As severely mentally ill Maine State Prison inmate Ryan Rideout prepared to hang himself from a sprinkler in his cell on the night of October 5, 2006, other inmates frantically pressed panic buttons in their cells. But guards had turned off the cellblock alarm system, which was “the direct cause” of Rideout’s death, according to a wrongful-death suit recently filed in federal court.
In the suit, Rideout’s mother, Brenda Choate of Mount Vernon, alleges Warden Jeffrey Merrill and other prison employees violated federal and state civil-rights and disabilities laws. Specific monetary damages will be sought later, the suit says.
The suit also alleges that guard Robert Beard, who found Rideout hanging while making his regular rounds, taunted him instead of immediately sounding an alarm. Before Rideout was cut down and futilely given medical aid, the suit says, guards took time to put him in handcuffs and shackles.
Warden Merrill and the Corrections Department’s lawyer, Assistant Attorney General Diane Sleek, would not comment on the suit. It was filed by Bowdoinham attorney Andrews Campbell in US District Court in Bangor.
The suit also includes allegations that the prison’s mental-health staff had taken away Rideout’s needed psychiatric medications, and that a laboratory found in his body both cocaine and oxycodone (a narcotic painkiller), though he was being held in the Warren prison’s supposedly maximum-security, solitary-confinement “Supermax” unit.
Rideout, 24, a convicted burglar, was a notorious suicide risk long before he went to prison for burglary (see “Death in the Supermax,” October 13, 2006, and “Sluggish Response to Suicide,” January 5, 2007, both by Lance Tapley).
In Rideout’s first prison suicide attempt, in March 2006, guards responded, the suit says, by “extracting” him from his cell using Mace and dragging him naked through the cellblock to put him in a restraint chair for hours.
After a second attempt, the suit says, the prison charged Rideout with criminal mischief for breaking the sprinkler from which he had tried to hang himself. He was fined $130. He killed himself on his third try.