CATSKILL — The death of a Coxsackie man at the former Greene County Jail was reviewed by the District Attorney’s Office and no criminal charges were filed.
Corrections officers found Matthew Leombruno, 43, hanging from a bedsheet tied to the jail cell bars at about 11:30 p.m. on April 12, 2018. Leombruno died from his injuries at Columbia Memorial Hospital in Hudson two days later.
The state Commission of Correction cited several failures in the Greene County Jail administrators’ response to warning signs that Leombruno, an inmate at the Bridge Street jail, might harm himself, according to a Dec. 17, 2019, report from the commission.
“My office did speak [in 2018] with the sheriff and the superintendent of corrections and listened to the phone calls made by [Leombruno],” Greene County District Attorney Joseph Stanzione said. “The information we acquired did not rise to the standard that criminal conduct occurred.”
A person acts with criminal negligence with respect to a death when that person engages in blameworthy conduct that creates or contributes to the substantial and unjustifiable risk that another person’s death will occur, the person fails to perceive that risk and the failure to perceive it constitutes a gross deviation from the standard of care that a reasonable person would observe in the situation, according to state penal code.
“Criminal negligence is different from civil negligence or even gross negligence,” Stanzione said. “The carelessness required for criminal negligence is appreciably more serious; it must be such that its seriousness would be apparent to anyone who shares the community’s general sense of right and wrong.”
For example, the New York State Court of Appeals ruled in 2008 in People v. Cabrera that to be guilty of criminal negligence, the defendant has to engage in some blameworthy conduct that contributes or creates the risk of death. Not perceiving the risk of death, even if death occurs, is not enough.
“Criminal negligence is a high standard, although not an impossible one to achieve,” Stanzione said.
To pursue another criminal investigation at this time would have to come at the request of the family, Stanzione said.
“The statute of limitations has not run [out],” he said. “An investigation would have be done to establish that reasonable cause for criminal negligence was involved here. The family would have to make a request, that they were not satisfied with the investigation, they want further investigation. An investigating agency, whether state police or some other agency, would look at what exists and determine if there is a basis for further investigation. Based on the results of that, it would come to me for review.”
Leombruno’s family filed a $35 million civil lawsuit in federal court March 29, 2019, against Greene County and Corrections Sgt. Christopher Statham alleging negligence and wrongful death. The lawsuit is pending, with a deadline for discovery of evidence set for Aug. 31. Depositions are due by Dec. 15.
On April 12, 2018, Leombruno expressed intent to harm himself in a phone call to his daughter Rebecca, according to the lawsuit.
“Leombruno’s voice broke at times during the call,” according to the commission’s report. “He stated to his daughter during the call, ‘Tell [redacted] to take care of the kids ... I cannot do it ... I am not going to do it ... Hold on to the money and if the kids need something, get it ... I am getting out of here one way or another ... I am not staying here ... it is not going to be good.’”
Rebecca told her father he was scaring her and that she was going to notify the jail of his comments and intentions of self-harm. Leombruno said he would deny his daughter’s claims about his mental health, according to the report.
Statham was on duty April 12, 2018, as watch commander for the jail that day, according to the lawsuit.
Statham received a call from David Douglas, Leombruno’s brother in-law and Rebecca’s uncle, at about 7 p.m. the same day.
Both Statham and corrections officer Ashley Proper Acker reviewed Leombruno’s phone calls, according to the lawsuit.
In a written statement to the commission, Statham said he did not believe Leombruno was going to harm himself and the jail’s mental health staff did not need to be notified to immediately evaluate the inmate because Leombruno never indicated that he was going to kill himself, according to the report.
Statham said he believed Leombruno was looking forward to a visit with his son and was making arrangements for bail.
“There were several indicators which made me feel that this inmate did not meet the criteria to be placed on a constant watch, so he was not placed on said watch,” according to Statham’s written statement included in the state’s investigation.
The indicator for an inmate to be placed on suicide watch is “if you feel there is a grave risk,” Statham said, according to the report.
Statham’s statement about a suicide watch indicator is not in the jail’s policy.
“An inmate should be placed on suicide watch if there is any indication that they are a danger to themselves or others,” according to the policy. “It is better to place an inmate on suicide watch and be wrong than not place them on the watch and the inmate commit suicide.”
The commission’s report stated that Statham violated the jail’s mental health policy.
“The Medical Review Board finds this was also a violation of the policy which states: An inmate should be placed on a constant watch if the inmate recently verbalized suicidal intent or a family member communicates their knowledge of such intent,” according to the commission’s report.
Statham did not notify incoming officers during the shift change of the incidents regarding Leombruno’s phone calls or questions about his mental health, according to the report. The sergeant violated state corrections law by failing to communicate pertinent information regarding an inmate at risk for attempting suicide, according to the report.
An investigator with the sheriff’s office, whose name was redacted from the state report, listened to the phone calls between Leombruno and his daughter during the investigation conducted by the sheriff’s office immediately following the incident.
“Leombruno made several hints that he was going to kill himself,” according to the investigator’s review of the recordings.
Following his death, the Columbia County Coroner’s Office did not perform an autopsy in accordance with state law, according to the report.
“What had taken place, was this death was not reported to the Columbia County Coroners Office when it occurred,” Columbia County Coroner Michael Blasl said. “No case was started and no investigation was performed by our office. Be that as it may, we would have no way of knowing about a death that should fall into our jurisdiction unless it is reported. With that being said, I will be reaching out to the hospital to remind them of the fact that any death, whether natural or unnatural involving the death of an inmate whether or not the death occurred inside such facility, has to be reported to our office as defined by subdivision three section forty of the correction law.”
Columbia Memorial Hospital declined to comment on the incident.