Federal court jury awards $7,900,000 against Armor Correctional and Nassau County in military vetera
A federal jury in Central Islip found the Nassau jail’s medical provider and the county negligent Wednesday, awarding almost $8 million to the family of a combat veteran who hanged himself at Nassau’s jail in 2012.
After a day of deliberations, the jury ordered Armor Correctional Health Services to pay $7 million in punitive damages to the family of Bartholomew Ryan, 32. It also awarded the family $890,000 in compensatory damages against Armor and Nassau County.
The family’s civil suit contended that the death of the former Marine — which followed struggles with drug addiction and post-traumatic stress disorder after his Iraq War service — was wrongful because the county and Armor acted with negligence during his brief incarceration for driving while on drugs. The suit said Ryan did not get proper care, despite a screening showing he was a suicide risk.
“Thankfully, the jury made a point to tell Armor and the county that’s not how you treat our veterans and people,” said Nicholas Warywoda, an attorney for Ryan’s mother, Lilyann, of Lido Beach, who sued on behalf of her son’s estate.
“Justice is done,” said Ryan’s brother, Thomas, of North Bellmore.
Immediately after the verdict was announced Wednesday afternoon, an attorney for Armor, John Doody of Manhattan, argued that the jury misunderstood an instruction, and, in effect, unfairly awarded compensatory damages twice for pain and suffering.
Warywoda, of Parker Waichman of Port Washington, contended that the jury may have been considering two different types of pain and suffering — from drug withdrawal and from the suicide itself.
U.S. District Court Judge Joanna Seybert ordered attorneys to submit papers on the issue.
Ryan’s family had asked the jury for $3 million for pain and suffering in compensatory damages, and $10.5 million in punitive damages from Armor alone — the amount the company earned for its Nassau contract in 2012.
The jury ordered the county and Armor to pay $370,000 for negligence and ordered Armor to pay $520,000 for civil rights violations, court records show.
His aunt and godmother, Robin Postiglione of West Islip, who was also in court, said, “I feel that this is justice for [him] . . . and all veterans.”
Nassau County attorney Carnell Foskey said in a statement: “The county is reviewing the decision to determine options available moving forward.”
Doody declined to comment.
An Armor spokeswoman, Teresa Estefan, said in a statement: “We consider any loss of life to be a tragedy. However, Armor disagrees with the verdict in its entirety given the evidence presented at trial. We intend to pursue all available post-trial remedies.”
The jurors left the building before they could be questioned.
The family had alleged that the for-profit medical company subjected the honorably discharged U.S. Marine to cruel and unusual punishment under the Eighth Amendment and with negligence for how he was treated by Armor medical personnel.
The company’s policy said inmates who get referrals for “urgent” treatment can wait up to 24 hours for care, said Warywoda.
“If they had just listened to that form that deemed him a suicide risk, we wouldn’t be here today,” Warywoda said during the trial, referring to a jail document filled out by a correction officer when Ryan first came in and was screened for suicide risk.
The defendants denied responsibility for Ryan’s death. Doody had argued it was Ryan’s choice to take his own life and that he had not shown suicidal signs.
Doody told jurors there was “no forewarning” Ryan would kill himself. He said it happened while two correction officers were distracted and not because of any lack of medical care or supervision.
Nassau Deputy County Attorney James Scott added that jail officials properly evaluated, housed and supervised Ryan.
Armor has defended its care, but the State Commission of Correction has found its treatment deficient in at least five Nassau inmate deaths, including Ryan’s.
Ryan’s case is the first of four such federal lawsuits to go to trial against the county and Armor over inmate deaths.
The oversight agency found an Armor psychiatrist did an inadequate assessment of Ryan’s mental health hours before the inmate killed himself in his cell on Feb. 24, 2012. Armor has disputed that state finding.
Ryan, a 1998 East Meadow High School graduate, was in jail on a charge of driving under the influence of drugs. He had an opiate addiction and was abusing heroin and other drugs following prescription painkiller use after an old boot camp groin injury, according to Warywoda, who said Ryan also suffered from bipolar disorder and depression.
Ryan’s family has said he came back from eight months of combat in Iraq a different person after military service from 2003 to 2007. They’ve said the decorated Marine had a series of drug-related arrests and vehicular wrecks, his marriage ended and he couldn’t hold a job.
“Mentally, he changed. Due to what he experienced and saw,” Warywoda said during the trial, telling jurors part of Ryan’s wartime job was to bring patients — some with missing limbs — to a hospital.
Retired Correction Officer Michael Archer testified he automatically failed Ryan on his suicide screening during booking because the man, who didn’t express suicidal thoughts, said he was taking psychiatric medication. Archer said Ryan was placed on a jail tier with “constant observation” because of the possible suicidal assessment until mental health staff could see him.
But it took 18 hours after Ryan’s admission for a psychiatrist to see him, according to Warywoda. He said that the doctor’s sole diagnosis was opiate dependency, and not PTSD or bipolar disorder, and he didn’t prescribe Ryan any drugs for mental health issues. Six hours later, Ryan was dead.