Three former Massachusetts prison guards were indicted Thursday on involuntary manslaughter and civil rights charges in connection with the restraint death of a mentally ill inmate in 2009.
The Suffolk County grand jury's indictments of former Bridgewater State Hospital guards Derek Howard, John Raposo and George Billadeau came eight months after former state Attorney General Martha Coakley named a special prosecutor to look into Joshua Messier's death because of lingering questions about the case.
After Messier died, Plymouth District Attorney Timothy Cruz declined to seek charges against the guards. He cited a lack of evidence despite Messier's death being ruled a homicide by the state medical examiner.
Messier's mother, Lisa Brown, said in a statement issued by her attorney that she was grateful for special prosecutor Martin Murphy's pursuit of the case.
"While today's charges are an important first step, there's simply no moral basis to put innocent mentally ill men like my son Joshua into a correctional institution," Brown said. "It was and always will be wrong. It's imperative that the Massachusetts mental health care system be brought into the 21st century."
Messier, who was diagnosed with schizophrenia, suffered heart failure when guards forcefully strapped him to a bed at the medium-security prison about 30 miles south of Boston. The series of events was caught on video.
Howard and Raposo are accused of using excessive force against Messier, including pushing his chest to his knees while his hands were cuffed behind his back. Billadeau, who was a sergeant, is accused of inadequately supervising the guards.
"This is obviously a national problem - the holding law enforcement to the same standards in our criminal justice system that we hold ordinary citizens," Roderick MacLeish, Brown's attorney, told necn in an interview Thursday night. "The sad truth is that there is no parity. We don't hold them accountable in the same way."
The three guards were fired last year after The Boston Globe reported that Bridgewater officials had violated half a dozen laws, regulations and policies in the death of Messier. The Globe was the first to report Thursday's indictments.
Officials with the Massachusetts Correction Officers Federated Union last year called the firings politically motivated and said former Gov. Deval Patrick's administration needed "scapegoats" for its failure in leadership, training and policy.
Howard's lawyer, Kenneth Anderson, told the Globe that the three guards were treated unfairly by the attorney general's office, which defended the guards in a lawsuit by Messier's parents and allowed them to give sworn pretrial testimony. Anderson said the testimony in the lawsuit was then unfairly used in Murphy's investigation, a fact he said likely will be used in a motion to dismiss the criminal case.
Massachusetts officials settled the lawsuit by Messier's parents for $3 million.