Similar allegations still pending against Genesis Behavioral Health
By BEA LEWIS, for THE LACONIA DAILY SUN
CONCORD — A judge has dismissed claims for negligence against the New Hampshire State Hospital lodged by the mother of a murder victim who died at the hands of a man who had been released after being involuntarily committed just three days earlier.
Zachary March, 27, who lived at an unsupervised support home for those coping with mental illness at 24 McGrath St. in Laconia, was strangled by his roommate, Kasey Riley, 21, on June 11, 2013.
The wrongful death suit filed by March's mother, Linda, charged that an improper medical decision resulted in Riley being released from the State Hospital they day after he assaulted a security officer at Lakes Region General Hospital and threatened to kill him.
The plaintiff's attorney, Cristina Rousseau, intends to ask Judge Richard B. McNamara to rethink his ruling and has been given until Jan. 17 to file a motion to reconsider in Merrimack County Superior Court.
While the court's Dec. 21 ruling has scuttled the claims against the New Hampshire Hospital, similar allegations remain pending against Lakes Region Mental Health Center Inc., doing business as Genesis Behavioral Health. In response to the suit, attorney Brett Corson, who represents Genesis, denies the claims of negligence asserting that his clients acted reasonably and with due care at all times.
During a November hearing, Rousseau maintained that it was foreseeable that Riley posed a danger to the public and that the State Hospital had a duty to keep him under lock and key. The crux of her argument was that the state defendants had control over whether Riley was released from the New Hampshire Hospital, and as a result created the situation that put March in danger of Riley's criminal acts by discharging him.
Judge McNamara held that the state defendants owed no duty of care to March. The plaintiff did not claim that Riley threatened anyone, reported any current homicidal or suicidal thoughts or that he acted aggressively while he was held at the State Hospital on June 6 and 7, 2013.
Court records show that Riley has an extensive history of treatment for mental illness and over the course of his life has been admitted to the state-run psychiatric hospital in Concord at least eight times.
In the wake of the killing, he was charged with alternate theories of second-degree murder, but has since been declared both incompetent to stand trial and dangerous, and remains involuntarily committed.
On June 5, 2013, Riley reported to Genesis that he felt like he was going to hurt other people and wanted to make the entire city feel unsafe. He self-reported to the emergency room at Lakes Region General Hospital, where he told staff of his agitation and then assaulted and threatened to kill a security officer.
On June 6, he was sent to the New Hampshire State Hospital as an involuntary emergency commitment because of the assault and threat to kill.
During his admission to the state hospital, Riley told staff that his aggressive behavior and homicidal thoughts were the result of abusing drugs and alcohol, that he knew such abuse increased his hallucinations and delusions, but said he was unwilling to stop using.
When he was discharged the following day, Riley was diagnosed with "Pervasive Developmental Disorder (Not Otherwise Specified), polysubstance abuse of cannabis, salvia, alcohol and a history of conduct disorder."
In throwing out the claims against the State Hospital, the judge ruled that state law does not impose a duty on a mental health professional to involuntarily commit someone, but rather, instead, sets out the only circumstances under which involuntary commitment is permitted.
The judge found that law was intended to protect potential patients and if the statute created a duty of care to someone, that person would be the patient, not unlimited third parties or the public.
If a patient believed they had been wrongfully discharged, it is possible they could bring a medical malpractice claim against the hospital and staff, McNamara wrote in his ruling.
While the law does mandate that a doctor can be liable for failing to notify police or a potential victim of a threat to harm made by a patient, the patient who caused harm must have vocalized an intent to harm a particular victim. The suit does not make any claims that Riley ever specifically threatened to hurt March.
Riley told police that he used multiple wrestling holds on March as the pair grappled on the floor and admitted that he eventually ended up squeezing March's head between his legs until he became unresponsive.
According to Riley's statements to investigators, March became upset because Riley was watching hunting videos on his cellphone which March thought were both gory and cruel. The physical altercation began when
the pair allegedly struggled over possession of the phone.
Kasey Riley, who was charged with second-degree murder for strangling his roommate at a McGrath Street, Laconia, home run by Genesis Behavioral Health was declared incompetent to stand trial and has since been civilly committed. His victim's family has filed a wrongful death suit against the New Hampshire State Hospital and Genesis. (Bea Lewis file/for The Laconia Daily Sun)