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Vt. Inmate Suicide Detailed in Report

Montpelier — A prison inmate who hanged himself in a closet used a razor blade to cut a bedsheet into a noose and rope to tie shut the door, making it difficult for prison staff to get in, a police investigation found.

The inmate, Robert Mossey, jammed an ink cartridge into the door’s lock and wrote suicide notes and journal entries prior to his Aug. 30 death, and he persuaded another inmate who worked on a cleaning crew to leave the closet open so he could get in, said Vermont State Police Lt. Robert Cushing, who briefed lawmakers Tuesday along with Public Safety Commissioner Keith Flynn.

The other inmate did not know Mossey planned to harm himself, Cushing said.

“We don’t make any conclusions about policy or other things; ours is to investigate the facts,” Flynn said.

Mossey, 38, of Burlington, was in and out of prison prior to his death, mainly due to crimes to support a drug addiction, his family has said.

A separate report presented to legislators Tuesday by Vermont Defender General Matthew Valerio recommended a number of changes in prison procedures and policies after Mossey’s death, including putting windows in all doors to rooms that are accessible to inmates and not having inmates clean up after major prison incidents, including cleaning the closet after Mossey’s death. “I don’t see... the incident itself as being some larger systemic issue,” Valerio said.

Meanwhile, Human Resources Commissioner Kate Duffy said her office was just beginning its investigation into the actions of the correctional officers and other prison staff. She told lawmakers her office had to wait until police concluded their investigation.

The hearing also exposed a dispute between the Defender General’s office, which acts on behalf of inmates, and the Department of Human Resources.

Valerio said his investigation had been hampered because he was unable to interview some of the correctional officers involved, even though Corrections Commissioner Andy Pallito “had been as helpful as he could be.”

“In the past we’ve had discussions with corrections officers and the like regarding incidents and that has not occurred in this particular case,” Valerio said.

But Duffy said her department’s procedures were designed to protect the criminal investigation. And now that that investigation has been completed, her office is investigating the actions of corrections employees.

“While we are looking at things like misconduct and violations of protocols and procedures, obviously that is a lot less significant than an employee committing a crime such as helping to facilitate a suicide,” Duffy said.