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Maine officials seeking pepper-spray video leak

Discussion in 'Off Topic' started by JVK, Mar 22, 2013.

  1. JVK

    JVK West Active Member

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    In this video image, Capt. Shawn Welch sprays OC spray into the face of Paul Schlosser who is bound in a restraint chair after the inmate spit at an officer on June 10, 2012.


    The Maine Department of Corrections is investigating to determine how the press obtained video and documents about a captain's treatment of an inmate last year.

    The video and related documents recount how Capt. Shawn Welch, an official at the Maine Correctional Center in Windham, used pepper spray on an inmate who was bound in a restraint chair, then left him in distress for more than 20 minutes. A story about the incident appeared in this week's Maine Sunday Telegram.

    Scott Burnheimer, superintendent of the medium- and minimum-security prison, fired Welch over the incident, but that decision was overruled by Corrections Commissioner Joseph Ponte, who gave Welch a 30-day suspension, according to the documents and interviews.

    The newspaper story and video posted on the paper's website led the chairmen of the Legislature's Criminal Justice and Public Safety Committee to seek a review of the incident.

    The committee plans to review the incident in the context of the department's experience with use of force and its policies for investigations, said Rep. Mark Dion, D-Portland.

    It asked the Corrections Department Wednesday to provide data on the prisons' use of force and investigations, and plans to have the department's leadership discuss that data and the incident with legislators on March 27.

    The Department of Corrections has assigned an investigator to determine how the information got out.

    "Your possession of that indicates a breach of security on our part and we absolutely do need to look into that," said Associate Commissioner Jody Breton. "We certainly will be tightening up security -- where (information) is stored, who has access."

    Breton said the probe is not being conducted because the story and video cast the department in a poor light, but because it revealed private information about an inmate.

    Advocates for prisoners and for corrections officers criticized the investigation.

    "The use of the department's resources should be going into training of their staff and officers and management so this kind of incident doesn't happen again," said Judy Garvey of the Maine Prisoner Advocacy Coalition. "Trying to find out how the information got into the hands of a reporter shows a reluctance to have transparency. It reeks of government heavy-handedness in oversight.

    "Certainly, the inmate's right to privacy should be respected. There's always a fine line between (that and) what the public needs to know to keep abuse and tragedy from happening," Garvey said. "We feel the department itself is probably not the best arbiter of that kind of decision,"

    Garvey said the coalition favors having a citizens group of prisoner advocates working with the department.

    James Mackie, spokesman for the union that represents corrections officers, said he is not surprised that the department is investigating.

    "The number of investigations since (Ponte) has taken over have just increased exponentially," he said.

    Mackie said he was surprised that the incident, which happened on June 10, took so long to come to light. Welch was disciplined in August and September.

    "We were all aware of the issue at MCC. There was no way it was going to be kept secret," Mackie said.

    Breton said she does not know whether investigations have increased under Ponte.

    The newspaper's story and the accompanying video offered a rare glimpse inside the prison and into a confrontation between officers and a medicated, mentally ill inmate.

    Paul Schlosser had received hospital treatment for a gouge he inflicted on his left arm, but had repeatedly removed the dressing in an effort to get medication and a book to distract him.

    Inmates who hurt themselves to manipulate staff are among the most difficult to deal with, Ponte said last week.

    Officers restrained Schlosser in a restraint chair so the medical staff could treat his arm, because he refused to go to the medical unit voluntarily.

    When one officer pinned his head to the chair, Schlosser struggled and spit at an officer. Welch sprayed him at close range with pepper spray, called OC spray, from a canister intended to be used on multiple people at a distance of 18 to 20 feet, according to an investigator's report.

    Welch then refused to let Schlosser, who said he couldn't breathe, wash his face for 24 minutes. A spit mask was placed over Schlosser's mouth and nose, trapping the pepper spray against his face.

    An investigation concluded that Welch's use of force was excessive and motivated in part by personal animosity.

    Burnheimer fired Welch and denied his appeal, saying he had discussed it with Ponte, according to department documents.

    But Ponte said last week that Welch was never actually fired.

    Maine officials seeking pepper-spray video leak | The Portland Press Herald / Maine Sunday Telegram

    Prisoner abuse, not video leak, is the problem

    If Maine corrections officials are embarrassed, they have good reason.

    An in-house video that showed a supervisor at the Windham prison inappropriately using pepper spray on a restrained inmate leaving him in distress for 20 minutes was shocking when it was revealed in a story in Sunday's newspaper.

    The officer, Capt. Shawn Welch, was fired by his supervisors after they viewed the video, but the punishment was reduced to a 30-day suspension by Corrections Commissioner Joseph Ponte.

    Now that the public has seen video, this would be good time for the department to explain what steps have been taken to make sure that nothing like this ever happens again. Instead, they are taking steps to make sure that no explosive video like this ever reaches the public again.

    The department is conducting an investigation to find the source of the video, and is contemplating disciplinary action if it was a departmental employee. The investigator is claiming that the probe is necessary because release of the video violated an inmate's privacy. But this looks more like a bureaucracy covering its tracks.

    Without the video, it is unlikely that anyone would listen to the inmate's claim that he was abused. Welch's discipline would not be known outside the institution and business would have returned to normal.

    And investigation and potential discipline seem less about protecting an inmate's privacy than in making sure the department is not embarrassed in this way again.

    It's important to realize what the video shows. Not only did Welch use a pepper spray canister designed for crowd control on a restrained, if unruly, inmate, he did it without warning.

    Although it was an emotionally charged situation, Welch did not appear to be overcome with emotion. His reaction was quick and business-like and when he taunted the inmate later he did not raise his voice.

    None of the other corrections officers in the video spoke up when the spray was used. None even looked surprised. Judging from their responses, this use of pepper spray was nothing out of the ordinary.

    This is what the department should be worried about, not who brought this incident to the public. The department may have a problem but if it does, it's an excessive force problem, not a leak problem.

    The department is right to be embarrassed, but wrong if it thinks the answer is punishing employees for telling the truth.

    Prisoner abuse, not video leak, is the problem | The Morning Sentinel, Waterville, ME

    Note to readers

    The Portland Press Herald/Maine Sunday Telegram is publishing the entire video of the June 10, 2012, incident involving inmate Paul Schlosser so readers can get a complete picture of what happened. The video, which was shot by a prison employee, runs 2 hours and 10 minutes. Viewers should be aware that the both the full video and the 17-minute excerpt (which depicts the most crucial moments) contain explicit language, violence and disturbing images.

    Note to readers | The Portland Press Herald / Maine Sunday Telegram
  2. trainsktg

    trainsktg Portland OR Well-Known Member

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    The story in a nutshell: 'Training' for the officers involved in the attack, and prosecution for the officer who 'leaked' the video.

  3. John H

    John H Whatcom County Well-Known Member

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    Somebody find a shovel, it is getting deep in here.
    trainsktg and (deleted member) like this.