But For Video: Acceptable Aberrational Abuse

If it happens every time, then it’s a “problem.” But if it’s the “exception rather than the rule,” then no problem.

From the Portland Press Herald, the Maine legislature’s criminal justice committee is reviewing the use of a prison restraint and the pepper spraying of a bipolar inmate to “to ensure it is an aberration and not an ongoing practice.”  What are the chances that the anyone will give them the real answer, “we don’t use it all the time; just when they deserve it”?

The inmate, Paul Schlosser, refused to go to the medical unit for a self-inflicted arm wound, suffers from bipolar disorder, a mental illness. What a surprise. So the inmate, spits at the guards, as mentally ill people sometimes do.  And the staff is only there to help, in their own friendly way, because corrections is a great place for dealing with people with mental illness due to their sensitivity to their needs. So what do they do?

But when one of the officers pins back Schlosser’s head, as his arms are being put into the chair’s restraints, Schlosser starts to struggle. When he spits at one of the officers, Welch sprays him with pepper spray, also called OC spray.

Schlosser becomes compliant and complains about not being able to breathe. One officer puts a spit mask on him, trapping the pepper spray on Schlosser’s face.

Welch tells him he must cooperate to avoid similar treatment. Schlosser is in distress for 24 minutes before he is allowed to wash his face.

An investigator’s report on the incident, obtained by the Maine Sunday Telegram, said Welch used a pepper spray canister that was intended for multiple subjects, 18 to 20 feet away.

When all you have is a hammer and an inmate spits, you have to do something.  Actually, it’s fortunate that Welsh didn’t have a hammer. Forget about the fact that this began because Schlosser needed medical treatment. Spit changes everything.

Corrections Commissioner Joseph Ponte said last week the incident started out with the prison staff correctly trying to get Schlosser the treatment he needed despite his resistance.

Ponte said Welch’s behavior as the incident went on was troubling, but he determined, based on Welch’s unblemished record, that a suspension was appropriate and that Welch would not be fired.

Thirty days, no pay, for Welch. Before you scoff at the leniency, do you have any idea how that will negatively affect his pension? The other guards, the ones who pinned Schlosser back, put him in restraints and made sure he didn’t attack again, are on the short list for promotion.

When the video of this abuse came to light, it forced legislators to get involved (because without the video, it never happend). Work, work, work.

Gerzofsky said the committee’s role is to make sure that incidents like the one involving Welch and Schlosser are the exception and not commonplace.

Rep. Mark Dion, D-Portland, House chairman of the committee and former sheriff of Cumberland County, which has the state’s largest county jail, said use of force to control or manage inmate behavior is part of a corrections officer’s duties.

What remains an unknown is how many prisoners are put into this restraint chair and, within inches of their face, sprayed with pepper spray, intended for use against crowds from a distance of 20 feet. How many are cool with the legislators? Is ten prisoners a year good, but 20 too many? 

Not surprisingly, the answer comes not from a deep, abiding concern for the human being subjected to this treatment, but the pocketbook.

The Judiciary Committee plans to hold a hearing Tuesday on a bill that seeks to prevent prisoners from filing protection-from-harassment complaints against corrections personnel.

“This process safeguards against harassment and retaliation by corrections personnel,” the statement said. “It should be obvious that this protection needs to remain in place even if used only a few times a year.”

Apparently, the Maine Legislature is prepared to accept a few prisoner abuse lawsuits per year in the name of angry prison guards, but if they do it too often, they could bust the budget. That’s something the legislators just can’t accept.

It’s good to know that Yankee thrift and lack of concern for the abuse of prisoners remains alive and well in Maine.  As long as abuse is an aberration, everybody is cool with it. Except maybe the people being abused, but it’s not like anybody really cares about mentally ill prisoners anyway.

H/T FritzMuffKnuckle

11 comments on “But For Video: Acceptable Aberrational Abuse

  1. Keith

    What’s the punishment to a Prison Guard/Captain, if any, for this kind of behavior? This is absolutely ridiculous.

  2. SHG

    Welch was originally fired, but then reinstated with a 30 day suspension without pay. Had there not been video, there would have been no problem at all.

  3. Dr. Sigmund Droid

    Greenfield, I have come to the conclusion that technology can and should be used to save us all — from our own government. Because I agree if it’s not on video or otherwise recorded, it didn’t happen . . .

    So Wheeze the People™ should demand that the excellent surveillance technology, — now cheaply available, — be turned, nay, rather laser-aimed, back at our governmental servants . . .

    I believe that our faithful servants have no right to privacy whilst serving us (with maybe the taking a dump exception). Every move they make, every breath they take, every word they fake while on doodie shall be recorded, preferable by video with GPS location . . .

    Every public servant, — cops (especially), prosecutors, judges, legislators, prison guards, DMV employees, teachers, principals, you name it — whilst serving Wheeze the People™, should be surveilled with the same intensity, or more, that we, the actual public, including those of us who work for private companies, are already subjected to . . .

    Make ‘em all wear the Google Glass while on duty, put the following in every government employee handbook: “All activities you perform as a public servant are being recorded for quality-assurance purposes”, and make ‘em sign that clause in blood . . .

    I can just about guarantee you, under the Little Brother™ solution (get it?? government is Big Brother and we, the little people, get to play Little Brother), the nutters in government would quickly conform; otherwise they would soon be cast out, as they should . . .

  4. Dr. Sigmund Droid

    And I don’t disagree with the notion of government unions hating the idea but does that then imply what’s good enough for the little people isn’t good enough for the big people?? . . .

  5. bacchys

    There is no valid reason to use OC spray against a detainee already restrained in a restraint chair. None.

    The punishment to CPT Welch is woefully inadequate.

  6. SHG

    No, no, no. You meant to say there is no lawful or legitimate reason to use OC spray against a detainee already restrained in a restraint chair.

    There is a reason, that Welch was angry at Schlosser for spitting at him and needed to teach him a brutal lesson. It’s a bad reason.  But as long as it doesn’t happen too often, not bad enough to stop.

  7. Patrick Norton

    I just came across this blog and story by accident. It reminds me of a similar incident that I witnessed back in 1999, in the King County (WA) Regional Detention Center in Kent, just south of Seattle. I was being detained along with several hundred other anti-WTO protesters. The occupants of the holding cell next to the one I was in decided to link arms and refuse to leave (to be brought to the regular cells) until we had been given a chance to speak with a lawyer. Our NLG lawyer was waiting outside, but the guards denied this. When they tried to get the prisoners out of the holding cell they lifted the first one, a friend of mine named Martin, into one of those damned chairs.

    Martin, a pacifist man in his late fifties, asked the guard if he was alright, fearing that he might have injured his back. At that point the guard sprayed Martin in his eyes with a riot-sized can of pepper foam, and then with a towel ground the stuff into Martin’s eye with his thumb. Then they wheeled him away to the cell block. After that it was much easier to get the prisoners out, but each one was put into one of those chairs.

    I witnessed all of this from less than ten feet away, but according to the warden none of it ever occurred. No video, no incident, end of story. Martin filed a complaint but never took it all the way. He is a gentle man but had suffered previous trauma, and didn’t have the stamina for a protracted legal battle, which may well have gotten no further, without a video. Later I was interviewed about the incident by a reporter from the Progressive Magazine [Ed. Note: Link deleted per rules.]
    Thank you for your website and your work.
    Patrick Norton

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