Three former corrections officers at Massachusetts’ Bridgewater State Hospital have been found not guilty of involuntary manslaughter in the death of a mentally ill patient they forcibly put into restraints eight years ago, WBUR Radio in Boston reports. Former guards Derek Howard, John Raposo and George Billadeau were also found not guilty of criminal civil rights violations. The verdicts were issued by Plymouth Superior Court Judge Jeffrey Locke. Joshua Messier, a 23-year-old with a history of paranoid schizophrenia, assaulted a corrections officer in 2009 and was placed in a “four-point restraint” by guards. The officers tied Messier’s ankles and wrists to a bed, and then pressed on his back. Messier died while being put in the restraint, and his death was captured on surveillance video.
A prosecutor determined there was insufficient evidence to pursue criminal charges, but years later a special prosecutor appointed by then-state Attorney General Martha Coakley after a Boston Globe report determined that charges should be brought. The prosecutor said the guards acted recklessly without regard to Messier’s safety. Defense lawyers blamed poor training and oversight at Bridgewater, a facility run by the Department of Corrections. The judge sided with the defense, saying the prosecution did not prove a direct connection between the guards’ actions and Messier’s death. His death led the state to put in place new policies at the hospital.