A former teen who was incarcerated at two Maine youth prisons has sued the Maine Department of Corrections, claiming staff repeatedly used excessive force against him and placed him in solitary confinement for behavior related to his disabilities.
He also claims a female guard sexually assaulted him over months in her custody when he was still a minor, but the department failed to properly investigate the abuse when he came forward after his release.
The alleged events took place between 2012 and 2017 while Alexander Mascal, now 24, was imprisoned at the now-shuttered Mountain View Correctional Facility in Charleston and, later, Long Creek Youth Development Center in South Portland, according to a federal lawsuit filed Tuesday.
Mascal alleged that his treatment by staff violated his Eighth and Fourth Amendment rights under the U.S. Constitution, as well as his rights under the Americans with Disabilities Act. The complaint names multiple Department of Corrections officials and guards, known as juvenile program workers, as defendants.
The allegations are not the first of their kind to be leveled against Maine’s juvenile justice system, which has long faced criticism for failing to meet the complicated needs of kids in its care and doing further harm instead.
Mascal’s experience illustrates how the state failed its obligations to him under the juvenile code, which, unlike the adult system, is supposed to be rehabilitative in nature, his lawyers argued. Instead, he encountered repeated forms of violence and abuse.
“From the moment the doors of Mountain View closed behind him, Alexander found himself trapped in a veritable black box, defenseless to abuse and neglect at the hands of facility staff,” his lawyers, Thomas Hallett and Grainne Dunne, wrote in the complaint. “When he cried out for help, the system worked in concert to further criminalize him, ensuring he would spend the remainder of his childhood and much of his young adult life behind bars.”
A spokesperson for the Maine Department of Corrections did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Mascal spent time incarcerated at Mountain View and Long Creek until April 2016, following a difficult and unstable home life. By the time he was locked up at age 14, Mascal had been diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder, attention deficit and hyperactivity disorder, oppositional defiance disorder, a mood disorder and had a history of psychiatric hospitalizations.
His mental health struggles caused him to act out behind bars, he wrote. But instead of treating his symptoms, staff placed him in isolation in the prison’s special management unit, causing stress that made it harder to control his behavior and his mental health to deteriorate further, according to his complaint. Maine has rules about when, and for how long, kids in custody can be placed in isolation, and they are not allowed to be isolated as a form of punishment. Mascal alleges that he was subjected to isolation against those rules, and often as a form of punishment.
Staff also responded to his behavior with excessive physical force, such as throwing him against walls and to the ground, kicking and punching him, and using a spit mask to cover his face, according to the complaint, which includes photos of an altercation that was caught on camera.
“Most commonly, these physical assaults were precipitated by minor infractions or in response to Alexander experiencing mental health symptoms,” his complaint states.
Staff should have instead accommodated Mascal’s “known disabilities” by enlisting the help of a mental health clinician “to appropriately respond to any of Alexander’s outburst or self-harming behavior and use de-escalation methods to resolve any direct confrontations,” his lawyers wrote.
During his time behind bars, correctional staff referred Mascal for at least 20 additional criminal charges based on his behavior behind bars, often for assaulting guards but not always. In 2014, he threatened to kill himself while confined to an isolation cell and made a noose out of his bed sheet. He was later charged with making a false public report and criminal mischief, the complaint states.
After he was charged for assaulting a guard at Mountain View, Mascal was transferred to Long Creek in the spring of 2014. A few months later, in October, he alleged that then-Juvenile Program Worker Elia Atkinson entered his cell one night and sexually assaulted him. People in custody cannot legally give consent.
The two had 10 more sexual encounters over a 14-month period until Mascal left Long Creek because he was transferred to the Cumberland County Jail, the complaint states. When he was released from jail in February 2017, the two began openly dating. Mascal had just turned 19, and Atkinson was 37, according to the complaint.
Atkinson had left her job at Long Creek by December 2017, when Mascal “began to recognize the abusive and coercive nature of their relationship,” the complaint states. He contacted his former case worker and reported the sexual relationship had started while he was incarcerated at Long Creek.
When he was interviewed by a prison investigator three weeks later, he also reported that Atkinson allegedly provided him with alcohol and Suboxone, a medication used to treat opioid use disorder.
Mascal claims in his lawsuit that officials failed to properly investigate his complaint and covered up the allegations.
After being interviewed, he did not hear from the investigator, Joseph Fagone, again.
Mascal later requested paperwork from the Department of Corrections related to its investigation and received a one-page document that did not mention Atkinson as the alleged perpetrator but instead named another person Mascal said he had never met, according to the complaint.
Mascal later learned that the Maine Criminal Justice Academy, which oversees the certifications of police and correctional officers, had revoked Atkinson’s certification for furnishing alcohol to a minor in 2018. The paperwork did not mention a sexual assault.