A military combat veteran hanged himself at Nassau’s jail in 2012 when he didn’t get proper care despite a screening showing he was a suicide risk, a plaintiff’s lawyer said as a trial against the county and the facility’s medical provider began Monday.
The family of Bartholomew Ryan, 32, claims his death — amid struggles with drug addiction and post-traumatic stress disorder from his Iraq War service — was wrongful and both the county and jail vendor Armor Correctional Health Services acted with negligence during his incarceration.
Their federal lawsuit also alleges the for-profit medical company subjected the honorably discharged U.S. Marine to cruel and unusual treatment because of a policy in which inmates who get referrals for “urgent” treatment can wait up to 24 hours for care.
“If they had just listened to that form that deemed him a suicide risk, we wouldn’t be here today,” plaintiff’s attorney Nicholas Warywoda said of Armor.
However, the defendants have denied responsibility for Ryan’s death. Armor attorney John Doody said Monday in U.S. District Court in Central Islip that it was Ryan’s choice to take his own life after he didn’t show suicidal signs.
Doody told jurors there was “no forewarning” Ryan would kill himself. He said it happened while two correction officers were distracted and not because of any lack of medical care or supervision.
Nassau Deputy County Attorney James Scott added that jail officials properly evaluated, housed and supervised Ryan.
The new trial follows a mistrial in the case last year after an Armor psychiatrist was hospitalized on the eve of his scheduled testimony. The federal civil claim is the first of four cases to go to trial after lawsuits against the same parties following a series of inmate deaths since Armor won a contract in mid-2011 to provide medical services at the East Meadow facility.
Armor has defended its care, but the State Commission of Correction has found its treatment deficient in at least five Nassau inmate deaths, including Ryan’s. In the Bellmore man’s case, the oversight agency found the Armor psychiatrist did an inadequate assessment of Ryan’s mental health hours before the inmate killed himself on Feb. 24, 2012, in his cell. Armor has disputed that state finding.
Ryan, a 1998 East Meadow High School graduate, was in jail on a charge of driving under the influence of drugs. He had an opiate addiction and was abusing heroin and other drugs following prescription painkiller use after an old boot camp groin injury, according to Warywoda, who said Ryan also suffered from bipolar disorder and depression.
Ryan’s family has said he came back from eight months of combat in Iraq a different person after military service from 2003 to 2007. They’ve said the decorated Marine had a series of drug-related arrests and vehicular wrecks, his marriage ended and he couldn’t hold a job.
“Mentally, he changed. Due to what he experienced and saw,” Warywoda said Monday, telling jurors part of Ryan’s wartime job was to bring patients — some with missing limbs — to a hospital.
Retired Correction Officer Michael Archer testified Monday he automatically failed Ryan on his suicide screening during booking because the man, who didn’t express suicidal thoughts, said he was taking psychiatric medication. Archer said Ryan was placed on a jail tier with “constant observation” until mental health staff could see him.
But it took 18 hours after Ryan’s admission for a psychiatrist to see him, according to Warywoda. He said Monday that doctor’s sole diagnosis was opiate dependency, and not PTSD or bipolar disorder, and he didn’t prescribe Ryan any drugs for mental health issues. Six hours later, the inmate was dead.
Doody said, however, Ryan told the Armor doctor he hadn’t taken his mental health prescription for weeks but had gotten high two days earlier and “my problem is drugs.”
The plaintiff’s attorney also solicited testimony from Archer showing he believed from looking at records that someone else changed Ryan’s jail file before his death to indicate he had attempted suicide in the past.
Armor has contended no forms were generated before Ryan’s death that showed any suicidal tendencies.