AUGUSTA — While corrections officers quit carrying stun guns inside the state forensic hospital in May, a stun gun was used on a patient as recently as last month.
Kirk Lambert believes he was the last Riverview Psychiatric Center patient on whom a stun gun was used, and says it wasn’t necessary.
And Michael James, who is at Riverview under court order, said he is living proof that the hospital can be successful despite having its practices criticized by federal regulators.
A Capitol Police officer used a Taser or electronic control device on Lambert July 24, shortly after he went for a voluntary admission at Riverview.
“I really feel it was wrong. I was in crisis, I was having a very rough time,” Lambert said on Monday. “I wasn’t doing well.”
Maine Capitol Police Chief Russell Gauvin said today that was the first and only time one of the department’s officers used a Taser at Riverview. Capitol Police, who patrol state property in Augusta, are among the law enforcement officers authorized to carry that weapon.
“We were responding to a patient who was out of control who was assaultive,” Gauvin said.
Within the past 12 months, Capitol Police have responded 242 times to Riverview. Of those responses, 83 involved assaults. A year previously, the police were called there 186 times, and 24 of those incidents involved assaults.
“It’s quite a difference,” Gauvin said.
Documents in Kennebec County Superior Court show Lambert was discharged from Riverview Aug. 12. On Monday, he spoke from a relative’s home in Farmingdale about Kennebec Journal reports that Riverview’s federal funding is imperiled at least partially by the use of force on patients, in particular stun guns and handcuffs.
Those stun guns came in with county corrections officers when security was stepped up at the hospital following an attack March 16, allegedly by a patient on a mental health worker.
Lambert, who was a patient at that time as well, is credited with rescuing the young woman by tackling the man who assaulted her.
In the Taser incident, Lambert said he was already upset about his problems involving his former girlfriend, and changes in the institution’s rules since his last admission had upset him further.
“I was not allowed to have a hardcover book my mom gave me, and they destroyed my clothing because the athletic pants had drawstrings,” Lambert said. “If they told me that wasn’t appropriate, I would have sent it back. I flipped out. I was screaming. I punched the door where they keep fire extinguishers.”
He shoved his bed against a wall and then refused to leave the room to go to a separate unit, so Capitol Police were called to assist, responding within about five minutes, he said.
“It was a female and a male, and the female already had her Taser out,” Lambert said. “I did kind of make a threat. I was basically cussing at them and wouldn’t do what they wanted.”
When the man grabbed him, Lambert said he pulled away.
“The female didn’t say anything; she just tased me,” he said.
The other officer wrestled Lambert to the ground and handcuffed him before walking him to an adjacent unit where the other officer pulled out the probes once Lambert was placed in restraints.
Lambert said he still has marks left from the Taser’s probes.
He said he had been trying to calm himself and would have succeeded if he had been left alone.
Lambert, 33, who was found not criminally responsible for robbery in 2000 and placed in the custody of the commissioner of the Department of Health & Human Services, is seeking full release discharge from custody.
That discharge is supported by Riverview staff, but the State Forensic Service has yet to weigh in.
A hearing on Lambert’s petition is set for September in Kennebec County Superior Court.
The other Riverview patient, Michael James, 30, said he was tough to handle when he first came to Riverview in 2007, and a 2008 letter from the hospital estimated James did about $20,000 in damages to the hospital.
“Staff did get hurt back then as a direct and indirect result of my actions,” James said.
He has been shuttled between Riverview and the Maine State Prison a number of times and was found not criminally responsible in Knox County Superior Court for multiple attacks on corrections officers in the prison.
“I know what pepper spray can do and I know what a stun gun can do,” James said. “A stun gun does hurt, I won’t deny it. But the effect is a lot less long-term than pepper spray.”
James said neither is necessary.
“There is an effective way to put a combative person on the floor without hurting them,” James said.
He also praised Riverview staff for their work.
“I was once a very aggressive, angry young man, but with therapy and groups and medication, I have done a lot of work toward benefiting myself,” James said. “It just shows that Riverview is by no means a failure.”
Today, Riverview administrators, legislators and patient representatives debated about how to solve the crisis of losing certification for certain beds — and thereby funding — from the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services.
That day Riverview’s population numbered 35 people classified as “not criminally responsible”; eight “incompetent to stand trial,” and seven undergoing a court-ordered in-patient mental health evaluation. Twenty-seven other people were classified as civil patients.
Betty Adams — 621-5631