Maine supreme court upholds suspension of jail guard who dragged inmate with two broken ankles across floor

Justice Warren M. Silver
Troy R. Bennett | BDN
Justice Warren M. Silver
Posted June 24, 2014, at 3:35 p.m.
Last modified June 24, 2014, at 7:53 p.m.

PORTLAND, Maine — The Maine Supreme Judicial Court on Tuesday upheld a one-year suspension for a corrections officer who dragged an inmate with two broken ankles more than 100 feet.

In a decision written by Justice Warren Silver, the court ruled that the Maine Criminal Justice Academy board of trustees was justified in its 2012 decision to strip Nicholas Stein of his certificate to work as a corrections officer in the state.

Stein, a longtime corrections officer at the Cumberland County Jail, was acquitted of a criminal assault charge by a jury, but the academy board still subsequently punished Stein for the incident.

The officer then appealed that board decision all the way to the state’s highest court, which on Tuesday issued its ruling against him, upholding the one-year suspension.

The case traces back to a June 17, 2011, incident during which Stein was helping a colleague remove a suicidal inmate from his cell in the jail’s 72-hour holding wing.

While Stein and the pod supervisor were preoccupied with the suicidal inmate, another inmate was returning to his cell on the second floor and grew impatient with Stein for not unlocking his cell door quickly enough.

“The inmate became agitated, climbed onto the second-floor railing, and threatened to commit suicide by jumping to the concrete below. Stein attempted to engage with the inmate, telling him that if he jumped he would only succeed in breaking his ankles,” wrote Silver in the court’s 15-page decision. “The inmate jumped feet first, landing directly in front of Stein. Stein heard the sound of bones breaking as the inmate fell to the ground.”

The corrections officer did not radio the jail medical staff at that point, as required by jail policy, Silver wrote, but “instead … grabbed the inmate’s shirt by the back of the collar and dragged the inmate, who was lying on his back, toward the medical department.”

Stein dragged the injured inmate a total of 127 feet, for approximately 46 seconds, according to the court’s ruling.

“[T]he [board’s] decision noted that Stein was aware that the inmate’s injuries likely involved broken bones, that Stein had been trained to immobilize an inmate who had sustained such serious injuries, that the inmate was screaming in pain, that the inmate’s buttocks were partially exposed while he was being dragged, and that Stein repeatedly asked the inmate, ‘Was it worth it?’” Silver wrote, in part.

The court rejected Stein’s arguments that his actions did not cause any of the inmate’s injuries — his two broken ankles were the result of his jump, not the subsequent dragging — or that the corrections officer was in a state of shock and simply trying to get the inmate to the medical office.

Silver wrote that the board could simply use the inmate’s obvious pain to justify its decision, and that Stein was properly trained to handle situations like the one in question, so shock shouldn’t have been a factor.

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