It was about 10 a.m. on an frigid February morning when a distraught teenage boy in a short-sleeved T-shirt and handcuffs appeared on Mark Cashion’s doorstep in northeast Oklahoma City.
“He must have run here full speed — he was jumping up and down, asking me to call his dad,” Cashion said. “He showed me his hands cuffed behind his back and they looked like serious handcuffs, so I told him I had to call 911.”
Cashion lives less than a mile north of Cedar Ridge Residential Treatment Center and Psychiatric Hospital at 6501 NE 50. The neighborhood is a quiet, semi-rural area where many of the residents own large acreages and keep horses.
Both Choctaw and Oklahoma City police, who responded to the call, confirmed Cashion’s story of the runaway, handcuffed boy. Choctaw police had taken the teen to Cedar Ridge for evaluation at the request of his mother when he broke free and bolted to Cashion’s house, Choctaw Police Chief Conny Clay said.
Runaways are a concern
Oklahoma City police have received five reports of runaway patients from Cedar Ridge since August — typically the reports are of patients who just walk off the hospital grounds, said Master Sgt. Gary Knight, a police department spokesman.
Richard D. Scroggins, a horse breeder who owns Moon Land Farm on Air Depot Road just north of the hospital, said he and his wife have had past run-ins with Cedar Ridge patients who have walked away from the hospital campus over the years, including several break-in attempts at their house.
In 2003, Scroggins arrived home from work to find a strange man working in his garden. The man had wandered off the Cedar Ridge hospital grounds and began raking leaves and performing other yard work in the Scroggins’ back yard.
“I walked up to him and began to engage him in conversation, and I could see that he clearly needed help,” Scroggins recalls. “I said, ‘you look like you are really busy.’”
The man was convinced he had been hired to work around the Scroggins’ farm. Scroggins quickly deduced he was a patient from Cedar Ridge and called the police, who came to collect the would-be farmer.
After leaving Moon Land Farm, the man wrote three letters to Scroggins’ wife, addressing her as “Cherry Angel,” a reference to a personalized license plate on her car.
“Dear Cherry Angel,” one hand-written letter begins. “Please come and take me home to Moon Land Farm.”
In a subsequent letter, addressed from Oklahoma City’s Deaconess Hospital, the man asked “Cherry Angel” to take him on as a farmhand.
“Please come to Deaconess Hospital and pick me up to be your worker and stay there ’til the rapture of Believers,” the man wrote. “It’s going to happen this spring.”
Scroggins has submitted the man’s letters to the Oklahoma City Planning Commission in protest to Cedar Ridge’s expansion plans.
‘Not a correctional facility’
In a written response to The Oklahoman’s questions, Cedar Ridge said it is “a mental health hospital based on a medical model, not a correctional facility,” and that it continually reviews its treatment and security procedures to provide the best possible care. The statement said patients seldom leave the hospital without being properly discharged.
The hospital is a nationally accredited facility, it said.
“Cedar Ridge is a hospital and the stigma of mental illness prevents many families and individuals from seeking treatment. The patients treated at our facility and their families are seeking help through admittance to our facility for mental health issues, not due to criminal offenses,” the statement said.
“It is very rare that an individual leaves our facility without being properly discharged. We have specific policies and procedures that are followed in the unusual case that a patient leaves without being properly discharged. If such a situation arises we always contact the appropriate law enforcement and regulatory agencies.”