Mother sues for documents in son’s prison hanging case

Posted Dec. 15, 2010, at 9:09 p.m.

ROCKLAND, Maine — The mother of a prisoner who hanged himself in Knox County Jail in 2009 filed a civil lawsuit Tuesday against the Knox County sheriff and the county’s administrator for withholding documents about the inmate’s suicide attempt.

Matthew Lalli, 23, suffered severe, permanent injuries from his suicide attempt and now lives and is being treated at the Lakeview NeuroRehabilitation Center in Effingham, N.H., according to the lawsuit.

Last year, Lalli’s mother, Cathy Penn, requested through the Maine Freedom of Access Act that Knox County officials allow her to examine and copy all documents related to her son’s case. Among the documents she requested were police reports, the jail’s blueprint, logs of which officers worked that day, the jail’s policy on suicide watches and information about any insurance policies that may provide liability coverage for the county or jail relating to the incident.

According to letters from Knox County’s attorney to Penn’s attorney, which were included in the lawsuit filed on Tuesday, the county refused Penn access to several of the requested documents, including the jail’s blueprint, because they are confidential.

While the filing is not clear about what information Penn did receive, the lawsuit does include a Maine State Police report about the case. The suit, however, claims that Knox County officials didn’t tell Penn if other requested documents were searched for or if they even exist. Penn’s lawyer, Geraldine Sanchez of Portland, wrote that other public documents that are known to exist have not been given to Penn.

Sanchez also wrote that “[Knox County said] that certain information would not be searched for due to the time and expense,” though Penn was willing to pay for the documents.

Penn asserts in the civil suit that “the response [by Knox County] is incomplete and inadequate” and that the county violated the Freedom of Access Act.

She asks that the court force the county to give her all the documents related to her son’s suicide attempt and pay her legal fees along with any other damages the court finds appropriate.

As of Wednesday, Knox County had not filed a response to the civil suit. Efforts on Wednesday to reach the county officials, Penn, and the lawyers involved were unsuccessful.

According to police, Lalli was arrested and charged with domestic violence and criminal mischief in September 2009. He was then rearrested the next month on two charges of assault and two charges of violating conditions of release on the previous charges.

During his court appearance on Oct. 5, 2009, Lalli became visibly upset when the judge revoked his bail, according to witness accounts in the Maine State Police report included in Penn’s civil suit.

Attorney Jeremy Pratt, who was in the courtroom at the time, said “mental health was clearly an issue with Mr. Lalli. Attorney Pratt explained this apparent was during Mr. Lalli’s arguments-pleas to the judge,” according to the police report.

An inmate who also was in court that day said he overheard Lalli say, “If you don’t let me out, I’ll kill myself tonight.” Knox County Assistant District Attorney Lindsay Jones heard similar comments from Lalli in the courtroom.

When Lalli was returned to the Knox County Jail that day, prisoners heard Lalli say he was going to kill himself, and corrections officers said they noticed Lalli was upset.

Later that day, Lalli strung up a bedsheet and hanged himself, the state police report concluded.

When a corrections officer found him hanging in his cell, he and another officer cut him down and gave him CPR before he was taken to Eastern Maine Medical Center in Bangor. He remained in a coma for days.

When she dropped all charges against Lalli on Oct. 8, 2009, Assistant District Attorney Jones wrote, “The defendant is currently hospitalized with life-threatening injuries and is under guard by Knox County Corrections staff.” The charges were dropped “to free the County of the burden and because it appears that there is currently no risk of new criminal conduct.”

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