Captain’s vengeance backfired in Windham pepper spray incident

By Renee Ordway, Special to the BDN
Posted March 22, 2013, at 8:49 p.m.

I suspect it takes a high degree of self control and character to be spit on and called vile names and not react, at least not overreact.

Certainly, police officers and corrections officers face that behavior routinely from people who have done very bad things.

I suspect it is not easy to show some level of compassion for, and to treat with some level of dignity, characters who perhaps show none themselves or to ensure the safety of those who in some cases have heinously injured others.

But, it most certainly is what correction officers and police officers must do. If they can’t they are in the wrong line of work and those who supervise them must be diligent about weeding them out.

There is no room for bullies or short tempers in those professions and today, with the level of mentally-ill prisoners incarcerated in our jails and prisons, the need for patience and self-control on the part of those who work in them is perhaps greater than ever.

So the video obtained by the Portland Press Herald recently that shows a captain at the Maine Correctional Center in Windham, spraying a restrained inmate at close range with a dose of pepper spray meant to be used on large crowds in big rooms is disturbing — if not horrific to watch.

It rightfully calls into question the ability of that particular captain — the guy in charge — to control his own anger and to be depended on to do the right thing in difficult situations.

“I will win every time,” Captain Shawn Welch tells the restrained prisoner as he stood nearby with the can of pepper spray in his hand, according to newspaper reports.

According to that same report, the video shows Welch leaning close to the prisoner and whispering, “Useless as teats on a bull huh? … What do you think now?”

Scott Durst, a former Maine Drug Enforcement Agency detective, was hired to investigate the incident and said in his report that Welch’s whispered statement to the prisoner was a result of an insult the prisoner made to Welch two days earlier.

The whole incident is disturbing, but that whispered statement is perhaps the most troubling of all.

It reeks of a lack of self-control, a lack of grown-man maturity and a lack of the type of character mandatory for his position.

The event occurred last June and the inmate was 27-year-old Paul Schlosser III who is serving a sentence for several robbery attempts in Portland. Schlosser reportedly has 18 previous convictions mostly for drugs and theft.

Schlosser had recently been released from a hospital for treatment for a self-inflicted wound to his arm and on the day of the incident had ripped the bandages from his arm and refused to go to the medical ward for treatment.

Schlosser has said he was on Vicodin, Ativan and Thorazine when the incident occurred. Corrections officers restrained him in a chair and when they strapped down his arms and held his head back on the chair he spit at one of the officers. That was when Welch sprayed him with the potent spray.

The investigation further found that after Schlosser was sprayed, guards placed a spit guard on his face, which experts have indicated would have intensified and prolonged the effects of the spray.

The supervisor of the correctional center fired Welch when he saw the video, but Department of Corrections Commissioner Joseph Ponte overturned that decision saying that Welch had a clean employment record. Instead Welch was suspended for 30 days.

Now that the video has been released and the story has been made public, the Legislature’s Criminal Justice Committee has asked for an audience with Ponte at a meeting in Augusta next week.

Meanwhile, the department wants to know who leaked the video to the press.

Perhaps someone who felt that kind of behavior by a prison supervisor and the subsequent consequence needed some exposure.

In defending his decision to overturn the dismissal and opt for a 30-day suspension, Commissioner Ponte noted Welch’s years of service, his experience, his training and his stellar employment record.

Training and experience were not evident on this tape. Anger and vengefulness and bullying were.

Worrisome traits in any corrections officer — frightening traits in the captain in charge of them.

You can contact Renee at reneeordway@gmail.com

http://bangordailynews.com/2013/03/22/living/captains-vengeance-backfired-in-windham-pepper-spray-incident/ printed on July 25, 2014