Disability Rights Group Investigates Life, Death of Autistic Centralia Man

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Five months after his death, a Seattle disability rights group is investigating the life of Jessy Lee Hamilton, a 26-year-old autistic man who drowned May 30 in the Chehalis River.

Hamilton reportedly slipped away from a group of people he was camping with at 7 a.m. and was found a half-hour later drowned in the river. Family and friends described him has having the mind of a five-year-old, despite his size and age.

“We’re just in the information gathering stage,” said Andy Backlund, an attorney with Disability Rights Washington, a private, nonprofit organization that provides free advocacy services to people with disabilities.

“(W)e are potentially concerned about the lack of services provided to Jessy and the institutional decisions regarding his care,” Backlund wrote in an email to The Chronicle.

In the days leading up to his death, Hamilton was jailed for three nights on a misdemeanor assault charge and was barred from contacting the alleged victim, his mother, who was also his only legal guardian. He had no backup guardian, and was released from jail on his own. Family members found him wandering in downtown Chehalis hours later. Hamilton had been camping at Borst Park with family friends prior to his death.

“We have other cases that are similar to this where people are still alive,” Backlund said.

The Centralia Police Department investigated Hamilton’s drowning. The Lewis County Coroner’s Office ruled his drowning was accidental.

The group is reviewing public records on Hamilton before the events leading up to his death, in an effort to determine “how he got lost in the system,” Backlund said.

They’re also focussing on issues surrounding Hamilton’s court-appointed guardian, his mother, Jackie Hamilton.

“We’re a little concerned that there wasn’t a very good investigation into how fit she was to be a guardian as well,” Baklund said.

Disability Rights Washington works to improve resources and “service systems” for disabled people in Washington, according to disabilityrightswa.org.

“We’re just in the initial stages,” Backlund said. “We’re trying to make sure people are doing what they need to do.”

The Chronicle was not able to reach Jackie Hamilton for comment.

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