Sunday, January 10, 2016

Mass: Father seeks answers to how son died in sheriff’s van

The father of a Haverhill man who died Thursday in the custody of the Essex County Sheriff’s Department is demanding answers about his son’s supervision before he was stricken while being transported to a Bridgewater detoxification facility.

Samuel Dunn, 29, was found unresponsive in an Essex sheriff’s van parked for hours outside the Massachusetts Alcohol and Substance Abuse Center, where authorities had earlier quelled a “small riot,” according to accounts from Bridgewater police and Dunn’s father.

Dunn had been sent to the Department of Correction facility on a civil commitment order from Newburyport District Court, county officials said. That order came after he had checked himself into a Newburyport hospital for depression, according to his father, Anthony Dunn of Winthrop.

“I would like to know how he went from voluntarily going to the hospital for depression to being dead in Bridgewater,” Dunn said Friday. “I have a lot of questions about it. As a matter of fact, I’m investigating it myself.”

His son was found unresponsive in the sheriff’s van about 1 a.m. Thursday, according to Bridgewater police, and pronounced dead at Morton Hospital in Taunton an hour later.

However, the elder Dunn said his son’s girlfriend called him at 6 p.m. Wednesday to report that Samuel was in good condition at Anna Jaques Hospital in Newburyport.  “The next thing I know, he’s dead,” Dunn said.

State Police, the Department of Correction, and the Essex County sheriff are investigating what occurred between the van’s arrival at Bridgewater -- which the elder Dunn said occurred about 9 p.m. Wednesday -- and his son’s death several hours later, according to a spokesman for Sheriff Frank G. Cousins Jr.

Civil-rights advocates also have raised concerns. Leslie Walker, executive director of Prisoners’ Legal Services of Massachusetts, said Dunn’s death “is very upsetting. The timeline is very disturbing.”

Walker questioned whether the two officers who transported Dunn had been sleeping during the delay at the facility. And if Dunn were in distress, Walker said, the officers could have taken him to a hospital.

“A lot of people who are committed are very, very, very sick and are detoxing,” Walker said. “He was obviously so sick that he died.”

Bridgewater police said they were alerted to the disturbance at the center about 8 p.m. Wednesday, and that the incident was contained within 20 minutes. Police did not enter the building and left the site at 8:34 p.m., according to Lieutenant Thomas Schlatz.

The younger Dunn arrived afterward, only to wait in the van for hours, his father said.

The elder Dunn said he was told by Sheriff Cousins that his son was one of two people being transported, and that he had been sleeping and snoring when officers checked on him at one point. His son was unresponsive when they checked later, Dunn said he was told.

A Department of Correction spokesman said the disturbance inside the center began when “several civilly committed individuals located within one of the housing units ... did not want to participate in treatment and began destroying state property, vandalizing the housing unit.”

Two correction officers were injured slightly while restraining one of the individuals, the spokesman said.

As correction staff began an immediate investigation, the entrance to the facility was closed “to allow institutional staff to remove disruptive civilly committed individuals from the damaged housing unit and to secure them in cells in other areas of the facility and in the intake area,” according to Darren Duarte, the correction department spokesman.

Dunn said his son had struggled with substance-abuse issues and was susceptible to seizures and blackouts as he prepared for a third round of brain surgery. “He had a very hard life,” Dunn said.

The younger Dunn, whose criminal record is nine pages long, had been scheduled to appear in court March 22 on charges of selling heroin to an undercover police officer and resisting arrest, said Carrie Kimball Monahan, spokeswoman for Essex District Attorney Jonathan Blodgett.

A court appearance linked to that case had to be conducted via teleconference, Monahan said, because Dunn became violent and fought with other prisoners.

The elder Dunn said his son underwent emergency brain surgery at Massachusetts General Hospital about two years ago after being assaulted. He had more brain surgery a year later but developed an infection, the victim’s father said.

During the wait for a third operation, Dunn said, “he had gone into deep depression.”

Original report here

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