A woman who was pepper-sprayed and held in restraints against her will while a patient at Riverview Psychiatric Center in 2013 is suing the state over the incident. The lawsuit was filed Monday in Kennebec County Superior Court.
Daniel Lilley, the attorney for Arlene Edson, hopes a settlement can be reached in which the state will provide money for Edson’s treatment in a private setting.
“We can offer to the court an alternative to dead-end incarceration or dead-end hospitalization. She’s going to need something tailor-made for her situation. We have to get her out of the environment that she’s in,” Lilley said.
The Maine Attorney General’s Office declined to comment, saying it had not received a copy of the lawsuit yet.
Lilley doesn’t have a specific proposal on where or how Edson would be treated, but said the options are being examined.
Edson, 31, formerly of Fryeburg, is serving an 18-month sentence at the Maine Correctional Center in Windham. In February, she pleaded guilty in a separate incident to assaulting a Riverview employee about a year after she was abused by Riverview workers.
Her attorneys have said Edson committed the assault so she could be transferred to prison because she didn’t like the care she was receiving at Riverview, the state psychiatric hospital in Augusta. Edson had been at Riverview since 2011 after being found not criminally responsible on arson and assault charges because of her mental illness.
On Dec. 2, 2013, according to a report issued after a state investigation, Edson was pepper-sprayed by a correctional officer working at Riverview, held in restraints and secluded for hours despite not posing a threat.
Riverview employees then covered up the incident by filing misleading reports about what happened, according to state documents, until former nurse Jeanne Carroll reported the incident to state investigators with the Division of Licensing and Regulatory Services. Investigators concluded that Riverview employees abused Edson.
According to the report, Edson had a verbal run-in with a nurse and then went to her room. While in her room, naked and in a “defenseless pose,” a corrections officer pepper-sprayed her, surveillance video showed. Edson was handcuffed, taken to an isolation room and put into a five-point restraint, in which patients are placed on a bed and nylon straps tied around their ankles, wrists and chest, greatly restricting movement, the report said. Edson repeatedly asked for a shower, coughed repeatedly and said she couldn’t breathe, the report said.
The 92-bed state hospital lost its federal certification in September 2013 and $20 million per year in federal money over quality issues and a host of problems. Efforts to regain good standing with the U.S. Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services have so far been unsuccessful.
The lawsuit asks for an undetermined amount of money to compensate for Edson’s abuse. The suit also claims the state violated her Fourth Amendment rights, which protect people from the use of excessive force, that her state civil rights were violated, and that she was assaulted by state employees and suffered from emotional distress from the incident.
Lilley said that if a settlement is reached or the court agrees Edson’s rights were violated, he hopes a trust fund could be set up to pay for her care in a private setting.
Joe Lawlor can be contacted at 791-6376 or at: