Garrett Crehan of Ashfield charged with assaulting psychiatric patient at Veterans Affairs medical center in Leeds

Last modified: Friday, April 17, 2015

NORTHAMPTON — An Ashfield man who worked as a nurse assistant in the psychiatric ward at the Veterans Affairs Central Western Massachusetts Healthcare System in Leeds is facing charges of assaulting a 61-year-old patient there in January.

The delay in filing charges was due partly to the fact that none of the staff who witnessed the alleged assault reported it at the time, according to court documents.

Garrett C. Crehan, 42, pleaded not guilty in Northampton District Court Thursday to a charge of assault and battery on a person over 60 or disabled.

According to witness statements from three staff members in court documents, on Jan. 25 Crehan forced the 61-year-old man to the floor in a way that caused his nose to bleed and did not comply with the hospital’s rules for physical “therapeutic containment.” Crehan then held him down in his bed by twisting his arm behind his back, kneed him several times in the rib, and threatened to kill him, according to the witness statements.

Court records show that Crehan has not worked at the Leeds hospital since Feb. 3 because he was arrested and ordered held without the right to bail in the Franklin County Jail in Greenfield on charges related to another alleged assault elsewhere. He pleaded not guilty to charges of strangulation or suffocation and assault and battery on a family or household member after he allegedly strangled and punched a woman with whom he lived.

A spokeswoman for the Veterans Affairs Central Western Massachusetts Healthcare System said that she could not comment Thursday about the case because she was unaware of its details.

Crehan asked for an attorney when federal investigators tried to interview him at the jail, and so he was never interviewed about the allegations, according to court records.

The three nursing staff members who said they witnessed the incident told a federal investigators in February and March that they considered Crehan’s actions to be “unprovoked” and “wrong,” and said it constituted patient abuse. But the initial report of the incident in January does not mention any physical force being used. Court documents show the investigation of the allegations began at the end of February, after two nursing supervisors heard from staff that Crehan had assaulted the man.

According to a statement of facts filed in court by Special Agent Matthew Kidd of the Department of Veterans Affairs, the original VA police report of the incident Jan. 25 stated that nursing staff told police that they called for assistance because a veteran had become disruptive and thrown himself on the floor. Nursing staff reported that they took the veteran to his room and when police arrived, he agreed to take medication intended to calm him.

But on Feb. 24, a nursing supervisor reported the alleged patient abuse to Brian McLain, deputy chief of Veterans Affairs Police in Leeds. McLain met with the nursing staff and received written statements from them detailing what they said happened about 11 p.m. Jan. 25.

The staff told McLain and Kidd that they had called for a police “intervention” that night because the patient was yelling and acting aggressively toward a staff member. The patient then agreed to go to his room, and Crehan and two other nursing staff members were walking down the hall with him as he was mumbling to himself and flailing his arms, according to court documents.

“Suddenly, Garrett grabbed his arm and was taking him down to the floor,” one nurse wrote in an email to McLain. The other nursing staff then helped carry the man to his room and lay him on his bed facedown. Crehan twisted the man’s left arm before his back and threatened to kill him if he didn’t “cut the s---,” according to another nursing assistant’s account. The nursing assistant told police she told Crehan to stop and he kneed the patient several times in the ribs and then released him before police arrived.

According to court documents, Kidd contacted the patient, who agreed to write a statement about the alleged assault. He wrote that a staff member matching Crehan’s description called him a derogatory word for a disabled person and hurt him by twisting his arm.

“This should have never been done to me,” the man wrote. “It has affected me and adds to my mistrust of the VA systems.”

Another nursing assistant who witnessed the incident told VA police that the patient was “terrified after the ordeal” and “would not come out of his room.”

Several staff members told police that Crehan made statements to them after the incident about whether they would report his use of force. One nurse said that the next day, he cornered her in the break room and threatened to kill her if she told anyone, before adding, “I’m just kidding.” She told her supervisor in an email Feb. 13 that she was in fear of her life after that incident.

According to court documents, when Kidd asked the nursing staff why they did not report the incident, one nursing assistant said he reasoned that the nurse in charge did not seem bothered by Crehan’s actions. The nurse in charge did not give a reason for not reporting it.

Court documents also show that the VA police officer who responded to the incident Jan. 25 and wrote a report told Kidd that none of the staff members mentioned that the patient was thrown to the floor, which would have warranted further police investigation.

Kidd included in court documents the VA Medical Center’s rules requiring staff to immediately report suspected patient abuse or else face “disciplinary action.” The rules also state that it is only appropriate to “go hands-on” with a patient “when there is an imminent risk of the person physically harming themselves or others.”

VA staff confirmed that Crehan had been trained in proper restraint techniques and that the conduct described by witnesses was not appropriate, Kidd wrote in court documents.

Rebecca Everett can be reached at


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