Something ‘Fishy’ About Man’s Death at SPU After ‘Altercation’ With Guards, Lawyer Says

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Nancy West photo

Secure Psychiatric Unit at the men's prison in Concord.

CONCORD – The resident who died after an altercation with several corrections officers Saturday at the Secure Psychiatric Unit at state prison was Jason Rothe, 50, according to a news release issued Monday by Attorney General John Formella.

Rothe’s death is being investigated by state police and an autopsy Sunday showed the cause and manner of death are “inconclusive” pending further investigation, the release said.

“On Saturday afternoon, the Department of Corrections placed the officers involved in the use of force on administrative leave pending review,” according to a news release from the state Department of Corrections, which is headed by Commissioner Helen Hanks. It didn’t say how many officers were involved but did say the department is cooperating with the state police investigation.

Attorney Larry Vogelman of Shaheen and Gordon in Dover, has sued the department in the deaths of two other men, one at the Secure Psychiatric Unit and the other at the Residential Treatment Unit, which is also a psych unit in the same prison building as SPU. He said something doesn’t ring right in what has been released so far in Rothe’s death.

“It sounds fishy,” Vogelman said about the few details released so far.

Vogelman settled a case in 2018 on behalf of the family of Charles Mealer. Mealer was 47 when he committed suicide at the Secure Psychiatric Unit on June 22, 2015.

The cause of death was suicide due to acute amitriptyline intoxication, an antidepressant that was prescribed to Mealer, according to the lawsuit. Vogelman said the unit had a problem at the time with residents hoarding their prescribed drugs. Mealer had been transferred to the unit several times since he was sentenced to the prison in 2011 on two counts of felonious sexual assault.

Vogelman still represents the family of Phillip Borcuk, 34, a mentally ill man from Cornish that he says died from positional asphyxiation from being taken out of the Residential Treatment Unit on his stomach Dec. 6. 2017 with his hands cuffed behind his back. After Borcuk’s death, the department issued a news release stating that he was alone in his cell and died due to “self-injurious behavior.” That case has not yet gone to trial.

According to Formella, at approximately 12:55 p.m., Saturday, Rothe was involved in a physical altercation with several corrections officers in SPU.

“After that altercation, corrections officers noticed that Mr. Rothe was not responsive and attempted CPR. Despite those efforts, Mr. Rothe was later pronounced dead at a local hospital,” Formella’s news release said.

 Rothe was not listed as an inmate, but rather as a resident, and was therefore likely a civilian resident. The state wouldn’t confirm whether Rothe had a past criminal history.

Inmates convicted of a crime are commingled in SPU with people who have been found incompetent to stand trial and not guilty by reason of insanity along with mentally ill people who haven’t committed a crime but who are deemed too dangerous to themselves or others to be held at the state psychiatric hospital, the New Hampshire Hospital.

Housing civilly committed mentally ill people with those who have been convicted of a crime has caused controversy for years.  The state is now planning to build a 24-bed forensic hospital on the grounds of the New Hampshire Hospital to stop the practice.

The Valley News reported that Rothe had ties to the Hanover area and reached Rothe’s step-mother Priscilla Rothe by phone.

She told the newspaper that his father, Paul Rothe had died in February and expressed surprise that she hadn’t been notified of Jason’s death.

She told the Valley News she never met Jason in person, had talked to him once by phone and said he was a “ward of the state.”

The Department of Corrections said in its release that it strives to provide adequate and appropriate care to all residents regardless of their history.

“Any death of a resident under the care and custody of the Department is a tragedy and the Department extends its sympathy to the family of Mr. Rothe,” the DOC release stated.

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