By NANCY WEST, InDepthNH.org
CONCORD – A former corrections officer has been charged with second-degree murder for allegedly causing the death of a patient at the Secure Psychiatric Unit at the men’s prison in Concord.
Former Corrections Officer Matthew Millar, 39, of Boscawen has been arrested in connection with the death of Jason Rothe, 50. Millar is being held without bail and a probable cause hearing is slated for Feb. 14 at 10 a.m. in Concord Circuit Court.
The charge alleges Millar recklessly caused Rothe’s death under circumstances manifesting an extreme indifference to the value of human life, by using his arms and/or legs to apply force and pressure to Rothe’s torso and/or neck, thereby causing his death by combined traumatic (compressional) and positional asphyxiation, Formella said in a news release.
The police affidavit alleges that on April 29, 2023, six corrections officers in the Secure Psychiatric Unit engaged in a use of force incident that resulted in Rothe’s death. The affidavit is here: https://indepthnh.org/wp-content/uploads/2024/02/Statement-of-Probable-Cause.pdf
Formella said he doesn’t anticipate any other charges against any of the other corrections officers involved in this incident.
In 2019, Rothe was committed to New Hampshire Hospital, the state’s psychiatric hospital, as he was deemed incapable of taking care of himself, according to the police affidavit filed in the case.
On Aug. 16, 2022, New Hampshire Hospital sought a court order to transfer Rothe to SPU due to likelihood of him causing harm to himself and others. From the day of his transfer until the day of his death, Rothe was housed and treated at SPU. He also had a colostomy bag which collected stool after a self-inflicted injury, the affidavit said.
Rothe’s mental health diagnosis was blacked out of the police affidavit.
SPU is a secure unit at the men’s prison for mentally ill individuals who are deemed too dangerous to be housed at the New Hampshire Hospital even if they didn’t commit a crime or individuals convicted of crimes who require additional mental health-related services beyond the capabilities of the general prison setting.
Rothe’s is the third suspicious death there since 2015.
Charles 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 a lawsuit filed by attorney Larry Vogelman.
Vogelman said at the time the unit had a problem 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. The lawsuit was settled for $75,000.
Vogelman also represented 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. The RTU is part of the same building on the grounds of the men’s prison upstairs from SPU.
Shortly after Rothe’s death, New Hampshire State Police in conjunction with the New Hampshire Department of Justice conducted an investigation into the facts and circumstances surrounding his death.
On October 25, 2023, Dr. Mitchell Weinberg of the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner determined that Rothe’s manner of death was homicide and that the cause of death was combined traumatic (compressional) and positional asphyxiation.
“The investigation produced evidence that Matthew Millar applied downward pressure with his knee and arms onto Mr. Rothe’s torso/neck area for several minutes while Mr. Rothe was handcuffed and faced down on the floor, contrary to DOC’s use-of-force protocols and training.
“Matthew Millar received training on asphyxia and use of force which detailed the risk of death inherent with the specific manner of restraint he applied,” the release said.
Beatrice Coulter, co-founder with Wanda Duryea of Advocates for Ethical Mental Health Treatment, responded to the arrest. Coulter and Duryea have been longtime critics of SPU.
“We have known for a very long time that the Secure Psychiatric Unit (SPU) is a dangerous place. Egregious tragedies such as this occur because they are allowed to,” Coulter said. “Until there is a commitment by state actors and the Legislature this culture will persist. SPU is a prison with prison problems. The continued tormented logic to represent it as anything else is simply absurd gaslighting. How many more have to die in SPU?”
The state Department of Corrections also issued a news release saying the corrections officers still employed were initially placed on leave but returned to work after an administrative hearing, including Millar.
The separate statement detailed the actions taken after Rothe’s death. See full DOC release here: https://indepthnh.org/wp-content/uploads/2024/02/NHDOC-Statement-following-Arrest-of-Matthew-Millar-1.pdf
“Following the completion of the Department’s administrative review, the officers were returned to full duty based on information available to the department at that time.
“Based on new information made available to the department today, Commissioner (Helen) Hanks has directed another administrative review and placed the officers on administrative leave.”
Since Dec. 13, 2023, Millar is no longer employed with the Department of Corrections.
“The alleged actions of Mr. Millar ultimately contributing to or causing the death of Mr. Rothe is completely unacceptable, is contrary to Department of Corrections training, and is not representative of our department or the rest of the Department’s staff. The Department is firm in its stance that people who abuse their authority should face the full prosecution of the law.”
Commissioner Hanks said in the release: “I personally extend my sympathies to the family and loved ones of Mr. Rothe. The allegations released today are reprehensible and do not align with my expectations of staff, nor do they align to the Department’s mission and responsibilities.
“The Department prides itself on the dedicated staff that provide exemplary humane care in pursuit of our mission. Everyday New Hampshire Department of Correction’s staff commit themselves to doing difficult work in a challenging environment.”