State finds fault with Nassau jail over ex-Marine's 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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Bartholomew Ryan, 32 -- a decorated Marine who survived a wartime tour in Iraq only to hang himself in the Nassau jail -- was improperly assessed by a doctor for suicide risk, a state report said.

"The Board finds this assessment . . . to have been inadequate," read the report released last month by the state Commission of Correction, 13 months after Ryan's Feb. 24, 2012, suicide. It said Ryan, of Seaford, "received inadequate evaluation and treatment by Armor."

The report recommends that the jail's private medical provider, Armor Correctional Health Care, of Miami, train its mental health staff on "the special mental health needs of combat veterans who are incarcerated."

The report also cited correction officers who failed to call an ambulance for several minutes after they discovered Ryan and tried to revive him with a defibrillator, the report said.

It recommended that all jail staff be familiar with defibrillation procedures, which require calling an ambulance.

Ryan's family, who have filed a federal wrongful death lawsuit against the county, said the report validates their belief that the system failed him.

"It angers me just because it verifies that the health care provided and correction officers didn't take the correct steps to save my brother's life," said Thomas Ryan, of North Bellmore, chief operating officer of @Home Healthcare. "It is surprising to me that a functioning facility in one of the richest counties in the country has such holes in their system."

Ryan's death was one of five suicides at the jail within the previous two years, the second-highest suicide tally of any jail statewide, according to state records.

Nassau Sheriff Michael Sposato, in a statement, said: " . . . We cannot comment on any specific allegations other than to state that we firmly believe that the correction officers involved in this incident responded appropriately and in accordance with their training during the resuscitation efforts."

Nassau County Attorney John Ciampoli declined to comment on the case but said: "I'm acknowledging that it's a tragic case when one of our veterans commits suicide."

A spokeswoman for Armor referred questions to Sposato.

Nicholas Warywoda, the Ryans' attorney, said the report "confirms what we've been saying all along, which is that the health provider and correction officers didn't do what they were supposed to do, which cost Bart Ryan his life -- and it could have been prevented."

Ryan was arrested on Feb. 22, 2012, on a charge of driving while under the influence of drugs. He was arraigned the next day and held on $10,000 bond or $5,000 cash and arrived at the jail shortly before 2:30 p.m.

The report says he was screened for mental illness by booking staff and a nurse, who found he had a psychiatric history and had taken medication. He was referred to mental health services and housing with constant supervision.

The exact nature of the doctor's error was not clear because parts of the report were blacked out. But Ryan was placed in housing where he was checked only every 15 minutes, the report said.

Shortly after 3 p.m. on Feb. 24, 2012, two officers patrolling the housing unit "observed Ryan hanging from the cell bars by a bed sheet," the report said.

The report said the officers ran for help but had trouble opening his cell door because Ryan's body was blocking it, causing more delay. He was "unresponsive and had no breathing or pulse" when they cut him down and tried to revive him. Officers called an ambulance at 3:23 p.m., the report said.

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