Boston Governor Deval Patrick announced Saturday a plan of punishment for three guards and three correctional officials for their hand in a 5-year-old homicide at Bridgewater State Hospital. 23-year-old Joshua Messier died at the hospital while guards were trying to restrain him.
Patrick asked for a full scale review of the case by Public Safety Secretary Andrea Cabral, prompted by a suggestive article in the Boston Globe covering the unlawfulness of the guards that led to death and the state’s apparent inaction to address it. The review pinpointed three major correctional officials and the guards present during the homicide.
Patrick publicly denounced Correction Commissioner Luis S. Spencer for his lack of attention to Messier’s death ruled a homicide by medical examiner Mindy J. Hall. At a meeting days after Messier’s death, former correction commissioner Harold W. Clarke said, “We take exception to this — everything was [appropriate] and [professional].” Spencer was present at this meeting and agreed with the sentiments. He also failed to act after the Special Operations Division reported a policy violation against the guards for bearing weight on a patient’s back, a method that can cause suffocation.
Cabral’s 28 page report also requested the resignation of Assistant Deputy Commissioner Karen Hetherson for the overruling of an internal report which concluded the guards had used inappropriate behavior with Messier. The report insinuated that this was a cover-up job, as the Special Operations Division report clearly contradicts that of Hetherson’s.
Bridgewater Superintendent Robert F. Murphy was also publicly reprimanded by Patrick for the two year delay in producing a document explaining the use of force in Messier’s death to the Special Operations Division.
Joshua Messier was sent to Bridgewater State Hospital, which also functions as a penitentiary, after three misdemeanor charges of assault and battery. The psychiatric evaluation determined Messier had paranoid schizophrenia. Only a month later, a heated incident with a correction officer landed him in the arms of three guards. Once in the room, two guards applied intense pressure on Messier’s back, causing his chest to instantly reach his knees. The young man died of a heart attack due to the hospital’s punishment, an event that was determined a homicide by officials.
The two guards who forced Messier into what is referred to as a “suitcasing” position have been suspended with pay awaiting hearings on the accusations of misconduct. According to the article published by The Globe, the guards, Derek Howard John C. Raposo, had minimal experience with patients with mental health disorders. The third guard will be disciplined for the failure to control his colleagues.
“[This] death was tragic,” said Patrick. “When tragedies happen,” he said, “I expect the responsible officials to…deal squarely with them. That did not happen.” The report done by Cabral has reviewed all the appropriate branches of government and law enforcement related to the case to ensure that the correct and fair actions were taken.
“He had his whole life ahead of him,” said Messier’s father, Kevin. “It shouldn’t have happened to him.”
The homicide that led to the death of Joshua Messier at Bridgewater State Hospital was a test for the state officials of Massachusetts, who failed by the inaction to punish responsible parties. With the action of Governor Deval Patrick, the state hopes to make better marks.
By Erin P. Friar