A Portland mother is suing the Maine Department of Corrections, claiming that two guards at the state youth prison knocked out her 11-year-old son’s teeth while he was incarcerated last July.
In a lawsuit filed by the ACLU of Maine on Wednesday, Sadiya Ali claims that staff at the Long Creek Youth Development Center “bashed” her son’s face into a metal bed frame while he was locked in his cell alone and then “deliberately withheld” emergency dental treatment.
A judge eventually dismissed the charges against the boy, the complaint states, but there’s still a hole where his front teeth once were.
The civil rights suit, which does not name the child, claims that the incident stems from prison officials’ failure to treat his severe attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, despite repeated urgings that the boy needed medication.
It was filed in a Portland federal court a year after the commissioner of corrections first publicly acknowledged that Long Creek staff cannot treat the prison’s many mentally ill inmates and six months after an independent review of the facility found “dangerous and harmful conditions” in general and that “excessive force” had been use on Ali’s son.
Corrections Commissioner Joseph Fitzpatrick said Wednesday morning that he could not comment on the suit or whether the two guards named in it still work for the Department of Corrections because the matter is before a court.
[As new leaders work to right youth prison, advocates call for closure]
The alarming incident described in the suit and the possibility of a protracted legal fight will likely fuel the kindling debate over how to better serve troubled Maine youth and bolster calls, led by the ACLU, to close Long Creek.
“The brutal beating of an 11-year-old child is a stark reminder that Long Creek is a prison, and the young people held there are treated like prisoners,” Zachary Heiden, legal director of the ACLU of Maine, said in a statement. “It’s time to stop putting our kids in prison and start getting them the help they need.”
Ali and her infant son arrived in the United States 10 years ago as refugees of war and famine in Somalia.
Last summer, the boy was charged with two misdemeanors after becoming “upset” that he was not allowed to swim in the deep end of a public pool, the suit states. The charges landed him in what corrections officials refer to as the “deep end” of Maine’s juvenile justice system.
[‘We will have another incident’: Prison cannot treat severely mentally ill youth]
A month in Long Creek
The sixth-grader was taken to Long Creek on June 24, 2017. Two days later a judge ordered that he be held there after a prosecutor implied that the boy would be safer in the prison than at home, according to the complaint. Exactly a month later, his teeth were allegedly knocked out.
The boy arrived at Long Creek during what officials publicly acknowledged was a staffing crisis. The demands of trying to handle young people whose mental illness exceeded their training had driven some corrections officers to quit Long Creek, forcing those who remained to regularly work 16-hour double shifts.
[Staff shortages plague ‘dumping ground’ for youth with mental illness]
Over the remainder of June and most of July, Ali’s son acted out at the prison, getting into “altercations” and displaying what the suit describes as “escalating symptoms” of his ADHD.
Prison officials identified his mental illness, but instead of administering medication or therapy, the staff allegedly meted out punishments that made the 11-year-old’s symptoms worse. The boy had an existing prescription for ADHD medication when he arrived at Long Creek but stopped receiving it there, according to the suit.
On July 10, a social worker at Long Creek informed a nurse practitioner at the prison that Ali’s son had been prescribed Ritalin, the complaint states, but instead of being given the drug or counseling he was confined to his room.
Eight days later, as the boy’s behavior continued to worsen, the nurse wrote in medical records quoted in the lawsuit that “he would certainly benefit from ADHD medication.” But she did not prescribe the medication because the 11-year-old had said he would refuse to take it, the suit states.
On July 20, a judge found that the boy was not competent to stand trial, dismissed the charges against him and ordered he be released as soon as “home and community-based treatment” was put in place, according to the complaint.
[Closing Maine’s embattled youth prison ‘not so simple’]
But on July 26, the boy was still in Long Creek. That morning he threw his breakfast tray on the cafeteria floor after being told he wouldn’t be allowed to attend a prison picnic, the suit states. In response staff allegedly locked him in his cell and later refused his repeated requests to use the bathroom.
In response, the boy began threatening to throw something at the sprinklers to set them off and corrections officers were sent in to remove all objects from his cell, the complaint states. While the guards were in the room the 11-year-old spat at them.
The suit states that the two guards responded by restraining the boy, who was 5 feet, 3 inches tall and weighed less than 120 pounds. The two men then “proceeded to bash [his] face into the metal bed frame,” sending up a spurt of blood, knocking out one tooth and shattering another at the gum line, according to the suit.
It would be six days before the boy saw a dentist, the suit states. When Ali visited her son a few days later and asked about his missing teeth, a Long Creek staff member allegedly told her that he’d tripped and fallen on his bed.
‘Clearly used excessive force’
The Department of Corrections has surveillance camera footage of the incident, according to the suit. The video was reviewed by the Center for Children’s Law and Policy, which audited Long Creek in September, interviewing staff members and combing through prison records.
The Washington, D.C.-based think tank found that “staff clearly used excessive force” on Ali’s son, but that the incident had been downplayed in written reports. As of September, it was still under investigation, the group’s 75-page report states.
[Report urges state to overhaul Maine’s entire juvenile justice system]
The two guards who allegedly knocked out the boy’s teeth are Michael A. Mullin and Daniel A. Ferrante. Spokesmen for the Department of Administrative and Financial Services and the union that represents Maine corrections officers did not answer questions Tuesday and Wednesday about whether they still work for the state. Neither of the guards could be immediately reached.
After the boy’s teeth were knocked out, he was shackled and sent to a hospital emergency room, the suit states. At Maine Medical Center, an on-call doctor learned that Long Creek keeps an oral surgeon on staff and sent the boy back to prison for treatment.
Six days later, the surgeon employed by Long Creek’s private medical provider “withheld treatment” because the boy was cursing and could not sit still, according to the suit.
Rep. Charlotte Warren, D-Hallowell, who is co-chair of the Legislature’s criminal justice and public safety committee, said she was heartbroken by allegations in the lawsuit and frustrated that lawmakers were again learning about problems at Long Creek through news reports.
Twice this session the committee asked staff in Gov. Paul LePage’s administration to answer questions about the corrections system in public hearings, and both times the officials did not show up, Warren said.
“Until we have cooperation and communication, this dysfunction will continue,” she said.
Along with the Department of Corrections, the lawsuit names as defendants Fitzpatrick; Long Creek Superintendent Caroline Raymond, who began that job in October; the prison itself; and Correct Care Solutions, a Tennessee-based company which provides medical care there.
A spokesman for Correct Care Solutions said he could not immediately provide any comment Wednesday morning and that it is the company’s policy not to comment on pending litigation.
Ali, who does not speak English, is also suing the two guards; Kim Foster, the nurse who allegedly didn’t prescribe her son ADHD medication; and Dr. David Drohan, the oral surgeon, as individuals. Foster and Drohan could not be immediately reached for comment.
Ali has requested trial by jury and is seeking punitive damages and reimbursement for legal costs.
Her son was released from Long Creek on Aug. 2, according to the suit, but has since been charged with two new offenses. Ali is asking the court to bar him from being sent back to the prison.
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