McFeely: Mandan doctor sued for indifference toward prisoner who died by suicide
Despite being under contract with Morton County to provide medical care for inmates, doctor denies it was his responsibility to care for troubled prisoner who hanged himself in a cell, lawsuit says.
MANDAN, N.D. — A Mandan doctor under contract to provide medical care for Morton County inmates is accused of being deliberately indifferent toward a prisoner who committed suicide in a jail cell, according to a federal lawsuit.
The doctor, court documents say, believes inmates do not have the right to the same level of medical care as non-incarcerated people — a belief in clear conflict of the U.S. Constitution.
Dr. Boyd Addy, a family practitioner in Mandan, faces a lawsuit brought by the mother of John Nadeau, a 28-year-old who hanged himself in the Morton County Correctional Center in 2013. Diana Nadeau says Addy and others ignored her son's suicide risk and pleas for mental health assistance.
Others named in the lawsuit, including Addy's wife Deborah, who is a nurse, and Morton County, settled out of court after being denied summary judgment in U.S. District Court by Judge Daniel Traynor. Deborah Addy agreed to pay Diana Nadeau $350,000 in damages, while the county agreed to pay $150,000.
Boyd Addy declined to settle and will have a jury trial scheduled to begin Dec. 14.
The case, as outlined in court documents, paints a disturbing story of a man plummeting into the depths of drug and alcohol abuse, mental illness, health issues and relationship problems whose calls for help were dismissed by Boyd Addy and others as attempts at manipulation.
John Nadeau twice tried to take his own life by stabbing himself in the neck. The second time, he rubbed feces in the wound in an attempt to infect the wound. But Addy, his wife and jail personnel did not believe the second time was a "real" suicide attempt and believed Nadeau was only trying to get attention, court documents say.
Jailers found Nadeau in his cell late on Oct. 25, 2013, with a torn bed sheet wrapped around his neck.
"There were red flags waving everywhere that John was someone at risk and they never took him seriously," said Andy Noel, the Minneapolis lawyer representing Diana Nadeau.
Despite being under a $1,000-a-month contract with Morton County to be the Health Care Administrator at the correctional center and provide medical services for the inmates , Boyd Addy in testimony "denied knowing he was the Health Care Administrator, testified he was never called the Health Care Administrator, and did not know what it meant to be the Health Care Administrator at MCCC."
Court documents say Boyd Addy "denied inmates like John were his patients and testified that inmates did not have a right to the same level of medical care as non-incarcerated individuals. Boyd Addy testified he had no responsibility for the jail and the jail knew that."
The Eighth Amendment to the Constitution guarantees prisoners protection from "cruel and unusual punishment." Earlier court rulings, as cited by Traynor, prohibit officials from acting with deliberate indifference to an inmate's substantial risk of death by suicide.
In a stinging dismissal of the defendants' pursuit of summary judgment, Traynor wrote Nadeau was guaranteed equal protection under the 14th Amendment despite being an inmate.
"The most troubling thing about this is that incarcerated people do have a right to health care. They, in fact, have a constitutional right to health care that even non-incarcerated people don't have," Noel said.
Boyd Addy's attorney, Tracy Kolb of Bismarck, said in an emailed statement, "Out of respect for the ongoing legal process, we will not be discussing details of the case at this time. We can say the case is without merit, the claims being made are untrue and we will be presenting a rigorous defense."
Nadeau, who had a lengthy criminal record mostly connected to drugs, was brought to a Bismarck hospital on Sept. 17, 2013, with a self-inflicted stab wound to his neck. He'd been missing for several days, using drugs and told a mental health nurse practitioner he was distraught over problems with his girlfriend. The nurse wrote Nadeau was "at risk for suicide."
Arrested and booked into the Morton County jail the next day for probation violations, Nadeau a week later stabbed a pen into his neck wound and told a jailer he "shoved feces in the wound to infect it so he would die."
The officer radioed for assistance, deeming Nadeau's actions a "suicide attempt." An emergency room doctor documented Nadeau's effort as a "suicide attempt," believed he had "suicidal ideations" and discharged him with instructions that he be kept on suicide precautions.
Court documents show MCCC's administrators, medical professionals and staff didn't view what Nadeau did as a "real" suicide attempt.
Then-Morton County Sheriff Dave Shipman denied in testimony it was a suicide attempt.
Another law enforcement officer believed Nadeau was using the incident to be manipulative.
Deborah Addy said she thought it was an effort to get his stitches out.
Boyd Addy thought Nadeau was trying to get attention.
Until his death, court documents say, Nadeau continually asked for changes to his medications for his depression and anxiety, as well as his heart medication and other ailments. He was increasingly distressed over a break-up with his girlfriend, with whom he'd recently lost a baby.
Nadeau's calls to his ex-girlfriend and mother, which were recorded, became more desperate and emotional.
Boyd Addy, in testimony, said he never personally examined or saw Nadeau at any time. He testified he would refuse to see inmates with mental health issues and did not feel obligated to follow another doctor's instructions because that doctor "had no right to tell me or anybody" to put Nadeau on suicide watch.
He denied knowing what suicide precautions were and stated Nadeau was "already under probably a lot closer (watch) than suicide precautions were ever meant to be by being in jail."
Readers can reach Forum columnist Mike McFeely at firstname.lastname@example.org or 701-451-5655