- Associated Press - Wednesday, April 16, 2014

WETHERSFIELD, Conn. (AP) - A schizophrenic man who attempted suicide while jailed for his mother’s Christmastime slaying was not receiving constant supervision, despite a judge’s order that he be placed on suicide watch.

During Robert O. Rankin’s Dec. 27 arraignment, Superior Court Judge David P. Gold ordered a suicide watch and mental health evaluation of him.

But Department of Correction spokesman Andrius Banevicius said Wednesday that at the time of Rankin’s Feb. 12 suicide attempt, he was not under continuous watch.

“At the time of the incident, inmate Rankin was not under a mental health status that would require continuous observation,” Banevisius told The Associated Press.

He declined to elaborate, saying “due to patient privacy laws, we cannot make any additional comments regarding this matter.”

Rankin’s lawyer, Dennis McMahon, expressed surprise in an interview Tuesday that Rankin was not on suicide watch about a month-and-a-half after the judge’s order. McMahon said his client “was so emotionally fragile it was shocking.”

“The record is clear that I was very concerned about his psychiatric status, and I believe the court was too,” McMahon said. “The judge ordered that he be placed on a suicide watch.”

McMahon said Rankin told him he jumped because he wanted to see his dead mother, adding how his client is still in shock and disbelief over his mother’s Dec. 26 death.

Surveillance video from inside Garner Correctional Institution of Rankin’s suicide attempt shows the 23-year-old inmate walking alone up an open stairway, carrying a towel. He heads to where a shower is located, hangs up his towel, and then turns toward the railing. He calmly looks over, climbs up and plunges head-first to the floor below. No correctional staff members can be seen near Rankin at the time.

The video was one of two made available to the AP for viewing in response to a Freedom of Information request.

In the other surveillance video, two corrections officers can be seen near a desk on the bottom floor of the unit, supervising the recreation area and unaware of Rankin climbing onto the railing above them. One officer turns his head when Rankin hits the ground.

“While this officer was monitoring rec, this officer heard a loud thump on the floor behind him,” according to an incident report obtained by the AP through an FOI request. “Inmate Rankin was laying on his left side, facing cell #126 bleeding from the back of his head.”

It is unclear whether DOC placed Rankin on suicide watch before his Feb. 12 suicide attempt. DOC referred a reporter’s request for such information to the University of Connecticut Health Center in Farmington, which handles inmate health care. But a spokesman for the UConn Health Center said the records are protected information and cannot be released.

During a recent forum for journalists on state prison practices, Stephen Faucher, the warden at York Correctional Institution, said prison mental health workers ultimately decide whether a pre-trial inmate should be kept on a special watch. He said prison officials review and consider information contained in a judge’s written instructions spelling out special considerations for a prisoner.

The court instructions, which typically come from recommendations of defense attorneys, can range from needing a suicide watch to requests to being housed in a particular prison.

Rankin appeared last month in court in a wheelchair, wearing a metal halo on his head, with his right wrist in a cast. McMahon said it’s incredible his client not only survived the fall but did not suffer any paralysis.

McMahon said Rankin is still wearing the halo and will be treated at a medical unit in MacDougall-Walker Correctional Institution for a couple more months to treat some broken discs in his neck.

Rankin has been charged with murder, but has yet to enter a plea. McMahon said he’s arranging for an independent psychiatrist to evaluate his client, who police say admitted to attacking his 45-year-old mother, Margaret Rohner, with a fireplace poker and knife and leaving her eviscerated body on the floor of her Deep River home.

Friends of Rohner have described how the divorced mother struggled to find appropriate mental health care for her only child.

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