BOSTON — State Department of Correction officials and three prison guards have been disciplined over the 2009 death of a mental health patient at Bridgewater State Hospital.
Gov. Deval Patrick announced Saturday he reprimanded Correction Commissioner Luis S. Spencer for inaction in the wake of Joshua Messier’s death, which was ruled a homicide.
The Boston Globe reports that the governor’s public safety secretary also called for the resignation of Assistant Deputy Commissioner Karen Hetherson for overruling an internal report citing two guards for misconduct.
Patrick placed three guards on paid administrative leave, saying at least two should face disciplinary proceedings for improper use of force against the handcuffed Messier. He suffered a heart attack after guards pushed his chest almost to his knees.
The third guard should be disciplined for failing to properly supervise other guards, Patrick said.
“Mr. Messier’s death was tragic,” Patrick said. “When tragedies happen during this administration, I expect the responsible officials to get the facts and deal squarely with them. That did not happen here.”
Messier, a paranoid schizophrenic, was sent to Bridgewater for a psychiatric evaluation by a district court judge after he was charged with three misdemeanor counts of assault and battery following two incidents in the psychiatric unit at Harrington Memorial Hospital. He died a month later at Bridgewater after an altercation with a corrections officer led to guards securing him spread-eagle to a bed in four-point restraints.
The Globe said it found that Bridgewater and state prison officials delayed one report for nearly two years and failed to produce two others.
Within weeks of Messier’s death, the Globe said Bridgewater Superintendent Karin Bergeron was trying to avoid providing a written explanation. She emailed a superior at the Department of Correction that a written report outlining what happened on May 4, 2009 held “the potential for disaster here with a document being misused,” especially if it fell into the hands of a disabled persons advocacy group starting to investigate.
In addition to the actions taken against Spencer, Hetherson and the three guards who will face separate disciplinary proceedings, Patrick approved a letter of reprimand to Bridgewater Superintendent Robert F. Murphy. The governor cited Murphy for delaying delivery of a required report on the use of force in Messier’s case to the Department of Correction’s Special Operations Division until December 2012, nearly two years after he was told State Police had concluded their investigation into the matter.