A federal jury in Central Islip, New York recently found that Nassau County jail’s medical provider and the county were negligent in the case of a combat veteran who hanged himself in the jail in 2012.
The jury awarded almost $8 million to the decedent’s family, Newsday reports.
The jury ordered Armor Correctional Health Services to pay $7 million in punitive damages to the family of Bartholomew Ryan, 32, and also awarded the family $890,000 in compensatory damages against Armor and Nassau County.
In their lawsuit, the family contended that former Marine’s death was wrongful because the county and Armor were negligent during the Ryan’s brief incarceration for driving while on drugs. The suit contends that Ryan did not get proper care, despite a screening showing he was a suicide risk. Nicholas Warywoda, of the law firm Parker Waichman, which represented Ryan’s mother, said, “the jury made a point to tell Armor and the county that’s not how you treat our veterans and people,” Newsday reports.
After the verdict was announced, an attorney for Armor said the jury had misunderstood an instruction and had unfairly awarded compensatory damages twice for pain and suffering. U.S. District Court Judge Joanna Seybert ordered attorneys to submit papers on the issue. The family had asked for $3 million for pain and suffering in compensatory damages, and $10.5 million in punitive damages from Armor alone — the amount the company earned for its Nassau jail contract in 2012. Nassau County is reviewing its options.
According to court records, the jury ordered the county and Armor to pay $370,000. Teresa Estefan, an Armor spokeswoman, said, “We consider any loss of life to be a tragedy. However, Armor disagrees with the verdict in its entirety given the evidence presented at trial. We intend to pursue all available post-trial remedies.”
In the lawsuit, the Ryan had alleged that Armor, a for-profit medical service provider to the jail, subjected the honorably discharged U.S. Marine to cruel and unusual punishment and negligence in how he was treated by Armor medical personnel. Warywoda said under Armor’s policies, inmates who get referrals for “urgent” treatment can wait up to 24 hours for care. During the trial, Warywoda said if Armor had paid attention to the form that deemed Ryan a suicide risk, “we wouldn’t be here today.” But the defendants denied responsibility for Ryan’s death, arguing that it was his choice to take his life. The attorneys said the suicide happened while two correction officers were distracted and not because of any lack of medical care or supervision. The county attorney for Nassau Deputy County said jail officials properly evaluated, housed and supervised Ryan.
The state commission found an Armor psychiatrist did an inadequate assessment of Ryan just hours before he hanged himself with a bed sheet in his jail cell on February 24, 2012, less than 48 hours after he was jailed. Armor executive Karen Davies wrote there was “no evidence” Ryan had ideas about suicide “at any time prior to the terminal event.” He was never given medication for drug withdrawal or for mental health issues, according to Newsday. Though Armor has defended its care, the State Commission of Correction has found its treatment deficient in at least five Nassau inmate deaths, including Ryan’s. Ryan’s case is the first of four such federal lawsuits to go to trial against the county and Armor over inmate deaths, according to Newsday.
Investigation into Inmate Deaths
In March 2016, after a series of inmate deaths attributed to failure to provide proper medical care, Nassau County Executive Edward Mangano announced that a team of public health officials would review medical treatment at Nassau County’s jail. The county health commissioner was to form a team “charged with performing a health care assessment” at the East Meadow jail.
The state Commission of Correction found Armor has a pattern of neglectful inmate care. In particular, the commission found that Armor provided inadequate care to four inmates who died since Armor became the medical provider. The commission said that two deaths that occurred in 2014 “may have been prevented.”
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