A federal jury has rejected a claim by a former Maine State Prison inmate that guards at the prison in Warren retaliated against him for reporting that he was severely beaten by another inmate armed with a prison-issued padlock.
The jury found after a two-day trial in U.S. District Court in Portland on Thursday that the former inmate, Keith Ayotte, failed to prove his claim that guards at the prison threatened him after the Oct. 28, 2010 padlock attack in order to silence him.
Ayotte is one of a group of four former and current inmates who have sued the state in federal court after being severely injured in inmate-on-inmate padlock attacks at the prison between 2010 and 2012.
While those lawsuits shed light on the problem of inmates using padlocks as weapons, the Department of Corrections continues to stand by its policy of issuing a padlock to every inmate and denies they pose a threat.
Department spokesman Scott Fish has said state law requires that inmates be provided a means to secure their belongings, and giving them padlocks meets that legal requirement.
Ayotte, 43, sued the state in 2011 in a two-pronged lawsuit, one prong for the actual padlock attack in 2010 and the other for the alleged retaliation by guards in an isolated prison room on March 15, 2011.
In the first prong, Ayotte accused the Department of Corrections and specific individuals within the department of “deliberate indifference” to inmate safety by issuing them padlocks with the knowledge that those padlocks could then be used as weapons.
He claimed the state’s disregard was a violation of his Eighth Amendment right protecting him from cruel and unusual punishment.
A judge rejected that first prong argument in a ruling from the bench before the trial began.
In the second prong, Ayotte claims guards brought him to a room with no cameras after he filed a complaint about being attacked with a padlock and forced him to strip naked “while they threatened him that he needed to keep his mouth shut about things that were going on, or they would bury him.”
The two guards accused in the retaliation prong, David Cutler and Curtiss Doyle, denied Ayotte’s claim and said the incident was a routine strip search to look for weapons and contraband.
The jury ruled in favor of Cutler and Doyle, issuing a verdict against Ayotte.
Magistrate Judge John Rich III also issued a judgment after the trial upholding a ruling in favor of Cutler and Doyle on Ayotte’s claim in the first prong of his suit.
Ayotte’s attorney, Verne Paradie of the Lewiston law firm Paradie, Sherman and Worden, represents each of the inmates in the four padlock lawsuits. One inmate, David Lakin, was attacked with a padlock on Sept. 10, 2010. Another, Gerard Landry, was assaulted on Sept. 6, 2011. And another, Benjamin Bean, was attacked on May 24, 2012.
The court has also rejected Lakin’s and Landry’s claims, but Bean’s lawsuit is still pending in U.S. District Court.
Paradie has appealed the court’s ruling in Lakin’s and Landry’s cases. The 1st U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Boston heard oral arguments on the appeal in March but has yet to make a ruling.
Ayotte, who now lives in New Hampshire, was released from prison in 2011 after serving a sentence for criminal threatening with a dangerous weapon.
Scott Dolan can be reached at 791-6304 or at: [email protected]