The Maine Legislature’s Criminal Justice Committee is reviewing the alleged mistreatment of a Maine Correctional Center inmate last year after video of the incident was leaked to the public. Lawmakers say they are looking into the matter to ensure the behavior displayed by corrections officers in the video is not the everyday norm.
The disturbing video, recorded by one of the corrections officers back in June of 2012, shows an inmate, identified as Paul Schlosser III, bound in a restraint chair being transported to a cell by officers. When they tried to put the inmate’s arms into the restraints to treat a self-inflicted arm injury, he became agitated and spit at one of the officers. Capt. Shawn Welch proceeded to spray Schlosser’s face with pepper spray from a canister intended to be used on multiple people at a distance of 18 to 20 feet.
After being sprayed, Schlosser repeatedly complained that he couldn’t breath and asked officers not to restrain his head or put their hands on his eyes. Officers later placed a spit mask on his face, which he begged them to take off because it caused the mace to become trapped against his face.
“When will you pull this off?” he asks officers in the video. “I can’t breath through it, I can’t breath good.”
“If you’re talking you’re breathing,” an officer replies.
“I’m not breathing well,” Schlosser said. “Can you just please take the face mask off.”
Schlosser, who reportedly suffers from bipolar disorder and depression and was on several medications at the time, was in distress for 24 minutes before he was allowed to wash his face, the Press Herald reports.
Watch the video of the incident via the Press Herald below (Warning! Very graphic content and language):
A previous investigator’s report concluded that Capt. Welch’s use of force was indeed excessive and motivated partly by personal animosity, according to the Press Herald.
Further, Scott Burnheimer, the superintendent of the medium and minimum-security prison, was initially going to fire Welch for his actions, however, the decision was overturned by Corrections Commissioner Joseph Ponte. Welch received a 30-day suspension.
Ponte said Welch’s behavior was troubling, but he decided, based on Welch’s clean history, that a suspension was appropriate rather than termination.
Main Sen. Stan Gerzofsky (D-Brunswick), chairman of the Criminal Justice and Public Safety Committee, told the Portland Press Herald that committee members are currently reviewing the incident.
“My initial reaction was how appalled I was. I was really mad,” Gerzofsky said. “I’ve had issues with the use of the (restraint) chair over the years.”
Meanwhile, the Department of Corrections in the state has assigned an investigator to figure out how the video of the incident got leaked.
Associate Commissioner Jody Breton said the investigation was not initiated because the video showed the Department of Corrections in a negative light, but rather because the inmates personal information was released.
The full video is more than two hours long. To see the entire uncut video, click here.