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Co-worker's return after 169 days behind bars shocks hospital staff

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  • Co-worker's return after 169 days behind bars shocks hospital staff

    Harbor-UCLA surgical technician Norris Smith was convicted of shooting into a car. Last week he was back at work, despite the county's efforts to crack down on employees with criminal records.

    By Kimi Yoshino
    September 17, 2009

    A surgical technician convicted of firing a gun into an occupied car was back on the job last week at Harbor-UCLA Medical Center, just days after being released from jail, despite vows by Los Angeles County officials to crack down on medical personnel with criminal records.

    Norris Smith, 53, had spent 169 days behind bars before pleading no contest to the felony charge Aug. 26. In exchange for the plea, a five-year state prison sentence was suspended. He was placed on probation and ordered to undergo psychiatric treatment and abstain from alcohol, according to court records. Three other felony charges were dismissed.

    Smith's return to work at a county hospital shocked colleagues, who said they have been concerned about his behavior since 2005, when he was suspended after threatening a doctor. He was arrested by Long Beach police in 2004 on suspicion of assault with a firearm, a charge prosecutors declined to pursue.

    His case raised new questions about whether adequate measures are in place to screen county employees for criminal conduct.

    Harbor-UCLA officials declined to comment on Smith's employment, calling it a "personnel matter." His August conviction was unrelated to any workplace issues.

    Michael Wilson, spokesman for the Los Angeles County Department of Health Services, said Smith is currently employed, earning an annual salary of about $45,000. But he declined additional comment, saying that the issue is under "administrative investigation."

    Although Smith returned to work at the hospital for at least a couple of days last week, his defense attorney, Christopher Darden, said Wednesday that he is now on administrative leave.

    L.A. County Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas, whose district includes the hospital campus, said there are no provisions in place to allow the county to run criminal background checks on longtime employees who remain in the same job.

    "The matter of persons in the county's employ who have not been [given criminal background checks] and are working in sensitive positions at hospitals . . . has to be corrected," he said. "That is not a good personnel policy and practice."

    Since 1999, the county has required that all employees must undergo criminal background checks when they are hired or receive new assignments. But county health officials say veterans like Smith, a 29-year employee, fall outside those rules.

    Last year, The Times reported that 152 employees at Martin Luther King Jr.-Harbor Medical Center -- more than 10% of those checked -- had criminal records. Their criminal histories came to light only after the hospital was shuttered and workers were eligible for new background checks as they were transferred to other facilities.

    County officials have repeatedly declined to provide the names of those employees, their job descriptions or the types of crimes involved, beyond saying that they were, at a minimum, serious misdemeanors.

    Although a criminal history does not preclude employment, county policy dictates that the crime should not interfere with the job and that decisions are made on a case-by-case basis. A convicted bank robber, for example, would not be allowed to hold a job as a cashier.

    Smith declined comment on the advice of his attorney. Darden said he would not address issues related to Smith's employment but disputed allegations that Smith posed a threat to others.

    Darden described Smith's 2004 arrest, which predated his work suspension, as a family dispute.

    And he said, referring to the November 2008 shooting that led to Smith's conviction, that his client had not gone out "looking for trouble." "This was a situation where people came to his house at almost midnight and created, in his mind, what was a physical threat to his physical safety," said Darden, adding that no one was hurt. "I strenuously object to the notion that he's a danger to anybody. He does not have a violent personality."

    At Harbor-UCLA, one staff member said Smith's reappearance caused an uproar among the nursing and anesthesiology staffs. The employee, a nurse anesthetist, spoke to The Times on the condition that he not be named out of concern for his safety.

    More than three years ago, Smith was suspended without pay for 20 days after allegations that he had threatened a female doctor. County personnel records, which became public when Smith appealed his suspension to the Los Angeles County Civil Service Commission, detail his alleged threats.

    According to the records, in December 2005 Smith came to work on his day off to demand that the female doctor explain why she had hung up on him earlier that day.

    Two doctors present during the incident filed statements describing Smith as belligerent and smelling of alcohol. He repeatedly called the doctor he was confronting a "bitch," hurled racial insults at the other doctors and said he was going to "kick [the doctor's] ***," the records said. Security escorted Smith out of the building.

    Five days later, Smith returned to the hospital -- again on his day off -- and confronted the doctor a second time, according to the records. The doctor, who said she had hung up on Smith after he cursed at her and was rude -- reported being uncomfortable at work, scared and worried for her safety. In his unsuccessful appeal of his suspension, Smith said he apologized to the doctor and was only seeking an explanation from her.

    The doctor later transferred to another hospital. Smith continued working as both a surgical and anesthesia technician, which brought him in contact with patients, often in the operating room.

    After he was charged in the November shooting, his friend, Tracy Evans, filed a letter with the court asking the judge to show consideration for Smith.

    She called him a "good listener" who had only reacted to threats she said had been made by her estranged husband and her father.

    "He is a good and decent man," Evans wrote to the court. "He would not hurt anyone or shoot at anyone unless he believed his life might be in danger."

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    Facts do not cease to exist because they are ignored. -- Aldous Huxley
    Two things are infinite: the universe and human stupidity. -- Albert Einstein

  • #2
    A surgical technician cleans and sterilizes surgical equipment. The person has no contact with the general public aside from perhaps walking by them in a hallway occasionally.

