Father of Psych Ward Stabbing Victim Says Mental Patients Treated Like 'Prisoners'

PHOTO: The father of man stabbed to death by his roommate in a southern California hospital psych ward won $3 million in punitive damages this week against the hospital where his son died.Courtesy Joseph Camacho
The father of man stabbed to death by his roommate in a southern California hospital psych ward won $3 million in punitive damages this week against the hospital where his son died.

The father of man stabbed to death by his roommate in a southern California hospital psych ward won $3 million in punitive damages this week against the hospital where his son died. But money isn't on his mind.

He wants to make sure it never happens again.

"Mentally challenged individuals have just as many rights as other people," Joseph Camacho, 79, told ABC News. "Most of the time, they [hospitals] just seem to ignore them and treat them like prisoners instead of a patient."

PHOTO: Romansky used a metal bracket from a toilet to stab Camacho, severing an artery and causing Camacho to bleed to death.Courtesy Joseph Camacho
Romansky used a metal bracket from a toilet to stab Camacho, severing an artery and causing Camacho to bleed to death.

His son, Dean Camacho, who was diagnosed with bipolar disorder, was attacked at Pacifica Hospital of the Valley in Sun Valley, California, by his roommate, Jerry Romansky in 2011, according to court documents. The hospital put the two men in the same room of the hospital's behavioral health unit despite Romansky's violent history, and didn't check on them every 15 minutes as they were supposed to, according to the plaintiff's trial brief. Romansky was hearing voices that told him to "kill himself and others," according to the brief, and he had tried to strangle a previous roommate at Pacifica with a towel, it said.

Though rooms throughout the hospital were equipped with emergency buzzers, they had been disabled in the mental health wing, according to Joseph Camacho's lawyer, John Marcin.

Romansky, whose father testified against the hospital as well, stabbed Camacho with a metal bracket that he broke off from a toilet in the room, severing one of Camacho's arteries and causing him to bleed to death, Marcin said.

He said the hospital's deficiencies had mostly not changed in the more than three years since the murder.

"I think that's why the jury became so angry," Marcin said. "I asked the jury for $2 million in punitive damages, and they came back and awarded 3 [million dollars], they were so angry."

The jury awarded $5.2 million in damages in all.

"It gives you a good feeling that you're all on the same page," Camacho said. "The hospital wasn't."

Joseph Camacho and Romansky's father had a connection in a way because they each lost a son, Joseph Camacho said. Dean Camacho died, and Romansky is serving a prison sentence as a result of Camacho's murder. They'd both been wronged by the hospital, he said.

Pacifica Hospital of the Valley did not respond to ABC News' request for comment.

The hospital's lawyer, Vincent D'Angelo, told ABC News that the hospital has not yet decided whether to appeal, but that hospital officials are sorry for Camacho's loss.

Another lawyer for one of the doctors who settled out of court argued that the doctor had no knowledge Romansky would become violent and kill Camacho, and that the two men did not have any prior conflict, according to the defense brief.

PHOTO: Dean Camacho, who was bipolar, was attacked at Pacifica Hospital of the Valley in Sun Valley, California, by his roommate, Jerry Romansky in 2011.Courtesy Joseph Camacho
Dean Camacho, who was bipolar, was attacked at Pacifica Hospital of the Valley in Sun Valley, California, by his roommate, Jerry Romansky in 2011.