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Murder suspect Howe, dead after two days in jail, belonged in psychiatric hospital, Cyr says

Bridgewater State Hospital
Wikipedia / CC 4.0
Bridgewater State Hospital

State Sen. Julian Cyr says he is looking into the events leading up to the death of murder suspect Adam Howe at the Ash Street Jail in New Bedford.

Howe was charged with the murder of his mother, Susan Howe of Truro, on Friday. Two days later, he was found unresponsive in his cell at the Ash Street Jail in an apparent suicide.

Cyr said he belonged in secure psychiatric care at Bridgewater State Hospital.

“The fact that this individual was unable to go to the place where they needed to go … that they were denied entry to that facility based on a technicality, is shameful,” he said.

Howe was taken to Ash Street after officials tried without success to place him at Bridgewater State Hospital or the Barnstable County Correctional Facility in Bourne.

Even with the tragic circumstances surrounding the case, “it's really unacceptable that this person was unable to be transferred to the sort of facility where they should have gone,” Cyr said.

The body of Susan Howe was found burning on her front lawn at about 9:30 Friday night, according to Cape & Islands District Attorney Michael O’Keefe.

Bridgewater State Hospital refused to take Howe because a judge’s order to commit Howe was issued under the civil commitment law, Section 12 of Chapter 123, O’Keefe said in a press release.

According to the Massachusetts Department of Corrections, the state hospital cannot accept a person under Section 12; commitments must come under Sections 15 or 18, used for criminal defendants.

O’Keefe told The Provincetown Independent that he called Bridgewater State Hospital himself, and a member of the staff told him that before Howe could be transferred to the hospital, he would have to be placed in a general-population jail.

But a Department of Corrections spokesperson told CAI that, under state law, an official in charge of detention — including police — can refer a defendant to a judge for hospital commitment under Section 18.

CAI tried to reach Wellpath, the private vendor for medical services at Bridgewater State Hospital, but did not receive a return call.

Cyr said he is asking questions of Wellpath and the Department of Corrections in his capacity as Senate chair of the Joint Committee on Mental Health, Substance Use and Recovery.

The senator said he also wants to know more about why the Barnstable County Correctional Facility was unavailable to take Howe.

Barnstable County Sheriff James Cummings told the Independent that his jail no longer serves as an after-hours lockup and does not take suspects who are suicidal, sick or detoxing, because doing so “screws up our staffing.”

Jennette Barnes is a reporter and producer. Named a Master Reporter by the New England Society of News Editors, she brings more than 20 years of news experience to CAI.