June 23, 2018
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Mother of brain-injured inmate who tried to hang himself suing Knox County

By Heather Steeves, BDN Staff

ROCKLAND, Maine — When Matthew Lalli, 24, was jailed in October of 2009, he told Knox County officials he would kill himself. He said it to jail staff, a judge, attorneys and other inmates, according to court documents. Then he did try to kill himself. He lived, but he now has a severe brain injury and will require more than $9 million of health care, according to a federal lawsuit.

Lalli’s mother and legal guardian, Ca thy Penn, is suing the county, the sheriff, the jail and several corrections officers.

Penn alleges that the county should have but didn’t put her son on suicide watch, didn’t put him in a suicide prevention cell, didn’t take away his belongings that could hurt him and didn’t provide him adequate mental health services.

The county attorney maintains that officials did nothing wrong.

According to police, Lalli was arrested and charged with domestic violence and criminal mischief in September 2009. He made bail but was arrested again the next month on two additional counts of assault and two charges of violating conditions of release on the previous charges.

According to the lawsuit, when Lalli arrived at Knox County Jail in Rockland on Oct. 3, 2009, a corrections officer sat him down for an inmate evaluation. The suit cites the following exchange from the officer’s report.

“Have you ever considered suicide?” the officer asked.

Yes, a week ago, Lalli said.

“Are you currently feeling like killing yourself?” the officer asked.

I’m not sure, I feel like my life is over, Lalli told the jail official.

“Have you ever been admitted to a hospital for psychological reasons?” the officer asked.

Yes, two weeks ago, Lalli responded.

The lawsuit also indicates that Lalli told the corrections officer that he had a young daughter waiting for him at home he was supposed to be taking care of. He felt sorry for disappointing her.

Lalli was then put into a jail cell.

He was there for a couple of days until his Oct. 5 court appearance. On his way out, he told another corrections officer “that he has sole custody of his daughter and that if he was not allowed to be on the outside then it would be better if he wasn’t alive at all,” according to jail logs cited in the lawsuit. Lalli then told the jail staff that “he was not doing well [and was] losing his mind.”

The jail staffers drove Lalli to court where a fellow inmate and Knox County Assistant District Attorney Lindsay Jones heard Lalli say in the courtroom, “If you don’t let me out, I’ll kill myself tonight.”

The court decided to hold Lalli without the option of bail.

The lawsuit cites the jail’s “welfare watch” log showing Lalli was placed in his jail cell at 3 p.m. that day. The suit then adds, “According to the ‘Welfare Watch’ log, at 3:29 p.m. on October 5, 2009, Matthew was found hanging from a privacy partition in his cell.”

Officers cut Lalli down and gave him CPR before he was taken to Eastern Maine Medical Center in Bangor. He remained in a coma for days.

A few days later, the county dropped all charges against Lalli. Assistant District Attorney Jones wrote at the time, “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.”

Lalli’s mother states in the lawsuit, “as a result of Matthew’s attempted suicide he has suffered a permanent and severe brain injury requiring institutionalized care for the indeterminate future.”

She is suing for an unspecified amount of money and attorney fees. She does indicate that the cost of Lalli’s institutionalized medical care alone is projected at more than $9 million.

Knox County’s attorney Peter Marchesi said the county did its own investigation into the case and found that it did nothing legally wrong.

“It’s a terribly tragic situation and there is no getting around that, but every time there is a tragic event there isn’t a scapegoat to be had. I think the county is being put in that place,” Marchesi said Wednesday.

“In this case the county did everything it possibly could to manage this individual. It had him on 15-minute checks. Unfortunately, he took the action to harm himself notwithstanding the fact that the jail had a very specific policy in place and that he was monitored every 15 minutes.”

It’s unclear what the Knox County Jail’s suicide prevention policies are. The Bangor Daily News filed a Freedom of Access request with the county on Wednesday to obtain the jail’s policies and procedures, but responses to such requests can take up to a week.

Penn and her attorney, Ralph Lancaster of Portland, declined to comment.

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