DENVER - A former surgical tech who prompted a health scare for thousands of patients in Colorado will spend 6 ½ years in prison.
Rocky Allen, 29, stole a Fentanyl filled syringe from an operating room at Swedish Medical Center last January and replaced it with one filled with saline.
He later pleaded guilty to tampering with a consumer product and obtaining a controlled substance by deception.
It wasn’t the first time he switched syringes to acquire the powerful narcotic. He was apparently fired from four other hospitals because of similar behavior.
“This man acted as a wolf in sheep’s clothing,” said Acting U.S. Attorney Jaime Pena said. “He didn’t care about those people.”
Pena asked for a 120 month (10 year) sentence.
Allen’s attorney, Timothy O’Hara, asked for 30 months, saying his client was a victim of ritual sexual assault as a child and that he began using drugs as a way to cope with the trauma of war, when he was serving in Afghanistan.
U.S. District Court Judge Raymond P. Moore settled on 78 months (6 and half years.)
“He didn’t give a damn about people,” Moore said, explaining that was evident when Allen stole needed pain medication from people who were about to go into surgery.
The judge said Allen had numerous opportunities to ask for help and to change his behavior.
He said Allen stole 30 bottles of fentanyl from a hospital in Kandahar, while he was in the Navy, and that authorities cut him a big break.
The judge also said that once Allen received a General Discharge, which was another break, he worked at five hospitals in the U.S. and got breaks at four of them.
“He got a lightning bolt and ignored it,” Moore said. “He got fired and ignored it. Why should he be deterred (with a lighter sentence) now?”
Allen addressed the Court and apologized.
“I’m truly sorry for the anguish and pain that I’ve caused,” he said. “I was living a selfish and distrustful life.”
He also apologized to his former employer, Swedish Medical Center.
“I never wanted to harm you or your institution,” he said.
Allen said he was sexually abused by his father, his father’s girlfriend and their friends beginning at age 3.
“It destroyed my life,” he said.
He said he was able to turn things around when he went to surgical tech school, then relapsed once he was sent to Kandahar.
“Nothing can prepare you to see death,” he said. “A piece of you dies each time. Addiction became a way to escape the demons of war.”
The judge acknowledged there is trauma in war but told Allen, “there is a certain persistence to your illegal conduct and there is practiced lying.”
He said Allen created a fake company as a reference when he applied for the job at Swedish.
Allen’s actions exposed an estimated 2,400 people to potential HIV and hepatitis infection.
O’Hara said there was no harm and that no one was hurt, but Civil Attorney James Avery said that’s not the case.
“We dispute that,” he said. “Many of my clients have tested positive for hepatitis. The source of that hepatitis has yet to be discovered, but we know he was taking needles out of a trash bin. So, the source of the hepatitis wasn’t necessarily Rocky Allen.”
Avery questioned the 78 month sentence.
“I think many of my clients, who feel like they received a possible death sentence from this individual, feel like it won’t be enough,” Avery said.
He added that he appreciated the judge’s comments.
“(The judge) emphasized the massive collateral damage. This was not just one incident of one needle being swapped, but 2,400 people are being affected,” he said. “The judge saw the bigger picture.”
Avery said the civil case against Swedish will go to trial after a similar case involving one of the other hospitals where Allen worked, is over. That trial, in Washington, begins in May 2017.
Authorities say Allen may have exposed patients at Swedish between Aug. 17, 2015 and Jan. 22, 2016. He pleaded guilty in June.
The hospital never located any victims who contracted HIV or hepatitis.
Allen, who is out on bond, was given 15 days to turn himself in to a Federal prison. His attorney recommended that it be the prison in Sheridan, Oregon.
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