A mental health worker at the state’s Riverview Psychiatric Center who was pregnant when she was stabbed repeatedly by a patient last year has filed a federal lawsuit claiming the state failed to protect her.

Less than a week before the attack on March 16, 2013, Jamie Hill-Spotswood told Roland Pushard, assistant director of nursing at the hospital in Augusta, that she was 18 weeks pregnant and felt unsafe because there was no security on the floor where she worked, she said in the lawsuit filed Monday in U.S. District Court in Bangor.

The attack prompted state officials to bring in corrections officers to monitor patients, and triggered an audit that cost the state millions of dollars in federal funding when federal authorities objected to the new security measures.

Hill-Spotswood said in the lawsuit, filed against Health and Human Services Commissioner Mary Mayhew, that the floor was populated by patients known to be “very, very violent” and known to have threatened or attacked workers and patients many times.

The state did nothing after Hill-Spotswood told staffers at the Augusta hospital that she felt unsafe, and she was never informed that her attacker, Mark Murphy, had a “prolific history of violence,” her attorney, Michael Waxman, said in the six-page complaint.

“So, predictably, when Mark Murphy, a known violent individual, decided to become violent yet again, DHHS provided the lamb for the slaughter, and enabled – by its inexcusable failure to protect employees from foreseeable and grave danger – Mr. Murphy to stab her repeatedly in the hand and face,” Waxman wrote in the lawsuit.

“This attack by Mr. Murphy could easily have been prevented had DHHS taken reasonable security measures to prevent foreseeable, grave harm to be visited upon its employees, like Ms. Hill-Spotswood,” Waxman wrote.

Witnesses at Murphy’s one-day trial in October said that he first apologized to Hill-Spotswood and then attacked her by punching her and stabbing her with a pen.

Witnesses said that a day before the attack, Murphy was angry because the staff had canceled his Saturday visit to his parents’ home in Kittery.

Hill-Spotswood, 27, testified at the trial in Kennebec County Superior Court, saying, “I curled in a fetal position and stuck my hands on top of my head, covering my face.”

A staff member and a patient stepped in to pull Murphy off and rescue her, witnesses said.

In January, Justice Donald Marden convicted Murphy of elevated aggravated assault and aggravated assault, finding that anger, not mental illness, drove him to attack.

Murphy, 48, faces as much 30 years in prison on the more serious of the two charges, elevated aggravated assault. His sentencing date has not been set.

Hill-Spotswood was treated at MaineGeneral Medical Center in Augusta for injuries to her arms, face and hands. She had to have surgery to remove the tip of a pen from her hand.

She was left “disfigured and emotionally damaged,” Waxman said in the lawsuit, which seeks an unspecified amount of money to compensate her for her injuries and attorney’s fees, and an award deemed appropriate by the court.

In a phone interview Monday, Waxman said the attack did not affect Hill-Spotswood’s pregnancy, and she has since given birth to a healthy baby.

She has not returned to work since the attack, but hopes that a doctor will soon give her medical clearance to work again, Waxman said. “She has very, very bad post-traumatic stress syndrome,” he said.

Sarah Grant, a spokeswoman for the DHHS, said it’s the department’s policy not to comment on pending litigation.

The attack on Hill-Spotswood heightened security concerns at Riverview, prompting the hospital to bring in state and county corrections officers to monitor specific patients. The officers were stripped of stun guns and handcuffs in May 2013, after federal regulators objected to the new measures, and the county officers were gone by the end of August.

The attack also triggered a federal audit of the hospital, which led to the loss of its eligibility for $20 million in federal money – about half of the hospital’s budget.

Because of ongoing problems at the facility, Superintendent Mary Louise McEwen was fired or forced to resign in March of this year, after five years on the job.

Riverview Psychiatric Center is Maine’s only hospital for forensic patients – people with mental illness who have committed violent or otherwise criminal acts and have been sent to the hospital by courts.

The hospital, which opened in 2004, has 92 beds.

Kennebec Journal Staff Writer Betty Adams contributed to this report.

 

Scott Dolan can be contacted at 791-6304 or at:

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