Steven Gruerman, 44, of Appleton was arrested Wednesday night for operating under the influence and without a license. Under normal circumstances, Portland police said Gruerman would have been taken to the Cumberland County Jail. But since August, the jail has limited intakes to the most severe offenses because of a lack of staff.

Police, who were not available for interviews, said in a press release that they had no option but to release Gruerman. A few hours later, they received a 911 call from workers at the Hampton Inn on Fore Street, who said they had locked themselves in an office because Gruerman was inside and threatening them.

Police said when they arrived, Gruerman threw a cup of hot coffee at an officer, punched a hole in the wall and kicked and punched officers as they tried to arrest him. They contacted the jail once more, which again refused to take him. In a written statement, Chief Heath Gorham called the incident “beyond frustrating” and said the jail’s policy puts officers and the community at risk.

“The corrections staff are frustrated as well because they’re trying to keep things going,” Cumberland County Sheriff Kevin Joyce said. Of the nearly 130 positions at the jail, about 70 are vacant.

“It becomes a balancing act,” Joyce said. “People think that you bring the inmate into the jail, somehow we put them on a shelf and we don’t deal with them until they get released. And the bottom line is we deal with people that are very ill, substance use disorders, mental illness, etcetera and they need a lot of time and care. And that’s what corrections officers do. And some of the corrections officers are monitoring, ya know, 60 and 70 inmates by themselves.”

As far as the arrest highlighted by Portland police, Joyce said the jail will be more flexible in the future about accepting people who have repeated involvement with law enforcement. But it’s unclear when the jail will fully reopen. For now, Joyce said his department is trying to recruit more corrections officers — and to ensure that working conditions are manageable so current officers stay.

This article appears through a media partnership with Maine Public.