PORTLAND, Maine — The Maine Department of Corrections is denying that two guards at the state youth prison knocked out the teeth of an 11-year-old inmate last summer.
In Wednesday court filings, a lawyer for the department broadly denied many of the allegations that the boy’s mother made in a spring lawsuit, writing that his injuries were self-inflicted.
In March, the ACLU of Maine sued on behalf of Sadiya Ali, claiming 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.
Assistant Attorney General James Fortin denied that the boy — who is referred to as A.I. in court documents — was refused medical care or assaulted, but acknowledged that the department has video footage of the alleged incident.
The ACLU may be able to obtain this video through discovery, a process that allows litigants to request evidence before a trial, and it is likely to play an important role in the civil suit the group is bringing even as it campaigns to close Long Creek.
The civil rights suit claims that the incident stems from prison officials’ failure to treat A.I.’s severe attention deficit hyperactivity disorder.
It was filed in federal court a year after the commissioner of corrections 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 used on Ali’s son.
Fortin, however, denies this. The lawyer says that the two guards, who had been in A.I.’s cell removing objects the boy had threatened to throw at a sprinkler, did not “forcefully restrain” him or otherwise act “forcibly.” “A.I.’s injuries were caused by his own fault,” the lawyer wrote.
The state’s court filing does not explain further how the boy was hurt. A Long Creek staff member allegedly told Ali that her son lost his teeth from tripping and falling onto his bed, the suit states.
Corrections Commissioner Joseph Fitzpatrick previously declined to say whether the two guards named in the suit, Michael A. Mullin and Daniel A. Ferrante, still work for the department. A database of Maine government expenditures shows that they drew salaries in 2017, but does not list them as having been paid in 2018.
Ali has requested trial by jury and is seeking punitive damages and reimbursement for legal costs. But Fortin said that she lacks the grounds to sue because of “A.I.’s failure to exhaust available administrative remedies.” He also said that the corrections staff named in the suit have immunity as government employees.
The suit also names Correct Care Solutions, which provides medical care at Long Creek, and two of its employees. In a Monday court filing, lawyers for the Tennessee-based company also denied many of the suit’s allegations and asked that Ali not be awarded damages.
ACLU lawyer Emma Bond said it is notable that neither the company nor the department asked that the suit be dismissed. “We look forward to learning more in discovery,” she wrote in an email.
Follow Jake Bleiberg at: @JZBleiberg.
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