Psych Patient Charged With Murder After Roommate Dies

Charges against a psychiatric patient who allegedly assaulted his hospital roommate have been upgraded to murder after the victim died of his injuries.

Robert King, 53, died Saturday a week after he was found bloody at the County of San Diego Hospital.

His body was found about 2 p.m. March 17 when Bart Schafer, 32, told hospital staff that King had fallen and hurt himself. Staff called paramedics, but while EMS staff treated him, King went into cardiac arrest, said Lt. Kevin Rooney of the San Diego Police Department.

Rooney said the injury was due to blunt force after King hit his head on something.

"They got him to the trauma center as fast as they could," said Rooney. "Shortly after, the psychiatric hospital staff called police and requested officers evaluate Mr. King's injuries, and we realized that it wasn't an accident and it was more likely that he had been assaulted."

Police arrested Schafer the same day King was brought to the hospital, Rooney said. He was initially charged with attempt murder and assault with a deadly weapon, but King died Saturday of his injuries. Schafer's charge was bumped up to murder.

Rooney said the two patients were roommates, but likely did not know each other well. The average time a patient stays in the hospital is two weeks, according to county officials.  It is unclear how long either man was in the hospital.

"Police have requested a search warrant to access King's medical records," said Rooney. "We know very little about King or Schafer."

Hospital staff and the county of San Diego declined to comment because the case is pending investigation.

When patients are admitted to a psychiatric hospital, they go through a careful assessment to determine whether they are at risk of hurting themselves or others. Normally, only a temporary stay in the facility is necessary before continue treatment as an outpatient.

While some patients' risk of harming themselves or others may be exacerbated when in close quarters, this is not always the case, and Dr. Jeffrey Borenstein, CEO and medical director of Holliswood Hospital in Holliswood, NY, said it's important to remember that the "vast majority" of psychiatric patients are not at risk of hurting somebody else.

"Whenever these stories come out, it's important to remember that many people do not seek help for psychiatric conditions due to the stigma behind it, so we have to reduce that stigma," said Borenstein.

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