Who Killed John McCloskey?
A Lynchburg group has offered a reward.
An FBI agent threatened to shred a subpoena.
And state and national advocates for the mentally ill are outraged.
Such has been the response to the story of John McCloskey, a Rockbridge County teen-ager fatally assaulted in 1994 while in custody of either the county sheriff's office or Western State Hospital. Virginia State Police have never solved the case.
Hoping to reignite interest in the case, the Lynchburg Depressive Disorders Association announced a $1,000 reward last week for information leading to the attacker's arrest and conviction.
"And we would hope other groups would join us," said the association's president, Phil Theisen.
Other mental health advocates are focusing on the state police's failed investigation and the state's lack of an independent agency to investigate allegations of abuse at state mental hospitals. Virginia's official watchdog, the Department for the Rights of Virginians with Disabilities, never investigated McCloskey's case because it wasn't reported.
"Where the hell is our watchdog when someone has been brutalized horribly?" asked Valerie Marsh, executive director for the Virginia Alliance for the Mentally Ill. "They have federal authority. They don't have to be asked to take a case. They should be there to know about them."
DRVD's managing attorney, Clyde Matthews, declined to comment last week, but said earlier this year that "we have no systematic way of having these [cases] reported to us."
John McCloskey, a manic-depressive 18-year-old who had just moved to Virginia, was arrested by Rockbridge County deputies for indecent exposure Dec. 15, 1994. That evening, he was committed to Western State Hospital in Staunton. Three days later, he was rushed to a Charlottesville hospital suffering from a ruptured liver and torn intestines. Doctors say someone at the sheriff's office or state mental institution had seriously beaten him or shoved a stick up his rectum. McCloskey eventually died after an agonizing 14-month hospitalization.
An investigation by the Virginia State Police led nowhere, in part, because no one could pinpoint exactly how and when McCloskey was hurt. His family and attorney, Jonathan Rogers of Roanoke, believing state police didn't investigate Western State thoroughly because both are part of state government, asked the FBI to open a case. It, too, failed to identify a suspect.
Now Rogers is the only one left seeking answers. He blames Western State because McCloskey passed a physical exam on his admission, and has filed a $10 million federal lawsuit against the hospital staff. The attorney general's office is defending the lawsuit, suggesting the deputies or perhaps McCloskey himself inflicted the injuries.
Last week, after reading in The Roanoke Times that the FBI may have documents that could affect his case, Rogers subpoenaed the agency. FBI agent Paul Hunt in Roanoke first refused to accept the court papers, then said he would take them to the U.S. Attorney's Office and shred them, Rogers said.
Hunt didn't return a telephone call seeking comment. Assistant U.S. Attorney John Corcoran said he hasn't decided yet whether he'll try to quash the subpoena.
"Everybody is aligned against the victim," Rogers said. "It makes no sense he [Hunt] wouldn't share information with the people who requested the investigation."
Meanwhile, state legislators serving Rockbridge and Augusta counties were at a loss on how to help the McCloskeys.
"Unless there is somebody out there with the smoking gun, it may be the type of thing that you never do know," said Sen. Emmett Hanger, who represents both counties. "It doesn't seem like the Rockbridge Sheriff's Office was at fault ... and, quite frankly, though there were concerns about Western State, there's nothing that points to them, either."
"I don't know why the family isn't suing the Sheriff's Office," said Del. Steve Landes, R-Augusta County. "Maybe they're going after the state because it's got deeper pockets."
Hanger did say he found it "inappropriate" that Western State shifted blame from itself so aggressively -- even though it had no proof -- when state police first began investigating.
"But you also have to recognize that at that time they were under intense scrutiny and the feds were looking to pounce on them," Hanger said.
That feared scrutiny isn't over. Any day now, the U.S. Department of Justice is expected to release its report on Western State. The federal investigation was prompted in part by the July 1997 death of Maura Patten, whose complaints of poor health in the last days of her life went ignored by hospital staff. Eleven days ago, her brother filed a $6 million lawsuit against the hospital.
Other incidents this month have further tarnished the state's mental health care reputation. On June 9, the state settled a lawsuit brought by the family of Gloria Huntley, who died in June 1996 strapped to her bed at Central State Hospital in Petersburg. On June 13, a Central State patient fatally body-slammed another patient -- a death some say was allowed to happen because of understaffing.
With these deaths -- and McCloskey's -- in mind, Jim McNulty, a board member for the National Alliance for the Mentally Ill, wants to establish a mental health Wall of Shame, with Virginia among its charter members.
"The system isn't working," McNulty said.
Mark Miner, spokesman for Gov. Jim Gilmore, said, "The problems at these hospitals did not occur overnight and won't be fixed overnight." The governor's plan of increased funding and the newly created position of inspector general will help the system, Miner said.
But none of this will help the family of John McCloskey.
His parents could ask the General Assembly to pass a claims bill that would earmark money to compensate them. But the claim won't be considered as long as their lawsuit remains active, Hanger and Landes said. And the McCloskeys must first prove the state hospital is responsible, something the legislators doubt can be done.
Furthermore, a claims bill won't give the McCloskeys what they seek -- the truth about their son's death. To that end, attorney Rogers says he will continue his quest.