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Conflicting Reports from New Hampshire Prison Officials Before Guard Charged in Psychiatric Detainee’s Death

Former New Hampshire prison guard Matthew Millar, 39, was arrested on February 8, 2024, and charged with second-degree murder in the death of Jason O. Rothe, 50, a detainee in the Secure Psychiatric Unit (SPU) at New Hampshire State Prison. Prosecutors allege Millar killed Rothe by kneeling on his back for several minutes during restraint, causing him to suffocate.

The state Department of Corrections (DOC) initially cleared Millar and five other guards involved after reviewing the April 2023 incident. However, a statement confirming that was retracted, and DOC admitted that no review was ever completed. Rather it was halted when state officials learned that the federal Department of Justice was investigating Rothe’s death.

Millar’s employment with DOC ended on December 13, 2023. His attorney said he would plead not guilty to the charge. Prosecutors said they do not intend to charge other guards involved in Rothe’s restraint, though DOC spokesperson Jane Graham reported that those guards were placed on administrative leave and then returned to work in areas without patient contact for an unspecified period before resuming full duty.

Rothe was civilly committed to the state psychiatric hospital in 2019 before safety concerns prompted a transfer to SPU in 2022. DOC imprisons 39 patients in SPU, but 17 of them, like Rothe, have never been criminally charged. His death is one of three recorded there in the past 10 years.

“The fundamental problem here is: This is a prison. This is not a hospital,” said Beatrice Coulter, a former SPU nurse who co-founded Advocates for Ethical Mental Health Treatment.

According to the probable cause affidavit, a verbal altercation erupted between Rothe and Millar on April 29, 2023. Unnamed additional guards attempted to de-escalate the situation, providing Rothe snacks to calm him down and “combat the delusion that he was being starved.” After 10 minutes, the guards decided to remove him from the day room, a violation of policy since Rothe’s behavior was non-threatening. Millar then “placed his knee on Rothe’s upper-back and neck area as a method of restraint,” the affidavit said.

An October 2023 autopsy report said that Rothe died due to “combined traumatic (compressional) and positional asphyxia”; his death was ruled a homicide. Investigators noted that Millar had “received training on asphyxia and use of force which detailed the risk of death inherent with the specific manner of restraint he applied,” but ignored that training when he restrained Rothe. State Attorney General John Formella (R) said the murder charge “was not made lightly” but was based on “a careful and thorough review of the facts and the law.”


Sources:  AP News, WMUR, Valley News

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