AUGUSTA — A mental health worker injured 15 months ago when she was assaulted by a patient at Riverview Psychiatric Center in Augusta is suing the patient for money to cover her medical bills, lost wages and other damages.

Sally Nichols, of New Sharon, so far has won a judge’s approval for a $100,000 attachment on any property owned by Arlene Marie Edson, 33, who is serving a four-year prison term for that assault and three others. Edson herself had sued the state hospital in federal court over being pepper-sprayed there, and she received $180,000 last summer to settle her claims.

Edson pleaded guilty to the four assault charges last January and is now at the Maine Correctional Center in Windham.

A lawsuit filed by Nichols’ attorney, Roger Katz, describes the July 18, 2016, attack on Nichols, who was working on the Lower Saco unit at Riverview.

It quotes Nichols as saying, “Without cause and without provocation, (Edson) assaulted me by slugging me in the area of my right eye.”

Edson had been placed at the state hospital after being found not criminally responsible in 2011 of arson and assault.

“The defendant assaulted Sally from behind — it was a totally unprovoked attack on a defenseless woman,” Katz wrote in an email sent Tuesday. “The defendant had some mental health issues but clearly knew just what she is doing. Sally has some lasting and permanent health issues now and the defendant bears responsibility.”

The lawsuit says that as a result of assault, Nichols was injured seriously and now suffers from “continuous headaches that range anywhere from 6-9 on a scale of 10.” She says she takes up to 10 ibuprofen a day for headaches.

“Defendant’s assault caused nerve damage such that the right side of my face droops somewhat, which I find embarrassing,” Nichols said. “Because of the lack of sensation in parts of the right side of my face, I often find myself drooling. Also, my right eye ‘wants to close’ and becomes heavy. I continue to be bothered by the broken teeth I sustained.”

Nichols says that after the assault, she was treated by Augusta Rescue, MaineGeneral Medical Center, Workplace Health in Farmington, optometrists, ophthalmologists and other doctors.

Since the attack, Nichols has returned to her job at Riverview.

“She loves her job — been there 15 years (and was a) former Mental Health Worker of the Year there,” Katz said in an email.

Nichols is seeking punitive damages.

Justice William Stokes, who has been assigned to the case, ordered the attachment on Edson’s property.

Edson’s attorney, Amber L. Tucker, in a response to the lawsuit, says the defendant admits being an involuntary patient at Riverview and being charged and sentenced for the assaults — including the one on Nichols — but “is without knowledge” regarding other items in the lawsuit.

Tucker did not respond to a phone message or an email sent Tuesday seeking comment.

The deadline for discovery in the case is May 1, 2018.

Edson previously spent 18 months in prison for assaulting another hospital worker in similar circumstances on Dec. 11, 2014. In that case, the prosecutor told the judge that the victim was standing at a desk in the common area “when Edson came up behind her and hit her in the head a number of times. Edson said she’d continue to do it unless she got what she wanted.” The hospital staff interpreted that to mean that Edson wanted to be placed at a prison rather than a hospital.

In a court filing about the assaults on Nichols and three others, Assistant District Attorney Kate Marshall, wrote “The past and (then-) pending assaultive behavior is often unprovoked and initiated against staff persons who are caught in vulnerable positions.”

To date, Edson has a dozen assault convictions.

Riverview, the 92-bed psychiatric hospital that replaced the Augusta Mental Health Institute, has had a series of problems over the past years, including a number of assaults by patients on nurses and mental health workers. Many of the patients were prosecuted criminally and, like Edson, now are serving time in prison.

Edson sued the hospital, the commissioner of the state Department of Health and Human Services and people who were employed at the hospital in December 2013 when she was pepper-sprayed while naked and left without treatment for hours.

A stipulation of dismissal, signed by all parties last May, does not provide any details. However, Andrew Roth-Wells, spokesman for the attorney general’s office, said via email that “the state paid $180,000 to settle all claims Ms. Edson brought against the state and various present and former state employees.”

In that case, Edson, through attorney Tucker, had charged use of excessive force, unreasonable bodily restraint, failure to intervene and failure to train, among other counts, including violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act. She sought compensation for her injuries and damages.

A number of defendants had been dismissed earlier, including the governor, the Department of Health and Human Services, and former Riverview Superintendent Jay Harper.

Betty Adams — 621-5631

[email protected]

Twitter: @betadams


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