Fired CDH nurse Steven Coughlin accepts plea deal in assault case; receives six months probation

Last modified: Friday, December 06, 2013
NORTHAMPTON — Despite maintaining his innocence, a former Cooley Dickinson nurse accepted a plea deal Thursday to settle the assault case that led to his firing.

In Northampton District Court before Judge W. Michael Goggins, Steven Coughlin, 27, of Florence, submitted to facts sufficient for a guilty finding on a charge of assault and battery.

Coughlin received a sentence of six months of unsupervised probation. If he avoids any further legal trouble during that time, the case would be dismissed.

Coughlin said Thursday that, based on the testimony of witnesses, which he claims is incorrect, accepting the deal seemed the best way to resolve the matter quickly.

“It was the correct card to play, given the legal system,” Coughlin said.

“The witnesses weren’t going to change their testimony,” he said. “If two people say you did something, you did it.”

Coughlin was accused of deliberately shoving the head of an emergency room patient into a metal sink after that patient had become belligerent Aug. 8.

Two witnesses, a fellow nurse and a security guard, gave statements to police saying they saw Coughlin shove the patient’s head against the sink.

Coughlin maintains the patient did hit his head but that it was the result of a fall while he was trying to get the patient into a chair.

Coughlin said he was trying to get the patient seated after the patient removed his intravenous line, yelled and swore that he wanted to leave the hospital and took two swings at Coughlin.

The patient, Michael Still, 34, of Easthampton, was taken to the hospital after falling from his bicycle and cutting his leg.

Still, 34, was also showing signs of low blood sugar and intoxication, according to Coughlin and statements given to police by other hospital staff.

Coughlin was arrested that evening and charged with assault and battery with a dangerous weapon (sink), a felony.

The plea agreement reduced the charge to a misdemeanor.

Coughlin said the security guard may have misinterpreted what happened in the emergency room. He said another nurse falsely told police that she was in the room during the entire incident.

Coughlin was scheduled for a pre-trial hearing on Thursday, but was informed by his attorney, Edward B. Fogarty of Springfield, the night before that the Northwestern district attorney’s office had offered the plea agreement.

Since he was fired shortly after his arrest, Coughlin has been seeking another nursing job by sending out resumes every week, with no luck so far, and said he believes that is a consequence of the arrest and charge.

Nursing license reviewed

The Massachusetts Board of Registration in Nursing is meeting Wednesday to discuss Coughlin’s case, he said.

Coughlin said he is welcome to attend the meeting, but would not be able to present evidence or speak in his own defense, so he has elected not to go.

“It’d be very difficult for me to sit there with my mouth shut,” he said.

He said the board can take disciplinary action against him up to the revocation of his nursing license. Coughlin said he will receive its written decision in the mail, but he is not sure when.

Coughlin’s father and fiancee both attended Thursday’s hearing and were supportive of his decision, he said.

Bob Dunn can be reached at bdunn@gazettenet.com.