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Probe continues into how Manchester man suffered broken neck in custody

New Hampshire Union Leader

October 28. 2013 8:44PM


A team of law enforcement officers investigating what happened to an Elliot Hospital psychiatric patient who is paralyzed with a broken neck said all agencies who had him under their care and custody are cooperating with the criminal investigation.

Meanwhile, Fern Ornelas, 54, of Manchester remains at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston. Relatives who visited Ornelas Sunday said his condition is unchanged. He cannot talk and remains paralyzed from the neck down, said his brother, John, on Monday.

Ornelas allegedly attacked a security guard at Elliot Hospital’s emergency department Oct. 16. Both Ornelas and security officer Lawrence Bolduc were treated in the emergency department for “significant” facial injuries, according to police and hospital accounts. The hospital released Ornelas to Manchester police custody. He went to police headquarters about 11 p.m. for booking, where he was transferred to Hillsborough County House of Corrections about midnight Oct. 17.

Ornelas returned to Elliot Hospital by ambulance about 9:30 a.m. that day in serious condition. Elliot transferred him to Massachusetts General Hospital, where he was being held without bail in county corrections’ custody.

Ornelas’ family retained criminal defense attorney Andrew Winters of Cohen & Winters law firm in Concord. Winters filed an agreement Friday in Manchester District Court that allowed Ornelas to be released on $15,000 personal recognizance. Ornelas is no longer in county corrections’ custody, a jail official said.

John Ornelas said relatives were able to visit their brother Sunday without first getting permission from authorities, something he said they had to do since Oct 19. They had been denied permission Oct. 20, he said.

Hillsborough County House of Corrections Superintendent David Dionne last Monday said he is conducting an internal investigation and developing a time line of all who came in contact with Ornelas from the time he first was admitted to Elliot Hospital Oct. 15.

Dionne has since refused to return media calls.

Toni Pappas, who chairs the Hillsborough County Commissioners, last week said Dionne will present his findings to the three-member board of commissioners when done.

Elliot Hospital has said Ornelas was “medically cleared” and was “walking and talking” when released into Manchester police custody.

Manchester police have said Ornelas was cooperative, and his booking on simple assault was “uneventful.”

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