    My point is that yes this man has a criminal record, but for the job he is doing, that is irrelevant. Also having a decent job might be the factor that keeps him from causing a lot worse problems for society. There are certain jobs I wouldn't want the guy to do, but I see no reason why he can't do this job.
    Those who believe, ye shall receive.

    Comment


    • #3
      I am truly supprised he is still employed. While the California Labor Code prohibits terminating someone based solely on an arrest that did not result in a conviction, you can terminate someone for being absent without leave (AWOL).

      Given his prior history of threats to other employees, I would certainly contrue his 169 days in jail as being AWOL from his job and terminate him for that alone.
      Going too far is half the pleasure of not getting anywhere

      Comment


      • #4
        Originally posted by L-1 View Post
        I am truly supprised he is still employed. While the California Labor Code prohibits terminating someone based solely on an arrest that did not result in a conviction, you can terminate someone for being absent without leave (AWOL).

        Given his prior history of threats to other employees, I would certainly contrue his 169 days in jail as being AWOL from his job and terminate him for that alone.
        He probably took a leave of absence. Hell after 29 years he might have had enough vacation time accrued.
        Those who believe, ye shall receive.

        Comment


        • #5
          Originally posted by L-1 View Post
          I am truly supprised he is still employed. While the California Labor Code prohibits terminating someone based solely on an arrest that did not result in a conviction, you can terminate someone for being absent without leave (AWOL).

          Given his prior history of threats to other employees, I would certainly contrue his 169 days in jail as being AWOL from his job and terminate him for that alone.
          I am, too.

          According to the story, he was convicted of a felony involving violence -- firing a gun at an occupied vehcile. Furthermore, he previously was suspended for threatening a doctor.

          I reject the notion that he is not a danger to other staff.
          Facts do not cease to exist because they are ignored. -- Aldous Huxley
          Two things are infinite: the universe and human stupidity. -- Albert Einstein

          Comment


          • #6
            Originally posted by JayhawkFan View Post
            A surgical technician cleans and sterilizes surgical equipment. The person has no contact with the general public aside from perhaps walking by them in a hallway occasionally....
            .....and shooting them.
            sigpic
            Our houses are protected by the good Lord and a gun.
            And you might meet 'em both if you show up here not welcome son.

            Comment


            • #7
              I wouldn't want him cleaning the scalpel that was about to be used on me.

              Comment


              • #8
                Originally posted by JayhawkFan View Post
                He probably took a leave of absence. Hell after 29 years he might have had enough vacation time accrued.
                Out here you don't get a leave of absence to spend time in jail and vacation is bid for by seniority in the previous year. Again, every agency I know of would have treated this as an AWOL and fired him for that alone.,.

                I am truly shocked that this guy still has a job.

                Wait - the article says he was part of Harbor-UCLA, but isn't King hospital (the worst managed in LA County) one of that group? If so, I think we have found the answer.
                Going too far is half the pleasure of not getting anywhere

                Comment


                • #9
                  Originally posted by JayhawkFan View Post
                  A surgical technician cleans and sterilizes surgical equipment. The person has no contact with the general public aside from perhaps walking by them in a hallway occasionally.

                  My point is that yes this man has a criminal record, but for the job he is doing, that is irrelevant. Also having a decent job might be the factor that keeps him from causing a lot worse problems for society. There are certain jobs I wouldn't want the guy to do, but I see no reason why he can't do this job.
                  Maybe a lot different there, but here, Surg Techs are in the operating room. They are the ones that assist the anesthes. doc. putting people under. They had equip. to the doctors and play support roles in the O.R. such as answering phones, etc...

                  Comment


                  • #10
                    Originally posted by L-1 View Post
                    Wait - the article says he was part of Harbor-UCLA, but isn't King hospital (the worst managed in LA County) one of that group? If so, I think we have found the answer.
                    Ding! Ding! Ding! We have a winner!
                    Facts do not cease to exist because they are ignored. -- Aldous Huxley
                    Two things are infinite: the universe and human stupidity. -- Albert Einstein

                    Comment


                    • #11
                      Wow, you have to feel pretty uneasy about working around him now.

                      Comment


                      • #12
                        Originally posted by JayhawkFan View Post
                        A surgical technician cleans and sterilizes surgical equipment. The person has no contact with the general public aside from perhaps walking by them in a hallway occasionally.

                        My point is that yes this man has a criminal record, but for the job he is doing, that is irrelevant. Also having a decent job might be the factor that keeps him from causing a lot worse problems for society. There are certain jobs I wouldn't want the guy to do, but I see no reason why he can't do this job.
                        Threats to a doctor, and shooting at other people's car. I bet he would be a good next door neighbor to you, that can drive the school bus.

                        Comment


                        • #13
                          Originally posted by TJx2 View Post
                          Maybe a lot different there, but here, Surg Techs are in the operating room. They are the ones that assist the anesthes. doc. putting people under. They had equip. to the doctors and play support roles in the O.R. such as answering phones, etc...
                          I'm just thinking of the hospital I used to work at. Not sure if that job title is the same elsewhere.
                          Those who believe, ye shall receive.

                          Comment

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