TEWKSBURY - This weekend Tewksbury police got a call about a man with a dangerous history roaming around town. "We had an individual who walked away who's court committed from the State Hospital," said Tewksbury Police Chief Ryan Columbus. He said it's a call police have gotten many times before.
Records obtained by the WBZ I-Team show nearly 3,000 police calls to the Tewksbury State Hospital in the last three years. More than 25 of them were for patients who went missing. "All but three...have significant criminal histories and criminal records," said Chief Columbus.
It's a state-run hospital with a large mental health patient population. Duxbury murder suspect Lindsay Clancy is among those currently there. It has its own campus police and added 19 new security cameras just this year. But Tewksbury police say they've responded to nearly 650 calls so far in 2023. According to the police report from this weekend's incident, the patient who escaped Saturday night had a record including attempted armed robbery, assault and battery, and carrying a dangerous weapon. After a resident spotted him at a farmstand in town, police later found him near a cemetery close to the hospital.
The police chief said he's frustrated because he's been pleading for state officials to address his concerns for years. "The Department of Public Health and the Department of Mental Health have been in constant contact with the Tewksbury Police Department to address their safety concerns," said the hospital's CEO Amy Dumont, in a statement sent to the I-team.
Neighbors say they've learned to take precautions. "We usually have all of our kids go in the house immediately," said Nicole Hayes, a mom who lives in a neighborhood across the street. "There are patients there who have murdered people. There are patients there who are sex offenders, so it's scary to think you just don't know when the patients are leaving the hospital, really what is their direction," said Hayes.
Police reports the I-Team obtained show alarming cases over the last three years. One escaped patient was deemed "likely to cause serious harm if not committed..." Another "scaled the fence." One report referenced an escaped patient who had "recently 'beat the crap' out of...staff." When he was located, police said he "stated he 'wanted a bullet in his head.'"
Reports show police have dispatched drones and K9 teams. The police chief says it's a significant drain on resources. "I'm not going to wait until something does happen. We've heard many, many times when there's a mental health crisis and they randomly hurt somebody, or worse," Columbus said. He said he has been talking with state officials, pleading for help with security for years.
"Tewksbury Hospital is hiring a consultant to conduct a security assessment of the campus," Dumont said in her statement. "DPH and DMH are working together to review their policies and procedures to balance the rights of patients to go on supervised and unsupervised outings with the safety of the hospital staff and the community at large." She added the hospital is working "to train and reinforce the Hospital's security policies."
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