Inmates file lawsuits in alleged padlock assaults

Posted Sept. 08, 2011, at 7:52 p.m.

WARREN, Maine — Two Maine State Prison inmates, one of whom is a convicted murderer, have filed federal lawsuits against prison officials after allegedly being beaten by other prisoners armed with prison-issued padlocks.

The two separate suits were filed Aug. 30 in U.S. District Court in Bangor by inmates Keith Ayotte and David Lakin. The men are represented by attorney Verne Paradie Jr. of Auburn.

Lakin, who is serving a 52-year sentence for kidnapping and murder, is suing Warden Patricia Barnhart, former Maine Department of Corrections Commissioner Martin Magnusson and “John Doe,” a correctional officer, in his civil lawsuit.

In the complaint, Lakin said that he was violently assaulted by three inmates on Sept. 10, 2010, who used “one or more” of the prison-issued padlocks to injure him.

“Prison officials were aware of the use of padlocks as weapons in inmate assaults on each other, but despite that knowledge, continued to allow inmates to possess such items and continued to disburse such items to inmates entering the prison,” the complaint stated.

The suit alleges that each prison official named owed Lakin a duty to protect him from violence at the hands of other prisoners, according to the Eighth Amendment, which prohibits the federal government from imposing cruel and unusual punishments.

Ayotte, who is serving a five-year sentence for aggravated assault and assault on an officer, named even more defendants in his lawsuit. In addition to Barnhart and Magnusson, he is suing Maine State Prison Unit Manager Dwight Fowles and correctional officers Anthony Cartlidge, David Cutler, Joshua Cutler, Curtis Doyle and Nova Hirsch.

After Ayotte was assaulted with a padlock last October, he made several complaints to prison authorities and other advocacy groups outside of the prison regarding the “unsafe conditions at the prison,” according to the complaint.

The correctional officers named in the suit allegedly went to Ayotte’s cell on March 15, threw him against the wall, handcuffed him and brought him to a unit manager’s office.

“Once in the office, [the defendants] forced Plaintiff to strip off all of his clothes and made him sit in the middle of the room while they threatened him that he needed to keep his mouth shut about things that were going on or they would bury him,” the complaint states. “Plaintiff was extremely frightened by this incident.”

Judy Garvey of the Maine Prisoner Advocacy Coalition said Thursday that she was unfamiliar with these particular allegations of abuse and hasn’t heard about problems with padlocks at the Maine State Prison.

“But that doesn’t mean it’s not an issue,” she said. “I would commend the courts for giving the same level of respect for prisoners’ issues as for any other citizen.”

Jody Breton, the associate commissioner for the Maine Department of Corrections, said Thursday that she was unable to comment about the lawsuit. However, she did say that the prison has a standing practice of issuing lockers and padlocks to inmates so they can safeguard their personal possessions.

“We’re going to review all personal property, including padlocks,” she said.

The state has not yet filed responses to the two lawsuits.

Lakin and Ayotte are seeking a jury trial, compensatory damages, punitive damages and a permanent injunction prohibiting the defendants from depriving them of their constitutional rights, according to the complaint.

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