turned over to the Clark County Prosecuting Attorney’s Office for review of potential charges.

Daybreak states in its complaint that the sheriff’s office is using the seized records to “poison Daybreak’s relationship with valued community partners, discourage new patients from entering treatment and to generate publicity for themselves.”

“The mission of Daybreak Youth Services is to bring hope and recovery to vulnerable youth in our community suffering from mental illness and substance use disorders. The young patients and their families who make the courageous decision to seek help, place their trust in Daybreak and our employees to care for them in their darkest hour, and to keep all information about their treatment confidential,” according to a written statement from Daybreak, in announcing the lawsuit.

Daybreak alleges that the unredacted names of at least 14 minor Substance Use Disorder patients were disclosed in search warrant affidavits. Investigators seized records of “current and former patients, diagnosis, prognosis and treatment relating to substance abuse education, prevention, training, treatment or rehabilitation for hundreds or thousands of minors, many of whom were treated in Spokane or had no contact with Daybreak’s Brush Prairie facility in 2018,” the complaint reads.

It further alleges that the sheriff’s office has disclosed the confidential patient records or identifying information to other state agencies, including Child Protective Services and the Department of Health, as well as the prosecutor’s office. Those agencies and law enforcement have reached out to former patients and current patients’ families about the investigations.

“Daybreak and its attorneys have repeatedly offered to meet with Clark County officials to resolve this matter and explain the federal law’s requirements. Repeated calls and emails this May went unanswered. Given Clark County’s refusal to address this problem in a responsible manner, consistent with federal law, Daybreak had no choice but to seek an order from the federal court,” the agency’s statement reads.

Update: Chief Civil Deputy Prosecutor Emily Sheldrick said in an email late Friday night that “although the prosecuting attorney’s office cannot comment of the specifics of pending litigation, our office will be reviewing and evaluating the matter with the sheriff’s office and the county.”