PENDLETON — The psychiatric patient who went missing from a residential treatment facility in Pendleton on Sunday remains at large, according to Pendleton Police Department Chief Stuart Roberts.
On Sunday afternoon, Thaddeus Ziemlak left Salmon Run, a residential treatment home under the jurisdiction of the Oregon Psychiatric Security Review Board, on a planned recreational outing to the area of Walmart and Safeway on Southwest Court Avenue.
A press release from the review board stated Ziemlak was last seen leaving Salmon Run, 2575 Westgate, Pendleton, around 11:30 a.m. and was due back around 2:30 p.m. He never returned, and authorities were notified shortly after 4 p.m. on Sunday, according to Roberts.
Alison Bort, executive director of the psychiatric board, said Salmon Run officials were following protocol for Ziemlak's conditional release when he went missing.
Bort said each patient on conditional release under the board's jurisdiction is assigned a case monitor to stay in contact with. When a patient goes missing from a facility, the case monitor is contacted to help go over any recent incidents or potential red flags.
Sometimes, Bort said, it's just a mistake by the patient and there's no need to contact the police.
While authorities were eventually notified, the search for Ziemlak was slow to start due to the limited information Roberts and his department had, he said.
Roberts said his department has basic information on patients at Salmon Run, such as general physical descriptions, dates of birth and the original offense they were charged with, but police did not have access to a recent picture of Ziemlak until later Sunday.
Law enforcement also doesn't have access to information about the specifics of each patient's conditional release, Roberts said, which is intentionally limited to protect patient privacy.
All patients on conditional release are entered into the law enforcement database, Bort said, but details of that release often fall under HIPAA protections.
"We don’'t want our patients having their mental illness used against them for housing or employment," she said.
Court documents from 2017 show Ziemlak’s conditional release was modified while a resident at McNary Place, a facility in Hermiston. The modification allowed Ziemlak to go on "solo passes" or "peer passes" away from the facility, so long as he and whoever he was with carried a GPS-enabled device at all times.
Bort said carrying a GPS-device is not a part of all conditional release policies and the supervision patients receive are "very case-by-case dependent."
What was troubling on Sunday, Roberts said, was the absence of a detainer or warrant to allow authorities to take Ziemlak into custody is someone found him.
The security review board has "ultimate jurisdictional authority" over its patients, Roberts said, and local law enforcement was unable to make contact with someone from the board to authorize a detainer at the time. Instead, Pendleton police were only able to issue a report of a missing person.
According to Bort, in this case, as in others like it, an order of revocation was eventually issued.
"It's essentially a warrant that allows a law enforcement officer, whether they know of the missing person's report or the notice to locate, to pick them up and bring them to the state hospital," she said.
Roberts on Tuesday afternoon said he wasn’t aware of any order but later confirmed one was issued on Monday. However, he said was unsure when it was entered into the law enforcement data system.
As local authorities continue to search, Roberts said it's possible Ziemlak has already left the area.
"It doesn't take much time to leave the community, even if an individual doesn't have access to their own vehicle," the chief said, noting the free public transportation available in the area Ziemlak was reportedly headed.
According to Roberts, there's reason to believe Ziemlak's disappearance wasn't premeditated because of medications and other personal belongings that were left at the facility. While Roberts said there's been patients who have walked away from the facility and been returned or who have been moved to another facility for various reasons, this was the first he could recall somebody actually missing.
In 2004, Ziemlak was found guilty except for insanity for shooting and killing his mother in Eugene.
According to the press release, Ziemlak is a white man who stands 5-feet, 10-inches and weighs about 170 pounds, with sandy brown hair and green eyes. He has acne scars. Ziemlak was last seen wearing a black, zip-up sweatshirt with a hood, blue jeans, black tennis shoes and a black, beanie-style hat. He wears wire-rimmed glasses and normally walks with his head down. He also was carrying a black backpack.
Ziemlak was stable when last seen, the release stated, but is considered a danger to others. He has a history of drug abuse, which can exacerbate his symptoms. The board urges anyone who sees Ziemlak to call police immediately and not to approach him.
Court records show Ziemlak twice pleaded guilty to escaping from facilities in the past. In 2006, Ziemlak fled from the Oregon State Hospital in Salem and was later found in Wenatchee, Washington.
All patients go through a review and hearing process that weigh factors such as public safety to receive orders and modifications of conditional release. Bort said patients with a history of fleeing or escaping custody aren't exempt from having their conditions modified to allow recreational outings.
"There is a philosophy that people can recover," Bort said. "We're not going to lock someone up forever just because they escaped 10 years ago."
Bort said 60% of patients under the board’s jurisdiction, or about 375 people, are reintegrating into communities across the state. Of those, she said there are only about three cases per year of absconding, when a patient leaves their facility and doesn’t return.
According to its website, the Oregon Psychiatric Security Review Board has a six-year average of 0.46% of recidivism, which is when a patient commits a crime while on conditional release.
"There's a much more dangerous population in our community than them," Roberts said of conditional release patients. "But generally, the public isn’t aware of the processes of re-socialization."