A corrections officer from the Cumberland County Jail watched in court Wednesday as his attorney fought for him to keep his job.

Attorney Kristine Hanly, representing Nicholas Stein, argued that he should not be suspended for dragging an injured inmate 127 feet across a concrete floor.

Stein appealed the one-year suspension of his certificate to work as a guard to the Maine Supreme Judicial Court, which heard oral arguments Wednesday.

The Board of Trustees of the Criminal Justice Academy ordered Stein’s certificate suspended after concluding “by a preponderance of the evidence” that he assaulted Brian Cote on June 17, 2011.

A jury acquitted Stein of a criminal assault charge involving that incident. The standard for conviction in a criminal trial is higher, requiring proof beyond a reasonable doubt.

Several of the justices questioned Stein’s fitness as a corrections officer if he went into shock, as he said he did, after Cote jumped from the top rail of a second-floor deck at the jail and broke both ankles.

Hanly said Stein, who had 12 years of experience as a corrections officer, was “in shock, in fear” and in a rush to get Cote to the medical unit. She said the entire event occurred in 46 seconds, and is shown on a jail video recording, which the justices viewed. There is no sound with the video.

Stein’s actions in the video are described in Superior Court Justice Thomas Warren’s decision affirming the suspension: “He saw Cote lying on the floor screaming in pain and knew Cote was injured … There is also no dispute that Stein then handcuffed Cote and dragged Cote by the shirt collar, with Cote’s injured feet dragging along behind, for a distance of 127 feet to the medical unit.”

Associate Justice Ellen Gorman asked Hanly whether she would concede that Stein’s actions were “a gross deviation from what we should expect a corrections officer to do in those circumstances.”

Hanly said no, “not in the moment,” and Stein did not act recklessly. She also said his actions were without malice.

One justice noted that Stein had some emergency medical training and should have known better than to drag someone who might have back injuries.

Assistant Attorney General Dennis Smith, representing the academy’s trustees, told the justices, “No one, whether an inmate or a person in the street, should be dragged in that fashion.”

The trustees originally proposed revoking Stein’s certification as a corrections officer, but modified it to a suspension at the recommendation of the hearing officer.

Hanly told the justices that Stein was terminated from his job for six months in connection with the incident, but was reinstated and has continued to work at the jail.

Cote has filed a federal lawsuit against Stein, other corrections personnel and the jail over the incident.

The Maine Supreme Judicial Court issues decisions in writing weeks, and sometimes months, after arguments are heard.

Betty Adams can be contacted at 621-5631 of at:

[email protected]

Twitter: @betadams


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