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Wash. jail to issue body alarms after counselor attacked by inmate

Part of its response to an inmate attack Tuesday on a female mental health counselor

By Paris Achen
The Columbian

VANCOUVER, Wash. — Clark County plans to start issuing body alarms to certain professionals working inside the jail as part of its response to an inmate attack Tuesday on a female mental health counselor.

Clark County Jail Chief Ric Bishop said the jail already has the body alarms, but the county’s last contractor for mental health services had opted not to use them.

The body alarms allow a professional to press a button and sound an alarm if they’re in danger. The system will be used on an interim basis while jail officials review their protocols in light of the incident, Bishop said.

“It’s one of those things,” Bishop said. “Working in the jail comes with some inherent risks. In this case, the inmate wants some help with some confidential information. The corrections deputies were just 30 feet away. They responded quickly. I couldn’t be prouder of our deputies, supervisors and medical staff who responded.”

The attack left mental health counselor Kristine Kystrom with a head injury, bruising and lacerations, according to court papers.

Convicted sex offender Gregory Antonio Wright, 34, of Vancouver was incarcerated in the jail on a pending charge of failure to register as a sex offender when he met with mental health counselor John Furze just before 4 p.m. Tuesday at the jail. After the session, Wright allegedly requested to speak with a different mental health counselor, a specific blonde woman he had talked to before, according to court papers.

The woman, Kystrom, met with him in one of the residential pods at the jail. Wright asked whether she would talk to him in her office in the jail’s medical unit, and Kystrom agreed, according to court papers. She met with him in the office and kept the door open, per jail policy, so that a medical unit corrections deputy could see inside.

Clark County sheriff’s Detective Kevin Harper wrote in a court affidavit that after about 15 minutes of conversation, Wright “suddenly stood up like he was going to leave the office and said, in a quiet but rough tone of voice, ‘What can you do for me?’ ”

“Kristine said that, in one motion and without warning, inmate Wright looked out the door, kicked the door jamb out, closed the door and struck her in the face,” Harper wrote.

Kystrom was knocked to the floor. As she was struggling to stand up, Wright allegedly barricaded the door with a heavy metal desk from inside the office.

Wright then grabbed her by the neck, Harper wrote. She wriggled away and threw herself back and behind the desk. Wright attempted to pull her by the collar of her clothing across the desk, court papers say. Corrections deputies, who heard her screaming, rushed to force open the door and were able to stop the attack, Harper wrote. The responding deputies included Stan Yinger, Duncan Paddy, Jason Beeks, Grant Austin and Kevin Mohan.

Kystrom sustained bruising to the left side of her neck, right side of her face, right jawline and back of her left hand. She also had an abrasion on her left elbow and right thigh, swelling on her head and a cut on her left index finger. Bishop said he didn’t have immediate information about her plans to return to work.

According to court papers, Wright acknowledged that he asked to speak with Kystrom but said he doesn’t remember attacking her.

Wright remains in the jail in lieu of $60,000 bail.

At the request of his attorney, Louis Byrd Jr., Judge Scott Collier ordered Wright to undergo a mental competency evaluation.

There currently aren’t enough body alarms to equip all of the attorneys who meet face-to-face with inmates inside the jail, Bishop said. However, attorneys, who have security concerns, have the option of meeting with clients in a no-contact room, where a glass partition separates them from the inmate, he said.

“We’ll be reviewing those (protocols), as well, not to curtail their constitutionally-mandated function,” he said. “We just need to minimize the risk.”