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Mentally ill rape victim’s sister sues county hospital
By Andrew Becker Daily Journal Staff

The sister of a mentally ill woman raped by another patient at San Mateo County General Hospital has filed a lawsuit against the hospital and San Mateo County, alleging negligence, medical malpractice and the dangerous condition of public property.

The victim, who now resides at Napa State Hospital, was raped Oct. 28, 2001, while she was in the hospital’s inpatient psychiatric ward, according to San Mateo County Superior Court records. The man who assaulted her has a history of mental illness, violence and criminal behavior.

The lawsuit alleges that the hospital and the county, namely the San Mateo County Department of Mental Health Services, San Mateo County Health Services Agency along with Pinkerton Government Services failed to prevent James Imbrogno from sneaking into the victim’s room and raping the woman. Imbrogno and his mother, Rita, who serves as his conservator, are also named as defendants in the suit. Pinkerton provides security for the hospital.

As a result of the rape, which was interrupted by a passing nurse, the 57-year-old victim, who suffers from bipolar disorder and other illnesses, believes she is repeatedly raped on a regular basis, said her attorney, Daniel Hager. She also distrusts the male orderlies she must come in contact with daily. Her physical health also deteriorated, but she was not properly treated until a week later, the lawsuit alleges.

“Part of the real tragedy of this thing is that she is an extra vulnerable person to begin with because of her mental disability,” Hager said, adding that someone in her situation has greater difficulty in managing the already stressful circumstances of rape.

A governmental claim against the county has already been filed and rejected, Hager said. The lawsuit seeks monetary and punitive damages.

The woman had also been admitted for pneumonia and could not defend herself nor could she speak, Hager said. She received no therapy for the sexual assault and was under restraint after being moved to an intensive care unit that was not equipped to handle the mentally ill, the lawsuit alleges.

Although she had been at San Mateo County General Hospital for about a month, the woman had been a patient there before and had been in out and out of residential care facilities in San Mateo County for most of her adult life, Hager said.

Under conservatorship since 1981, Imbrogno was arrested in San Mateo County for stabbing a county worker with a knife and then attempting to stab the same worker with a pitch fork, according to court documents. Imbrogno was charged but not tried for the crimes because he was deemed mentally unfit to stand trial, the lawsuit alleges. Charges were brought against Imbrogno in the rape case, but were also dropped because of his mental condition. He is believed to be a Vietnam veteran in his 50s, Hager said.

As a patient at Atascadero State Hospital, where he was in the maximum security unit, Imbrogno showed regular patterns of assaultive behavior and, according to court documents, “he needs almost constant supervision to ensure that he does not injure himself or injure another patient.”

The lawsuit alleges that hospital staff knew of this information, but placed him in a co-ed psychiatric ward nonetheless. The ward has as many as 28 patients at a time and no security guards, said Roxanne Kennedy, a nursing supervisor at the hospital.

“Someone with his kind of background with a history of being assaultive of other patients, shouldn’t be put in a co-ed unit,” Hager said.

San Mateo County counsel had no comment on the case as the county has not been issued summons yet. A case management date has been set for March 6, 2003.

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