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Mom of vet who killed himself in Nassau jail testifies

Family members of Bartholomew Ryan (mother, Lilyann Ryan

Family members of Bartholomew Ryan (mother, Lilyann Ryan in center) walk from the Alfonse M. D'Amato United States Courthouse in Central Islip, Monday, April 10, 2017. Credit: Steve Pfost

The mother of a combat veteran whose family is suing Nassau County and its jail medical provider after her son hanged himself behind bars testified Monday she was trying to use “tough love” when she refused to bail him out.

The family of Bartholomew Ryan, 32, shed tears in federal court as jurors heard a recording of the Nassau jail inmate’s phone call to his mother from the East Meadow jail’s booking area the day before his Feb. 24, 2012, suicide.

On the call, Ryan told her his bail was $5,000, and added: “I need to be out and go into the program.”

But Lilyann Ryan, 65, of Lido Beach, turned him down.

“If I bail you out, you’re gonna do the same thing you did in the past,” she told her son. “ . . . I love you and I’m worried about you,” she added.

The mother testified she believed jail was the safest place for her son — a mechanic who served as a Marine in Iraq — as he struggled with mental health problems and drug addiction. She said while she had planned to bail him out a day or two later and “take him straight to the hospital” for placement in a program to address his post-traumatic stress disorder, she never told him that plan.

“I was trying to use tough love,” the mother testified in U.S. District Court in Central Islip.

Ryan’s family has said he went through a series of drug-related arrests and vehicular wrecks after he came home from Iraq a changed person.

Ryan’s family contends the county and the jail’s health care provider, Armor Correctional Health Services, are responsible for the veteran’s wrongful death and acted negligently during his incarceration. He went to jail on a charge of driving under the influence of drugs after he walked out of a drug-treatment program.

Armor claims there was no warning Ryan would kill himself, and the county also has said jail officials properly evaluated, housed and supervised the inmate.

Prior testimony has shown Ryan told two Armor nurses his problems included PTSD, and that he took mental health medication the day he went to jail. He automatically failed a correction officer’s suicide screening because he reported taking such a prescription.

But Armor’s jail psychiatrist, who saw Ryan six hours before his suicide, diagnosed him as only having an opioid dependency problem. He didn’t prescribe any medication and gave Ryan an “urgent” referral to be seen for potential drug withdrawal symptoms.

That doctor, Vincent Manetti, previously testified Ryan told him he’d been diagnosed before with PTSD, bipolar disorder and anxiety, but didn’t “want to play the psych card” and hadn’t taken his mental health medication for weeks. Manetti said the inmate didn’t show suicidal signs, and kept insisting “about his problem being with drugs.”

Ryan’s mother also testified Monday she’d taken him to a Veterans Affairs hospital in Northport three times in the three weeks between when he walked out of a drug-treatment program at Phoenix House and went to jail, but “they didn’t have a bed for him,” and said admittance was “first-come, first-served.”

Lilyann Ryan also said her son left Phoenix House because “he felt he didn’t belong” in the program.

“He felt it was a PTSD problem and drugs were secondary to that problem,” the mother testified. She said her son also “mentioned suicide” to her and was nervous, anxious and upset in the weeks before going to jail.

But the mother acknowledged during questioning by Armor’s attorney that she didn’t think her son would harm himself in jail, and that she didn’t contact anyone at the jail herself.

In other testimony Monday, Armor senior vice president Karen Davies told jurors she did a review after Ryan’s suicide to try to find out what led up to it, but didn’t write a report and while “likely” took notes, didn’t have them with her.

“The fact that he wasn’t seen . . . does not correlate to his death,” she testified about the six hours Ryan was in his cell before killing himself after Manetti’s exam.

During those hours, Ryan was waiting to be seen by other medical staff after the psychiatrist’s “urgent” referral. The plaintiff also claims Armor’s policy of seeing a patient within 24 hours on an “urgent” referral is cruel and unusual treatment.

Davies testified “urgent” cases are triaged by nurses, and inmates with such referrals typically would be seen sooner, or “by the end of the day,” meaning midnight.

Closing arguments in the trial are expected Tuesday.


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