PORTLAND, Maine — County commissioners agreed with the sheriff’s recommendation to fire the administrator of a jail that dealt with one of the state’s largest COVID-19 outbreaks last year.
Michael Vitiello, who ran the York County Jail for two decades, was recommended for dismissal Friday by county commissioners after an investigation and recommendation by Sheriff William King. Vitiello will likely appeal the decision, his attorney said.
Vitiello had been on administrative leave since September following an outbreak involving at least 96 cases of the virus among staff and inmates.
An investigation concluded that the virus was brought into the jail by a corrections officer who attended a wedding in the Katahdin region that became a superspreader event.
One of the key issues, according to the investigation, was that no masks were required inside the jail except during the intake process. The lack of a mask mandate raised fears among staff and inmates.
King wrote in a letter that Vitiello “balked” when he suggested corrections officers wear masks.
“The masking issue, which was in fact crucial, left us vulnerable,” King wrote.
Vitiello said he felt the issue had to be negotiated with the union. He also said his position evolved over time, noting that early on he was concerned that masks might cause panic in the jail population.
His attorney, Michael Waxman, said it’s unfortunate that the jail had an outbreak but he noted that there were eight outbreaks in Maine even after the Department of Corrections tightened up rules for staff and inmates. One of them was larger than the York County Jail outbreak, he said.
“Michael ends up being the head that has to roll because something bad, and perhaps unavoidable, happened,” he said. “It’s unfortunate that Mike Vitiello is the one who has to be thrown under the bus. It’s not fair.”