A Cumberland County Jail corrections officer who allegedly punched an inmate in the face is being investigated by Portland police to determine whether his actions were criminal or violated jail policies, officials said Wednesday.
Cumberland County Sheriff Kevin Joyce announced the criminal investigation and internal affairs investigations into the alleged actions of Corrections Officer Vinal Thompson after “reviewing various videos” allegedly showing the scuffle between Thompson and the inmate, who was charged with aggravated trafficking of scheduled drugs, according to a statement Joyce released on Wednesday.
Thompson allegedly hit the inmate after the latter “started to back up and held his hands up as if to refuse to be handcuffed,” according to the statement.
The investigation of Thompson’s alleged actions on Tuesday is the second in as many months by an outside agency into Cumberland County Jail corrections officer conduct. The Maine Department of Corrections found that guards appropriately followed policy when they used pepper spray last year to subdue two inmates with mental illnesses. In both cases, the guards weren’t able to get the inmates to follow verbal commands to be handcuffed, so they sprayed into slots in their cell doors to force their compliance.
The state investigated the incidents at the request of the National Alliance on Mental Illness of Maine in early June, after Executive Director Jenna Mehnert sent a letter to officials saying she feared that guards had used excessive amounts of spray to remove the man and woman from their cells and drive them to Riverview Psychiatric Center in Augusta for psychiatric treatment.
The incidents occurred in February and March 2019, respectively, but Mehnert didn’t report them to the Department of Corrections, which has regulatory authority over the county jails, until last month because she wasn’t sure how to broach the matter without jeopardizing her working relationship with the Portland jail.
Tuesday’s incident began when the inmate, whose name was not released, allegedly started a disturbance while receiving medications at the jail at about 8:20 a.m. That’s when Thompson approached the inmate and attempted to handcuff him as part of removing the inmate from the area where other inmates were gathered.
“Both individuals went down on the floor and then went down two steps to a lower tier during the scuffle,” according to the statement.