Sluggish response to suicide

Supermax watch
By LANCE TAPLEY  |  January 3, 2007

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An eyewitness to the suicide of Ryan Rideout, a 25-year-old, severely mentally ill Augusta man who hanged himself with his bedding in his Maine State Prison Supermax cell on October 5, calls into question the official version of events. He described the response of guards as sluggish and cruel.

Joseph Bradley, 26, who was recently released from the Warren prison, told the Phoenix in an interview that it took a long time for a guard to respond to the alarm Bradley had sounded when he saw Rideout prepare to hang himself. Bradley said his cell in the solitary-confinement facility was opposite Rideout’s.

“I watched him tie the noose,” he said.

When Rideout started fixing it to a sprinkler head, Bradley said, he pressed an alarm buzzer, but, “No one came down for half an hour.”

Then the guard who came taunted the “already hanging” Rideout for a couple of minutes as he sipped his coffee, Bradley said. He quoted the guard: “Come on, Rideout, you can do better than that.”

Bradley said the guard then went to the cellblock gate and called “Code Blue,” an emergency signal, into his radio.

But then, Bradley said, the team that responded first put handcuffs and feet shackles on Rideout before he was cut down — “before medical could do anything.” This took several minutes, he said. Rideout “was gray,” he added. Then he said the medical team tried to resuscitate him.

Warden Jeffrey Merrill’s account is considerably different. He “praised the efforts of the staff to save the man,” according to an October 9 article on the Rockland Courier-Gazette’s Web site.

The warden also told the newspaper that Rideout’s suicide was discovered on a guard’s normal rounds. He said Rideout, who was serving a sentence for burglary, was in the Supermax because he had been verbally abusive to prison staff. (See “Death in the Supermax,” by Lance Tapley, October 13, 2006.)

Since then, Department of Corrections officials have refused comment on the suicide, citing a state police investigation that in October they said they expected would be wrapped up quickly. The state police automatically investigate prison deaths.

Bradley said he told his story several days after the suicide to corrections investigator John Scheid and another man he thought was from the state police. He said he has received threats from guards “to keep my mouth shut.”

Now living in Augusta with friends, Bradley is bright and articulate but appeared dazed at being let out of solitary confinement directly to the streets — and without, he said, proper equipment to deal with his diabetes or any money. The last four months of his 27-month sentence for burglary and theft were spent in the Supermax because, he said, of his “mouthing off” to guards.

In December, Ryan Rideout’s mother and brother filed a legal notice that they will pursue a wrongful-death suit seeking monetary damages against the state, warden Merrill, and unnamed guards at the Supermax.

The Rideout family’s attorney, Andrews Campbell, of Waldoboro, said he interviewed a Supermax prisoner, Jesus Rodriguez, who repeated what the Phoenix had earlier reported — that he had heard a guard taunt Rideout, saying he “didn't have the balls” to go through with his threats to commit suicide.

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