ON YOUR SIDE: Marine stabbed in Reno VA hospital seeks answers

RENO, Nev. ( & KRNV) -- Three weeks ago, News 4 was contacted by a local marine who claimed he was attacked by a patient while being treated at the Reno VA hospital. Since this time, News 4's Elias Johnson has been investigating these claims, which have raised serious questions about what happened to this marine in the days leading up to the attack and why charges were never brought against the suspect in this case.

The victim, Bruce Hill, is still recovering from the assault and his life may never be the same again.

From the moment Bruce Hill enters his downtown Reno apartment, his life revolves around his small table and a strict medication schedule.

"All the pain comes from this area and goes behind my ear into the back of my head and that's like a constant headache. On a scale of one to ten, it's a three and it does not go away," says Hill.

Before March 24, life was a lot different for this marine.

"The only thing I took before was my multivitamins, which were these right here, and I took something for my thyroid."

Bruce was admitted to the VA hospital in mid-March after several discs had shifted in his lower back, leaving him unable to walk. He received treatment and was steadily improving when doctors asked him to move from his single room and share a space with another patient; Hill was told his room was needed in order to quarantine another patient.

"Actually I was kind of looking forward to a two-man room because it kind of lonely in there," says Hill.

But any hope of sharing war stories with his new roommate quickly went away.

Hill continues: "It didn't take long for me to figure out this guy's a little strange. He wouldn't say that much, but after a while, he would find anywhere he could to urinate [instead of] the bathroom. He would take off the bottom part of his clothing and defecate all over the floors... this guy's definitely 'one can short of a six pack.' I kept asking the nurses, 'Why isn't this guy on the 5th floor, which is [for] mental health?'"

For two days, the bizarre behavior went on; but on the morning of Monday, March 24 -- a few hours before Bruce Hill was to be discharged -- things became violent. Hill left his room by wheelchair in order to receive his daily medications at the nurses' station and, when he re-entered his room, his roommate came at him from behind.

"All of the sudden I felt a hit on the side of my neck and I said, "MAN! Cut that **** out," you know? And all the sudden I felt a boom again and I said, 'What did I tell you?' And I brought my hand up like this and I brought it back and my whole arm was covered in blood. I was flocked by nurses, they were putting pressure onto my neck and I do vaguely remember the VA police and I don't really remember that much until I got down to the emergency room."

The VA Police report picks up where Bruce's memory leaves off. One responding officer described finding the middle-aged suspect inside the hospital room's bathroom holding the surgical scissors used to stab Hill in the neck twice.

The following excerpt was obtained from the responding officer's report: "When the subject saw me, he pointed the weapon directly at me and drew his hand back in what was clearly a motion to draw power and thrust it forward. I stepped back, drew my department issue sidearm and ordered the subject to drop the weapon. He hesitated for a few seconds requiring me to repeat the command several more times. He finally complied, throwing the weapon to the ground,"

The report goes on to state the suspect's bizarre behavior continued once he was placed in the holding cell.

The report continues: "While in the holding cell, the subject began looking for a way out of the cell. He tried manipulating the lock and placing his hands in the creases of the door and window. When he tried to move the holding room furniture, I entered to stop him. When he heard me opening the lock, he tried to hide behind the wall. As I stepped into the cell, the subject stood in front of the doorway and raised his fists like he was going to strike me. I pushed him away from me using open hands. He landed on the floor in the cell."

The suspect was then placed in restraints and a doctor was called to evaluate his mental state, but findings of the evaluation were not included in the report.

The U.S. Attorney's Office was then contacted by a VA Police Supervisor to discuss the incident and possible charges -- a routine procedure for any law enforcement agency.

"They never filed charges against him -- which I thought was kind of funny," says Hill.

In late May, Bruce requested the VA Police report from the day he was stabbed. By June 9, he was given the redacted version under federal HIPAA laws, which protect patient confidentiality. In this case, even the names of the officers which investigated the assault and contacted the U.S. Attorney's Office were blacked out from the report.

"When you look at this case, this is one of those cases you think, 'it can't be true because it is that bad,'" says David Houston, Hill's attorney.

Attorneys David Houston and Ken Lyon have teamed up to represent Bruce. Their goal now is to obtain redacted information in an attempt to get to the bottom of not only what happened the day of the attack, but also the events that led up to it.

"Why was the attacker housed with my client? Why wasn't my client warned? Why wasn't the attacker restrained in a sufficient manner to avoid the attacker from gathering a weapon that was subsequently used on my client to the point where my client could have been killed?" says Houston.

"One would have to know what the total psychiatric condition of this assailant was in order to assess whether or not it was handled properly," says Cal Dunlap, former Washoe County District Attorney, who reviewed the case at our request.

From the information we have been able to obtain in the redacted report, Dunlap says the investigation conducted by the VA Police was unique.

"Normally, you would see an interview or attempt to interview the assailant. The only thing in the report I detected was that they were referring him to a doctor for an evaluation of his mental status," says Dunlap.

"Criminal cases, if they are investigated properly [and] involve police actions, they involve investigation in the sense of a crime scene, they involve actually talking to witness, they involve attempts at determining what occurred and by whom. That did not happen in this case. Had this case been handled by the civil authorities, we would certainly have some answers that we don't have now," says Houston.

News 4 sent the VA Hospital a list if 16 questions asking the identity of the suspect, who's decision it was to place the two patients together, and how he got his hands on a pair of surgical scissors. We also asked about how the investigation was conducted.

This was the hospital's official response: "The VA Sierra Nevada Health Care System cannot comment on any specifics that are currently pending legal adjudication. Mr. Hill was provided with the information and paperwork needed to petition the government for redress in accordance with the Federal Tort Claims Act (FTCA)," writes Darin Farr, Spokesman, Sierra Nevada Healthcare System.

"More information can be gathered by Mr. Hill and used to determine more precisely whether or not there was a correct decision made in what I see as a failure to refer the case to the U.S. Attorney for consideration of prosecution," adds Dunlap.

In the meantime, Bruce will continue his daily regiment of medications and wait.

Hoping his case will produce changes at the Reno VA hospital, Hill says he desires that no other veteran will have to experience what he has, and that his attacker will get the psychiatric help he desperately needs.

"This is a high-profile thing for this VA and it was right in the middle of when those 43 VA patients died in Arizona. They died outside the VA, I almost died inside of it," says Bruce.

The US Attorney's Office did not provide comment as to their decision not to press charges against the suspect in the stabbing; but Hill's attorneys are in the process of trying to get some of the information not released in the redacted report. They will likely have to file a lawsuit in order to do so. For the same reasons, News 4 has been unable to obtain any of the requested information.