07/04/10 — Cherry patient faces multiple assault charges

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Cherry patient faces multiple assault charges

By Matthew Whittle
Published in News on July 4, 2010 1:50 AM

In a reverse of what had become a recent trend, a patient at Cherry Hospital has been charged with several counts of assault following complaints by several hospital employees.

Earnest (also spelled Ernest) Terrell Ellis is currently being held under a $15,000 bond in the Wayne County Detention Center, charged with two counts of assault on a female, two counts of assault on a government official/employee, one count of simple assault and one count of communicating threats.

On April 18, Ellis allegedly struck a female nurse in the chest with a juice carton, struck a female nurse several times in the head and spit in the face of a third female victim.

On April 30, Ellis allegedly shoved a female Cherry employee on the shoulder and threatened to find her and hurt her once discharged.

On May 15, Ellis allegedly pushed a male Cherry employee from behind with the open palm of his hand.

Ellis' court date for those six counts is Aug. 25.

Then, in addition to those misdemeanor charges, Ellis has also been served with several misdemeanor criminal summons, several of which were taken out by confirmed Cherry Hospital employees -- two counts of simple assault, two counts of assault on a female, two counts of assault on a government official/employee and one count of communicating threats.

On June 16, Ellis allegedly struck a male Cherry employee on the side of the face with his fist; court date July 20.

On June 22, Ellis allegedly spit in the face of a female nurse; court date July 22.

On June 22, Ellis allegedly struck a female victim in the face and neck with his fist; court date July 22.

On June 22, Ellis allegedly struck a female victim on the arm and threatened to kill her; court date Aug. 24.

On June 26, Ellis allegedly pushed and pulled a male victim on the arms and spit on him; court date Aug. 25.

On June 27, Ellis allegedly struck a male nurse in the face; court date Aug. 25.

It was not clear if Cherry Hospital police had responded to any of these incidents on the campus or if there were any incident reports, because, according to state Department of Health and Human Services spokeswoman Renee McCoy, all patient identifying information would have to be redacted out of them before they could be made public to comply with HIPAA regulations. Cherry police Chief J.M. Jones also refused to comment, directing all questions to the Health and Human Services public affairs department.

The key to any prosecution of the charges, though, will be if Ellis is found to be "capable to proceed to trial," Wayne County District Attorney Branny Vickory said -- something he was not deemed capable of in a 2009 assault case.

And when that happens, he explained, inmates/patients go to Cherry for evaluation and treatment until they are considered fit for trial. However, if something occurs at the hospital that sends those inmates/patients back to jail, the cycle can start all over.

"It's this never-ending revolving door that bounces them back and forth," Vickory said.

And, he added, it's tough because while the jail isn't designed to treat mental patients, they do have more options available to them to handle violent patients than do state mental hospitals like Cherry.

"Law enforcement officers are entitled to do what they can to keep from getting hurt," he said, as long as it's not excessive force.

At Cherry, however, such rules of engagement are different, with staff instructed to follow the guidelines of the nationally recognized Crisis Prevention Institute that focus on de-escalating a situation using verbal and nonverbal cues, and only using the least restrictive method of physical restraint as a last resort.

However, while staff at Cherry have alleged nearly a dozen incidents, Wayne County Sheriff's Office chief jailer F.S. Greenfield said they have had very few problems with Ellis at the jail so far.

"I don't know what makes the difference. We hold them accountable, it could be," Greenfield said, explaining that when such incidents occur in the jail, they not only can charge the inmate, but also place him on lockdown and take away this visitation and canteen privileges.

"I don't want them using excessive force. (But) I give my officers the right to defend themselves to whatever capability they have to do it, with no more force than necessary," Greenfield said. "If you let them get away with doing things, then it will continue and other inmates will follow suit."

Ellis' court-appointed attorney Billy Strickland would not comment on the case, saying it would be improper for him to speak about a pending case.