AUGUSTA — A patient at the state psychiatric hospital who says she was pepper-sprayed while naked and left without treatment for hours now stands accused of punching a maintenance worker in the face in an apparently unprovoked attack a week ago.

Arlene M. Edson, 30, most recently of Biddeford, went before a judge via video Wednesday on a misdemeanor charge of assault. Edson entered a plea of not guilty. Attorney John O’Donnell was appointed to represent her in the case.

According to an affidavit by Capitol Police Officer Joseph Morelli, Everett Armstrong, a maintenance mechanic at the hospital, had repaired molding on a phone booth and proceeded to a nurses’ station where Edson was.

“Armstrong said as he approached Edson, he said, ‘Hi,’ and she punched him in the face,” Morelli wrote. “He said the punch spun him around and knocked off his glasses.”

Morelli said Armstrong’s nose and mouth bled and a tooth was chipped as a result of the blow.

Also in the affidavit is a reference to Dr. Brendan Kirby, the hospital’s clinical director, who reviewed medical notes on Edson before and after the event and found “no indication of a psychotic or other psychiatric process that would appreciably diminish Edson’s appreciation of the wrongfulness of her actions.”

The misdemeanor assault charge was filed Tuesday in Augusta District Court. Initially taken to the Kennebec County jail, where she was held in lieu of $2,500 bail, Edson was returned to Riverview on personal recognizance bail after the court hearing Wednesday. A condition of bail prohibits her from contact with Armstrong. Her next court hearing on the assault charge is Jan. 12 in Augusta District Court.

Edson has been at Riverview since 2011 after being found not criminally responsible for charges of arson and assault because of mental illness.

Published records indicate Edson has numerous prior assault convictions.

In December 2004, Edson was 20 and living in Waterville when she was convicted of seven counts of assault and sentenced to three years in jail, with all but 218 days suspended, and three years of probation. Several months later, she was ordered to serve an additional 10 months behind bars on a probation violation.

In October 2008, Edson was arrested and taken to MaineGeneral Medical Center in Augusta for an evaluation after she allegedly struck a stranger dining at a restaurant in Augusta in an apparent random attack.

In May 2012, she was convicted of assault in Somerset County Superior Court and sentenced to five years in prison with all but 30 months suspended and two years of probation.

In January 2014, Edson was convicted of three charges of assault which occurred in 2013, all in Augusta.

In relation to the pepper-spray incident, which occurred in December 2013, Edson, through her attorneys, has given notice that she intends to sue the state.

A state investigation into that incident concluded that a state corrections officer abused Edson in coating her with the pepper spray while she was alone in her room and not threatening anyone. The investigation also led to the firing of a Riverview nurse, William G. Lord Jr., who approved the use of the pepper spray by corrections officers on Edson on Dec. 2, 2013.

Edson told a Maine Sunday Telegram reporter in September that “I felt like I was burning all down my back. I screamed for a shower for hours, but they wouldn’t let me take a shower.”

The hospital’s policy defines abuse as “the infliction of injury, unreasonable confinement, intimidation or cruel punishment that causes, or is likely to cause, physical harm or pain or mental anguish. …”

The investigators viewed video of the pepper-spray incident from cameras inside the hospital and from those carried by the corrections officers.

The 92-bed hospital, which replaced the Augusta Mental Health Institute, has had a series of problems over the past year and a half, including a number of assaults by patients on nurses and mental health workers. So far, most of those have been prosecuted criminally, and the defendants are serving time in prison.

Corrections officers brought in to work at Riverview in response to a brutal assault by a patient on a mental health worker in March 2013 were replaced later with acuity specialists to monitor patient behavior.

The use of corrections officers caused federal regulators to review the hospital, which resulted in a loss of certification and eligibility for federal funds that amount to about $20 million a year.

In the meantime, the hospital has applied for recertification.

After that, the state issued a conditional license to Riverview, part of which says, “The hospital staff will not use nor will they give permission to use weapons, including pepper spray and Tasers, in application of healthcare restraint or seclusion.”

The state hospital houses patients who have gone through a civil commitment procedure where other hospitals act as gatekeepers, as well as forensic patients who have been sent there under court order for evaluation, for restoration to competency and for treatment after being found not criminally responsible for various offenses.

Riverview Psychiatric Center Superintendent Jay Harper has said previously that the group of patients without a diagnosis who engage in criminal behavior, including intimidation of other patients, pose the most difficulty for the hospital staff.

The state recently opened a special mental health unit in the Maine State Prison, which sometimes can house people who cannot be held safely at Riverview.

Betty Adams — 621-5631

[email protected]

Twitter: @betadams


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