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Nassau jail doctor testifies in inmate suicide trial

Dr. Vincent Manetti, psychiatrist for Armor Correctional Health

Dr. Vincent Manetti, psychiatrist for Armor Correctional Health Services at the Nassau County Jail, leaves federal court after testifying in Central Islip, April 4, 2017. Credit: Ed Betz

A Nassau jail psychiatrist testified Tuesday he didn’t find an inmate was mentally ill hours before the combat veteran’s suicide — despite hearing he’d been previously diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder and bipolar disorder.

The family of Bartholomew Ryan, 32, has sued the county and jail medical provider Armor Correctional Health Services, alleging they’re to blame for his death behind bars on Feb. 24, 2012.

Armor employee Dr. Vincent Manetti said during the second day of testimony in the trial in U.S. District Court in Central Islip that he diagnosed Ryan only as having a drug dependency problem.

He examined the inmate 18 hours after the man’s jail booking on a driving under the influence of drugs charge, the plaintiff’s attorney has said. Six hours later, Ryan hanged himself in his cell with a bedsheet.

Manetti testified he was aware Ryan, a mechanic who served in combat as a U.S. Marine in Iraq, already had told two Armor nurses on Feb. 23, 2012 that he took mental health medication before he went to jail that day. The officer who did the jail intake on Ryan had failed him on his suicide screening because he reported he was taking that medication.

The psychiatrist also said Ryan told him he’d been previously diagnosed with PTSD, bipolar disorder and anxiety. But Manetti said he reached his diagnosis without trying to call Ryan’s previous medical providers, or seeking information from the inmate’s family.

“There was no need for me to do that,” Manetti testified when plaintiff’s attorney, Nicholas Warywoda, asked why he didn’t call the inmate’s family. “He didn’t present in a manner in which I was concerned I needed that history right away.”

Armor and the county have denied responsibility for Ryan’s death.

The Armor doctor also wrote in Ryan’s records that there was no need for him to get psychotropic drugs, or have follow-up for mental health treatment. He said Ryan told him, despite prior medical findings, he thought he didn’t have PTSD. The doctor acknowledged he didn’t write that information — which he agreed was important — on Ryan’s chart.

Manetti also testified repeatedly Tuesday that Ryan told him he hadn’t taken his mental health medication for weeks.

The doctor said during questioning by Armor attorney John Doody that he determined Ryan didn’t show symptoms of an acute mental illness. He testified Ryan “didn’t show any evidence of being suicidal,” and “kept on insisting about his problem being with drugs.”

Manetti said Ryan’s exact words to him were: “I don’t want to play the psych card.” But the psychiatrist said later under more questioning from Warywoda that he also should have written that remark on Ryan’s chart.

The psychiatrist also responded to questions Tuesday from Doody by saying Ryan “was really upset about having different diagnoses, having to use that to get services,” and called him “a very personable man” who seemed motivated to try to get drug abuse treatment.

“He looked like the kind of person, if he needed some help, he would ask for it,” Manetti testified, drawing a visible reaction from Ryan’s family in court. He added: “I wish I had seen something. There was nothing to see unfortunately.”

The state Commission of Correction previously found Manetti did an inadequate assessment of Ryan hours before his suicide. The oversight agency has found Armor provided deficient care in connection with five Nassau inmate deaths, including Ryan’s, since the for-profit company won a Nassau contract in mid-2011 for about $11 million a year. More jail custody fatalities are under investigation.

The families of three other Nassau inmates who died in jail custody also have active federal lawsuits against the county and Armor.

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