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Nurse Suspected of Murder After Abusing His Colleague

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Joshua Phillips, a nurse at Eastern State, a psychiatric hospital in Spokane, WA, has a history of aggressive, violent behavior outside of work. He nearly killed a colleague he was dating, but that didn’t stop his supervisors from keeping him on the job. Now, he’s suspected of killing another nurse he was romantically involved with. Prosecutors have charged Phillips with first-degree murder and attempted murder. His trial is scheduled for later this year.

Signs of Abuse

Phillips has received several kudos over the course of his career as a nurse, but his personal life hinted at a much darker side. His ex-wife filed for a protection order in 2001 after learning that Phillips was using meth. She moved her daughter away from him, but he came and found them, took the girl out of the mother’s arms, and threatened to keep the child unless his wife agreed to stay with him. He later argued in court that his wife was the aggressor, and the protection order was dismissed. She eventually filed for divorce in 2015.

Phillips then started dating a woman named Jennifer, a psychiatric security attendant at Eastern State, who only wanted to use her first name for privacy reasons. She remembers showing up to work one day in a daze with bruises all over her neck after her being assaulted by Phillips the night before. She told police that he pinned her down and began strangling her when she tried to break up with him. She managed to break free after biting his arm and screamed for her son, who called 9-1-1. Jennifer said she thought Phillips was going to kill her.

“That look — I will never forget that. He said he won’t let me go, and no one else can have me. Those were the words,” she told Inlander magazine after the ordeal. 

She said he would regularly fake injuries to make her look like the abuser. He even told police that she needed to be committed to Providence Sacred Heart Medical center for a psychiatric evaluation. She was released the next day.

Phillips was arrested and charged with second-degree assault in July 2019. A co-worker remembers finding Jennifer huddling alone in the breakroom. They encouraged her to report the incident to their supervisor.

But instead of following up on Jennifer’s claims, the hospital let Phillips continue to work at the facility while his criminal charge was still pending. They put him in a position of authority over Jennifer, even though she had a court-approved restraining order against him.

Several employees came forward to warn management that Phillips was dangerous and that he shouldn’t be working there, but their concerns were dismissed. He later pleaded guilty to lesser charges with few consequences for his actions. Unable to work under him, Jennifer eventually quit her job and left town to get away from Phillips.

“We were completely ignored,” one employee said. “We were witnesses to what he did. We tried to get him out. And we were shunned.”

Suspected of Murder

A year later, Phillips is at the center of another crime. He’s accused of murdering one of his colleagues in cold blood. Kassie Dewey, 35, had been a mental health technician at Eastern State for over a decade. “From the time that girl started walking, she was a strong soul,” her close friend and colleague, Kim Domitrovich, said. “She was a strong woman.”

Records show that Phillips worked in a separate part of the hospital than Dewey. When she started dating Phillips, several colleagues tried to warn her about his violent past, but Dewey wanted to believe that Phillips wasn’t as bad as everyone made him out to be.

Several employees said that Phillips started spreading rumors that Jennifer had lied about the abuse, and it mostly worked. “This guy had half the hospital convinced Jennifer was crazy,” one employee said. “And the other half didn’t know what to think.”

Dewey ignored the warning signs, and the two eventually moved in together. The two were known for getting into volatile shouting matches. In February of this year, Dewey was the one arrested for domestic violence after Phillips told police that she had tried to strangle him. She was charged with second-degree assault, but Dewey said she had no memory of being violent towards Phillips. 

When the hospital found out, they reassigned Dewey to another part of the hospital. After the charges were dismissed, she returned to her regular assignment. In April, Dewey kicked Phillips out of the house and locked the doors. Two days later, records show that he sneaked into her house and waited for her to come home. He then attacked her when she came inside, stabbing her 26 times. He also critically injured her five-year-old daughter, Lilly.

Phillips has now been charged with first-degree murder and attempted murder. He’s currently in Spokane County Jail facing a $1.5 million bond, with his next court date scheduled for June 4th.

Failing One of Their Own

Jennifer was later horrified to learn of Dewey’s murder. She says the hospital should’ve taken her concerns seriously back in 2019 by firing Phillips. “The management knew the situation and — shame on them — they decided to wash their hands of it,” Jennifer says.

Mark Kettner, CEO of Eastern State, sent out an email two days after Dewey’s death. “We are all grieving over the tragic death of our valued team member Kassie Dewey. I ask that we respect Kassie’s dignity and privacy by not reaching out or releasing information to the media,” the email said.

He also added that domestic violence is an “ongoing issue in our community,” and that the hospital will “explore system or policy changes that may need to be adopted to assure that future tragedies can be avoided.”

The nurses on staff were furious. They say asking staff not to speak to the media shows how the hospital is trying to cover up Dewey’s murder. “They could have stopped it, and they know they could have stopped it,” one employee said. “It’s a scare tactic.”

Records show the hospital didn’t investigate after Phillips was charged with assault in 2019. The hospital says the charges were dismissed, so they didn’t warrant an internal investigation.

Mary Shultz, an attorney in Spokane that specializes in employment law, says Eastern State should have done more to protect its employees. “That’s a serious potential problem, potential threat, and potential instability placing that individual around other employees. And you have very vulnerable people in that facility,” she said.

“Obviously, what you can’t do is if you’ve got a restraining order, you can’t make them a supervisor [of the victim],” Schultz added.

Later, after attending Dewey’s funeral, Jennifer said she wants people to take these kinds of threats seriously. “I don’t want pity from anyone. I just wanted, at least, compassion,” Jennifer says. “I mean, we work in this industry to help others. At least try to help your own people.” 

Steven Briggs
Steven Briggs is a healthcare writer for Scrubs Magazine, hailing from Brooklyn, NY. With both of his parents working in the healthcare industry, Steven writes about the various issues and concerns facing the industry today.

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