MANCHESTER — It took at least three Elliot Hospital security officers and a Manchester police officer to restrain psychiatric patient Fern Ornelas after Ornelas allegedly began punching a guard repeatedly in the head in the hospital's emergency department Oct. 16, court records show.
"We were able to restrain Ornelas with a substantial amount of force to counter his resistance," Manchester police Officer Paul P. Rondeau wrote in the affidavit supporting Ornelas' arrest.
The event left hospital security guard, Lawrence Bolduc with serious facial injuries — including lacerations, trauma to the eye socket, scrapes and bruises, the affidavit alleges. Ornelas, 54, of 54 Lancaster Ave., also suffered "significant," unspecified facial injuries. Both men were treated in the emergency room, according to hospital and police accounts.
According to Bolduc and Lisa Cutrer, a nurse in Elliot's secure psychiatric evaluation unit, Ornelas was very agitated all night, wandering through the unit. He especially upset a female patient by walking into her room several times, the affidavit alleges.
When Bolduc, 49, told Ornelas to return to his room about 7:25 p.m., Ornelas allegedly sucker-punched Bolduc as he passed him in the doorway to his room.
Ornelas kept punching Bolduc, a retired state trooper, in the face as the officer tried to shield himself from the blows and forced Ornelas to the floor. Ornelas pulled the officer on top of him as he continued to fight and pummel Bolduc in the face, the affidavit alleges. Bolduc used pepper spray and exchanged blows to restrain Ornelas as additional security officers and Rondeau arrived. Together they were able to restrain him, according to the affidavit filed Friday in court.
Ornelas was medically evaluated and "walking and talking" when hospital staff released him to the custody of Manchester police, who said they booked and charged him at headquarters without incident.
Ornelas went to Hillsborough County House of Correction about midnight Oct. 17. Later that morning, jail medical staff checked on Ornelas and sent him back to Elliot Hospital by ambulance. He arrived there about 9:30 a.m. requiring medical treatment for a "serious" medical condition, the hospital said.
Ornelas had a broken neck when he returned to Elliot, friends and family say. He went to Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston that day where he remains in intensive care unit paralyzed from the neck down and unable to talk.
Hillsborough County Attorney Patricia LaFrance is leading the investigation into what happened to Ornelas from the time his twin sister and guardian, Anna, brought him to the emergency room Oct. 15 for a mental health episode to when he returned from the county jail with a broken neck Oct. 17.
LaFrance said she is working in conjunction with the state Attorney General's office on the case. The investigative team includes Manchester and New Hampshire State Police detectives.
Asked if there is a potential conflict of interest in having Manchester police investigate their department's actions along with those of Hillsborough County corrections staff, LaFrance stressed state police are leading the probe.
She said some thought was given to transferring the case to another county — which often happens to avoid having law enforcement agencies within the same jurisdiction investigate each other. But she said her office decided against that approach when the AG's office and State Police became involved.
Waiting for a bed
Elliot Hospital said it does not know how Ornelas sustained the injuries that resulted in his being returned to the hospital in serious medical condition Oct. 17. They have defended the actions of security officer Bolduc, saying Bolduc followed his training and protected the lives of patients and staff.
Ornelas' friends and family say Ornelas does not have an aggressive or violent personality, and have described him as "friendly" and "mild-mannered." Ornelas, who suffers from a disabling mental illness, went to the emergency department Oct. 15 after going off his medications and was waiting for a bed to open at New Hampshire Hospital, the state's acute psychiatric facility.
AG handling probe
Meanwhile, Hillsborough County House of Corrections Superintendent David Dionne appears to have abandoned his plans to conduct an internal investigation and time line of events.
The Hillsborough County Commissioners and Dionne agreed that the investigation should be done by the Attorney General's Office, said Toni Pappas, who chairs the three-member board that met Wednesday.
"It's important for the three organizations that are involved — Elliot Hospital, the police and the county jail — to come up with answers so everyone is satisfied," she added, noting she was told investigators were at the jail Wednesday.
Ornelas initially was charged with three misdemeanor counts of simple assault. The charges later were altered to one count of misdemeanor simple assault.
The portion of the daily court docket prepared by Manchester police for Oct. 18 shows police planned to upgrade the charge against Ornelas to felony second-degree assault and drop the misdemeanor assault charge. Police later said this was an error. There is no record in Manchester District Court of a felony charge being filed against Ornelas.