Family eyes jail procedures after suicide

Family and friends attend the Bellmore funeral for Bart Ryan, a former Marine who committed suicide last Friday in the Nassau County jail. Videojournalist: Jim Staubister (Feb. 28, 2012)

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The family of an Iraq War veteran who hanged himself in a Nassau County jail cell raised questions Monday over whether proper precautions were taken for someone with his psychological problems.

East Meadow native Bartholomew Ryan, 32, a former Marine who served for a year in Al Taqaddum, Iraq, killed himself with a noose made from a sheet just one day after being put in the jail in East Meadow Friday, they said.

Ryan, whose death brings to five the number of suicides in the Nassau jail since January 2010, was detained on misdemeanor charges of operating a vehicle while under the influence of drugs and excessive speed, according to court records and jail officials.

Ryan, who was unemployed and periodically lived with relatives, was an electrical engineer who served from 2003 to 2008 based in Camp Lejeune in North Carolina. His family said they accept that Ryan had a persistent drug problem and suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder and bipolar disorder, but they are angry that he could survive a war zone and die while in custody at home.

"I don't understand how somebody who's diagnosed with these things, who was on five different psych meds, can be put in a facility and not watched," said Tom Ryan, his brother. "How could it be that he was put in a place with any instrument including a bedsheet or whatever?"

In an emailed response to questions from Newsday, Nassau Sheriff Michael Sposato said Ryan was screened for psychological and health issues when he was brought into the facility at 2:30 p.m. Thursday.

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"Upon admission to the facility, he was examined by both medical and mental health staff before being placed on the special housing tier in the new admission area," Sposato said. He declined to go into detail, citing privacy laws.

As is routine, Nassau police are investigating the case, along with the jail's Internal Affairs Unit and the state Commission of Correction's Medical Review Board.

Monday, relatives and friends filed into O'Shea's Funeral Home in Wantagh for Ryan's wake, the parlor filled with photos of him.

A slew of medals and awards -- including the Navy and Marine Corps Achievement Medal, a Good Conduct Medal and a Meritorious Mast -- stood beside his uniform and coffin.

Inmate advocates said the latest suicide underscores the need for oversight at the facility. Of the state's 62 counties, Nassau had the second highest number of inmate suicides since 2010.

"The more that we learn about this most recent death, the more tragic it becomes," Samantha Fredrickson, director of the Nassau chapter of the New York Civil Liberties Union said. "The fact that he was in the facility for a day before he committed suicide clearly indicates someone dropped the ball here. This shouldn't have happened."

With Paul LaRocco

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