Federal judge sides with state in prisoner lawsuits over padlock beatings

By Stephen Betts, BDN Staff
Posted May 07, 2013, at 12:59 p.m.

BANGOR, Maine — A federal judge has sided with state officials in lawsuits over a trio of assaults in which prison-issued padlocks were used as weapons by inmates against other prisoners.

But the judge also warned state officials that her ruling should not be interpreted as a reason to be complacent about violence within the prison and the use of padlocks.

U.S. Magistrate Judge Margaret Kravchuk recommended on March 11 that summary judgments be granted on behalf of former Maine State Prison warden Patricia Barnhart, current Maine Corrections Commissioner Joseph Ponte and former Corrections Commissioner Martin Magnusson.

The three prisoners who filed the lawsuits have filed objections to Kravchuk’s recommendation. A final judgment has not been made in the cases.

Judge Kravchuk did refuse to recommend summary judgement against two prison guards also accused in one of the lawsuits of retaliating against one of the inmates for talking about what went on in the prison.

The three prisoners who filed the lawsuits have filed objections to Kravchuk’s recommendation. A final judgment has not been made in the cases.

The lawsuits were filed in 2011 and 2012 by Keith Ayotte, David Lakin and Gerard Landry, who each state that prison officials were at fault for issuing the padlocks which led to the assaults against them.

Lakin was assaulted in September 2010 by two or three fellow inmates. Ayotte was assaulted in October 2010 and was knocked unconscious and suffered head and facial injuries. Landry was assaulted in September 2011 and suffered a broken jaw and bruises over his body.

Judge Kravchuk ruled, however, that in each of the cases the prisoners failed to show that state officials were deliberately indifferent to a substantial risk of serious harm — the standard that she said was needed for the lawsuits to proceed.

There were more than 370 inmate-on-inmate assaults at the prison from 2004 through early 2012 and in 17 of those cases padlocks were the weapons used, the judge stated in her March 11 ruling. There was evidence that the number of reported assaults rose during those years, including the number of padlock attacks. The peak was in 2010 when there were five such incidents.

The prison has a practice of issuing padlocks to all inmates except those in segregation to allow them to secure their belongings in storage boxes.

Judge Kravchuk stated in her ruling that the evidence provided by the prisoners did not establish a longstanding and pervasive risk. She pointed out in her ruling that padlocks have a legitimate use and state law requires prisoners to be given a reasonably secure area for their personal belongings.

The federal judge stated, however, that while the record presented to the court did not show they were regular, frequent occurrences at the Maine State Prison, the number of assaults in 2010 and the general increase in inmate-on-inmate assaults were alarming.

“The defendants, or those currently in their positions as warden and commissioner, should by no means interpret such a conclusion as cause for complacency. Nor should inmates interpret this as foreclosing any future challenge to the padlock policy,” Kravchuk stated.

The prison has not changed its policy on issuance of padlocks, Corrections Department Director of Special Projects Scott Fish said Tuesday.

Both Ayotte and Landry have completed their prison sentences,with Ayotte being released in December 2011 and Landry in November 2012.

Lakin is serving a 52-year sentence for the 2004 kidnapping and murder of 81-year-old James McManus in Lewiston, according to the state corrections department.

In the Ayotte lawsuit, the prisoner also filed a claim against two corrections officers — Curtis Doyle and David Cutler. Ayotte claims that after he wrote letters to prison advocates he was removed from his cell by Doyle and Cutler, taken to the unit manager’s office where the pair yelled at him, verbally abused him, threatened him and made him strip twice. The prisoner said he was told to shut his mouth about what went on in the prison or they would bury him.

Judge Kravchuk recommended against a summary judgment for Doyle and Cutler, saying that if Ayotte’s version is correct, he has legal grounds for his claim of violation of his First Amendment rights.

Summary judgment is granted when there are no disputes on the facts but that the law sides with a particular party.

Both Doyle and Cutler have filed objections to Kravchuk’s recommendation and asked that they also be awarded summary judgment on Ayotte’s claim of retaliation by them.

http://bangordailynews.com/2013/05/07/news/midcoast/federal-judge-sides-with-state-in-prisoner-lawsuits-over-padlock-beatings/ printed on October 23, 2014