Maine Officials Seeking Pepper-spray Video Leak

When one officer pinned his head to the chair, Schlosser struggled and spit at an officer. Welch sprayed him at close range with pepper spray, called OC spray, from a canister intended to be used on multiple people at a distance of 18 to 20 feet, according to an investigator’s report.

Welch then refused to let Schlosser, who said he couldn’t breathe, wash his face for 24 minutes. A spit mask was placed over Schlosser’s mouth and nose, trapping the pepper spray against his face.

An investigation concluded that Welch’s use of force was excessive and motivated in part by personal animosity.

Portland Press Herald – “The video and related documents recount how Capt. Shawn Welch, an official at the Maine Correctional Center in Windham, used pepper spray on an inmate who was bound in a restraint chair, then left him in distress for more than 20 minutes. A story about the incident appeared in this week’s Maine Sunday Telegram.

Scott Burnheimer, superintendent of the medium- and minimum-security prison, fired Welch over the incident, but that decision was overruled by Corrections Commissioner Joseph Ponte, who gave Welch a 30-day suspension, according to the documents and interviews.

The newspaper story and video posted on the paper’s website led the chairmen of the Legislature’s Criminal Justice and Public Safety Committee to seek a review of the incident.

The committee plans to review the incident in the context of the department’s experience with use of force and its policies for investigations, said Rep. Mark Dion, D-Portland.

It asked the Corrections Department Wednesday to provide data on the prisons’ use of force and investigations, and plans to have the department’s leadership discuss that data and the incident with legislators on March 27.

The Department of Corrections has assigned an investigator to determine how the information got out.

“Your possession of that indicates a breach of security on our part and we absolutely do need to look into that,” said Associate Commissioner Jody Breton. “We certainly will be tightening up security — where (information) is stored, who has access.”

Breton said the probe is not being conducted because the story and video cast the department in a poor light, but because it revealed private information about an inmate.

Advocates for prisoners and for corrections officers criticized the investigation.

“The use of the department’s resources should be going into training of their staff and officers and management so this kind of incident doesn’t happen again,” said Judy Garvey of the Maine Prisoner Advocacy Coalition. “Trying to find out how the information got into the hands of a reporter shows a reluctance to have transparency. It reeks of government heavy-handedness in oversight.” Full Story Here

 

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