In the hours before he died in prison, Dana Bartlett was afraid.
He was scared of his cellmates and asked a guard repeatedly to move him to another room at the Bolduc Correctional Facility, according to two men who were incarcerated with him.
Maine prison policy says when one inmate reports conflict with another to a guard, that report should be run up the chain of command to an officer who “shall” investigate and “determine the appropriate level of prisoner separation.”
But on the afternoon of June 24, the guard on duty rebuffed Bartlett’s repeated pleas to be moved, said the two men, who were each witness to one or more of the requests. By evening, Bartlett was dead.
Neither of the inmates claims to have seen Bartlett’s death or to know how he died. Officials have not released any information about its cause and no one has been charged with a related crime.
Corrections Commissioner Joseph Fitzpatrick said he could not comment on “anything even tangentially related” to the investigation of Bartlett’s death. The Maine State Police are handling it and have not briefed him, Fitzpatrick said Thursday evening.
A Maine State Police spokesman said Friday that he could not comment on an ongoing investigation. He referred questions about prison staff and policy to the Department of Corrections.
Inmate deaths are rare at Bolduc, a minimum-security work farm that’s often a prisoner’s last stop before release. More than a month after Bartlett’s, police have told the public next to nothing about what happened to the 28-year-old, who was serving a 16-month sentence for theft and repeated driving infractions. The circumstances of his death raise questions about whether corrections staff followed protocol designed to keep inmates safe.
“This poor kid loses his life and it could have been avoided,” said Jason Palmiter, who was finishing a sentence for felony robbery at Bolduc when Bartlett was killed. He has since been released.
“I feel it’s definitely an incident that could have been avoided,” said William Jines, who was serving a domestic violence sentence at the prison before being released last week.
Both men said Bartlett was agitated in the days leading up to his death. He worried aloud about his cellmates, they said.
Kris Worrey, Bartlett’s fiancee, said he “seemed kind of off” the day before his death and had told her that he’d been getting into fights. Earlier in June, one of Bartlett’s cellmates “ripped” him out of his bed and “slammed” him on the floor, Palmiter said.
Nonetheless, Palmiter said, it didn’t occur to people at Bolduc that Bartlett’s life might be in peril.
“Nobody realized that would happen. Probably [the guard] didn’t, either,” he said. “But the problem is that there’s protocol and if you say you’re not safe or you need to move they’re supposed to go in and assess the situation. And maybe that wouldn’t have happened if [the guard] did.”
Jines and Palmiter said Bartlett asked the same corrections officer to move him to another cell twice during the morning and early afternoon. He made a final request around 3 p.m., when Jines said he heard the guard reply, “Leave me alone or I’m going to write you up.”
Worrey said she didn’t know much about her fiance’s death. “All they told me is that he got into an altercation with an inmate and a guard,” she wrote in a July Facebook message. She hasn’t responded to calls and messages since.
Bartlett had three cellmates when he died. Jines declined to identify them, and Palmiter said he only knew the real name of one. That man is now being held at the Maine State Prison.
After Bartlett died, the whole prison went on lockdown for 45 minutes, Jines and Palmiter said. After that, the inmates were escorted out of their living quarters and into the prison’s separate gymnasium where they waited for hours, they said.
It was late when the guards brought them back. Despite prison staff’s efforts, inmates saw the crime scene investigation truck in the parking lot, Jines said.
Back in his room, Palmiter said he could see police taking photographs through the window in Bartlett’s cell.
He watched for a while, he said, until someone covered the window with a sheet.
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