Fort Worth

Sundance Behavioral Health Convicted of Criminal Violations Against Patients

"A nightmare right out of ‘One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest'" Tarrant County District Attorney says

A now-closed Tarrant County psychiatric hospital accused in a criminal indictment of kidnapping patients has pleaded guilty to a single misdemeanor charge and say in exchange prosecutors agreed to drop 55 felony counts and not prosecute the owners individually, the hospital’s attorney said Friday.

However a spokesperson for the Tarrant County District Attorney's Office tells NBC 5 that Sundance Behavioral Healthcare System was never charged with any felonies, but instead 26 misdemanors, which the DA says the hospital pled guilty to the worst one of them all, violating the Texas Mental Health Code -- a criminal conviction -- and also agreed to pay a $200,000 fine.

The spokesperson for the DA's office also told NBC 5 that there was never an agreement not to proseceute the owners as individuals. Instead the hospital was prosecuted as a corporation because that is how the Texas Penal Code operates.

Sundance Behavioral Healthcare System had treatment facilities in Arlington, Garland and Fort Worth.

"Charged with multiple Class B Misdemeanor counts, the corporation pled guilty to the most egregious count – that the hospital knowingly illegally held a female patient against her will for 21 days," the DA's office said.

A former patient of at the Arlington psychiatric facility said she felt like a prisoner while she was held against her will for 11 days and forcibly injected with drugs.

A former patient of a private Arlington psychiatric facility said she felt like a prisoner while she was held against her will for 11 days and forcibly injected with drugs.

"It was three grown men and one woman restraining me and pulling me and yanking me and telling me that I was going to stay there,” Elida Colunga said of her experience at Sundance Behavioral Health hospital. "They gave me shots, shots that I don't know what they are."

The hospital closed in December and filed for bankruptcy after surrendering its license.

"This is a groundbreaking conviction," said Criminal District Attorney Sharen Wilson. "Not just because a corporation has been found guilty of a criminal offense, but for the severity of their conduct – holding people at a mental health facility against their will for financial gain."

Prosecutors filed the case in November, alleging the Arlington hospital detained patients for longer than 48 hours and in some cases refused to allow voluntary patients to leave. That's the basis for the Texas Mental Health Code violation, which the DA defined as "detaining multiple patients for longer than the statuary maximum of 48 hours without legal authority, and for refusing to allow voluntary patients to leave the facility."

"We saw a risk to Tarrant County residents, and we acted. We hope this brings awareness that even a hospital can become a convicted criminal if it violates the law in Tarrant County," said Matt Smid, lead prosecutor in the case and Chief of the Criminal District Attorney’s White Collar Crimes/Public Integrity Unit.

"Most importantly, these charges led to the shutdown of this facility, so no other unknowing patients can be subjected to this nightmare right out of ‘One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest'," said Wilson.

A series of state inspections found examples of inadequate care and substandard conditions.

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