BANGOR, Maine — An inmate who attempted suicide at Penobscot County Jail Friday night remained under guard at a Bangor hospital Monday as authorities waited for a bed to open at the state’s only forensic mental health facility.
Lauren MacArthur, 27, of Medway was being held on several serious federal and state charges when he tried to hang himself with a bed sheet shortly before 8:30 p.m., Penobscot County Sheriff Glenn Ross said Monday afternoon.
McArthur had been an inmate at the Penobscot County Jail since his Jan. 20 arrest, unable to make $20,000 bail. He was not under a suicide watch, Ross said.
Ross said a corrections officer had just conducted a population check in MacArthur’s cellblock and was looking in on the next block when the suicide attempt occurred. Guards were alerted to the situation by MacArthur’s fellow inmates, who banged on the door to get jail officials’ attention.
MacArthur was taken to Eastern Maine Medical Center, where he remained under a 24-hour guard Monday afternoon, Ross said.
Although the inmate was listed in good condition Monday, Ross said he declined to allow the inmate to return to the county lockup out of concern that doing so could expose the jail to additional liability and risk.
That is because an evaluation done at the hospital determined that MacArthur should be placed in a forensic mental health facility and the only facility in Maine — Riverview Psychiatric Center in Augusta — did not have an open bed, Ross said.
The state’s other mental health hospital, Dorothea Dix Psychiatric Center in Bangor, used to accept some inmates but no longer is taking new patients as the state moves toward downsizing it.
Ross further said that the jail is not equipped to house inmates with serious mental health conditions.
To that end, MacArthur has been held in an emergency room at Eastern Maine Medical Center, under the 24-hour supervision of two Penobscot County deputies.
Asked for a cost estimate, Ross pegged the cost to the county at about $250 per eight-hour shift for each officer, or about $1,500 a day, which Ross characterized as “a misuse of corrections tax dollars and a misuse of the emergency room system.”
Ross also said the county could be responsible for the cost of medical care because inmates who are covered by MaineCare lose their eligibility within 30 days of entering jail.
“The hospital has never sent us a bill” for the cost of caring for inmates awaiting placements at other facilities, he said, “but if they did we’d be responsible, or more correctly, taxpayers would.”
“That, to me, highlights the chronic shortage of forensic beds” in Maine, said Ross, who has seen more than 60 suicide attempts since he took the helm of the jail in 2002.
Five of those attempts have been successful, according to reports previously published in the Bangor Daily News. The most recent death occurred in December of last year.
John Martins, spokesman for the Maine Department of Health and Human Services, agreed that the state’s mental health system is “overburdened.”
He said that while he could not address specifics because of the state’s confidentiality rules, he did say that Riverview has 44 beds for forensic patients and 48 “civil beds.”
“We do our best to find beds when people are in need but that isn’t always possible,” he said. Martins said there are waiting lists for both forensic and civil beds. He also said that about a dozen forensic patients currently are occupying civil beds.
McArthur was indicted in May by the Penobscot County grand jury for aggravated attempted murder, reckless conduct, eluding an officer, refusing to submit to arrest, operating after suspension, criminal speeding and violation of a condition of release.
He was scheduled to be arraigned on Aug. 6 at the Penobscot Judicial Center on those charges. It was not clear late Monday afternoon if his arraignment would be rescheduled.
In June, he was arraigned on federal gun charges, according to a Bangor Daily News court story. He faces a minimum of 15 years in federal prison if convicted of possession of a firearm by a felon because of his criminal record. He also faces up to 10 years in prison for possessing a stolen firearm. He has pleaded not guilty to both charges.
As of mid-Monday afternoon, Ross had not yet heard if it would be “days, weeks or months” before a forensic bed at Riverview would become available. Later in the day, he was told that despite a waiting list of just over a dozen people a bed for MacArthur would be available on Tuesday.
MacArthur’s charges stem from a series of incidents on Jan. 20 that included a 15-mile high-speed chase that began after he tried to run down an Orono police sergeant directing traffic after a hockey game at the University of Maine, according to federal court documents.
Officers put down spike mats in Old Town but MacArthur refused to stop and headed toward Milford, the court documents said. As he crossed the bridge near French Island, he crossed into the oncoming lane and nearly struck the guardrail on that side of the road.
When MacArthur turned off U.S. Route 2 onto Route 178, State Police Trooper Christopher Hashey was able to ram MacArthur’s car off the road. MacArthur fled on foot but was tackled and arrested.
That same night, a resident reported finding a rifle in a snowbank about 162 feet from where MacArthur’s car finally stopped. A second rifle was found a few days later on the riverbank, beneath the spot where MacArthur swerved his car during the chase.
The rifles were traced to a home in Medway that was burglarized between Jan. 20 and 22 while the owners were away. MacArthur has not been charged with burglary in connection with that break-in, according to the Penobscot County district attorney’s office.
Bangor Daily News writer Judy Harrison contributed to this report.