Massachusetts DOC, Hospital Officials Disciplined in Prisoner’s Death
by Derek Gilna
An investigative report ordered by Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick into what he termed the “disgusting” death of a mentally-ill prisoner at Bridgewater State Hospital found not only numerous policy violations, but also evidence of a cover-up of the facts surrounding the death. As a result, three guards and three high-ranking Department of Correction (DOC) officials were disciplined.
Patrick was prompted to investigate the 2009 death of state prisoner Joshua K. Messier following a Boston Globe article that described delays and misleading information provided by DOC officials in response to media inquiries. The investigation was conducted by Public Safety Secretary Andrea Cabral.
Messier, who was reportedly disruptive, had been placed on his bed in four-point restraints. Two guards then pushed his chest almost to his knees in a move called “suitcasing,” and he died of a heart attack shortly thereafter.
Bridgewater superintendent Karin Bergeron, who was required to investigate and report on prisoners’ deaths, tried to avoid issuing written findings that might embarrass the DOC and Bridgewater. She attempted to arrange a phone conference regarding Messier’s death to avoid filing a written report. She also requested repeated extensions of time to file her report, even though an autopsy determined the death was a homicide and other reports found Messier had suffered blunt force trauma.
Bergeron is no longer employed with the state.
Secretary Cabral’s investigation determined that Bridgewater officials misled a watchdog agency, the Disability Law Center, by saying the guards involved in Messier’s death had been cleared by a Plymouth County grand jury, when in fact the case was never submitted to the grand jury. Cabral said former DOC Commissioner Harold W. Clarke, who now heads Virginia’s prison system, was unhelpful during the investigation.
Current Bridgewater superintendent Robert F. Murphy was reprimanded for delaying completion of a required report on the guards’ use of force until several years after Messier’s death. Correction Commissioner Luis S. Spencer also was reprimanded, and Assistant Deputy Commissioner Karen Hetherson was asked to resign. She had overruled an internal affairs report that cited two DOC guards for misconduct.
Further, three guards were placed on paid administrative leave as a result of Secretary Cabral’s investigation – Derek Howard and John C. Raposo for improper use of force when restraining Messier, and a third guard for failing to properly supervise them.
Sources: Boston Globe, Associated Press
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