Prison guard fired after inmate death

Posted Nov. 09, 2009, at 8:25 p.m.

WARREN, Maine — The Maine Department of Corrections has fired one prison guard and demoted another after an internal investigation into the April homicide of inmate Sheldon Weinstein.

The 64-year-old prisoner who used a wheelchair died on April 23 of blunt force injuries evidently received at the hands of other inmates. Three employees were put on administrative leave after Weinstein’s death.

The criminal investigation is being handled by the Maine Attorney General’s Office.

“They might not have called for medical attention soon enough; they might have ignored it a little. And that’s terrible,” Maine Sen. Stan Gerzofsky, D-Brunswick, said Monday of the guards’ response. “It was taken as a very serious offense. I never saw the commissioner as mad as the day he told me what happened.”

The senator, who has served four terms on the Legislature’s Committee on Criminal Justice and Public Safety and now is the committee’s co-chairman, said that he expects more fallout to come from Weinstein’s death.

“We haven’t heard all of it yet,” Gerzofsky said. “[Commissioner Martin Magnusson] wasn’t going to allow any sort of cover-up. They were going to be punished, and he didn’t care where the ax dropped, either.”

Officer Joshua Bailey, who had worked for the department since March 21, 2005, was terminated on Sept. 10. Sgt. William Robinson, who was first hired on July 7, 1986, received an “involuntary demotion” to the rank of correctional officer on Sept. 13, according to a personnel document made available by the Maine Depart-ment of Corrections.

The information has now become public after a freedom of access request was filed by the online media group VillageSoup, which publishes the Herald Gazette in Rockland.

“I think it’s pretty clear that the Department of Corrections recognizes that something went terribly wrong,” said Scott Gardner, the Biddeford attorney who is representing Weinstein’s estate.

Gardner, who already has filed a notice of claim in a $1 million lawsuit against the state, said that he had represented Weinstein in his criminal case. At the time of his death, Weinstein, who had Type 1 diabetes, was serving a two-year sentence for a conviction of one count of gross sexual assault against a child. He had been held in the Maine Correctional Facility in Windham until he broke his leg when he fell out of bed.

“The irony is that he was moved to Maine State Prison because of its superior medical capabilities,” Gardner said.

While at the prison, his client was “very much aware” that he was at risk from the other inmates, Gardner said.

“Can you imagine anybody more vulnerable than a 64-year-old man in a wheelchair?” he said.

What the attorney knows about the beating death of his client has been gleaned mostly from prison gossip and the scanty information that has been made available. But he thinks that Weinstein suffered an excruciating death from internal injuries, drawn out over four days.

“Sheldon was someone who was a pre-med major in college,” Gardner said. “Shelly knew exactly what had happened to him. He knew he was dying.”

Weinstein’s death reminded Gerzofsky of the 1990 murder of inmate Larry L. Richardson, a convicted child molester who was “unspeakably tortured” and finally murdered by his cellmate after a three-day “kangaroo court” conducted by inmates, according to a 1993 report from the Maine Attorney General’s Office.

Gardner, who was a member of the legal team that filed a wrongful death suit against the state after Richardson was killed, recalled that suit being settled for $400,000. He thinks that there’s a good case against the state now, too.

“Clearly, the actions of the state employees, the corrections officers, go well beyond simple negligence,” Gardner said. “It’s our contention that the guards knew he was in danger, they knew he was being beaten and did nothing to stop it.”

Gerzofsky said that he spoke with inmates and other guards about the homicide. He said that Weinstein’s death is not indicative of widespread abuses within the system.

“Inmates said no. They still felt the guards were doing their jobs as trained,” he said. “The inmates and the guards I talked to were confident that it would all be brought to light.”

Maine Department of Corrections Associate Commissioner Denise Lord said that people throughout the department have paid attention to Weinstein’s homicide and conducted “an extensive” personnel investigation.

“An incident such as that is extremely troubling, and one we take seriously,” she said.

SEE COMMENTS →

ADVERTISEMENT | Grow your business
ADVERTISEMENT | Grow your business

Similar Articles

More in Politics