A former inmate at Cumberland County Jail is suing a corrections officer for using a racial slur and for retaliating against the inmate when he tried to report the offensive language.

In a federal civil rights lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court in Portland last week, the former inmate referred to only by the initials S.C. says that after the incident involving the racial slur, the corrections officer told other inmates that S.C. was a federal informant, and as a result S.C. was assaulted by another inmate.

In an unusual move, a top sheriff’s department official confirmed that Corrections Officer James J. Harriman used the racial slur, and made the disclosure about S.C.’s informant status.

In response, Harriman was coached and counseled on the issue and ordered to attend two training classes – one for anger management, and another on de-escalation techniques, Cumberland County Chief Deputy Naldo Gagnon said.

The lawsuit names Harriman and Cumberland County Sheriff Kevin Joyce and seeks unspecified damages.

Gagnon at first disputed that Harriman used the slur. He reversed course in a follow-up conversation and confirmed that Harriman used the term in conversation with S.C., but said the interaction was not confrontational.

Gagnon said two African-American inmates were talking and using the racial slur between themselves when Harriman joined in and used it, too.

Gagnon also confirmed that Harriman later disclosed to inmates that S.C. was an informant. However, Gagnon downplayed the incident, saying it was not egregious.

“There was no specific information (disclosed),” he said. “It was only alluded to that this guy was a snitch.”

‘AN OBLIGATION TO PROTECT’

Harriman received more coaching and counseling for making the disclosure, Gagnon said, a disciplinary decision made by another commanding officer at the time.

The lawsuit alleges that because of Harriman’s disclosure about S.C.’s cooperation, he was assaulted by an inmate who called him a “rat” during the attack. A jail staff member also used a Taser to stun S.C. during the altercation, the lawsuit alleges.

The injuries to his face caused pain and discomfort for months, the suit said.

Reached Wednesday, Harriman said he had not seen the lawsuit or been formally notified of it, and declined to comment on it.

S.C. was being held at the jail as a pretrial detainee and was housed there starting in the spring of 2017.

He was eventually sentenced in January 2018 to serve 20 months of a five-year sentence for a felony unlawful trafficking conviction, according to the Department of Corrections records. He served about half of the sentence before he was released on probation, said his attorney, Michael Waxman.

Waxman said the case is fundamentally about whether Harriman veered from the formal inmate disciplinary process to levy revenge, and in doing so potentially endangered S.C.’s life and violated his constitutional rights.

“It’s very clear under the law that for pretrial detainees, you can’t punish them for prison rules violations unless they are afforded due process,” Waxman said in a telephone interview. “(Corrections officers) have an obligation to protect them and keep them safe, at the very least.”

ALTERNATIVE SERIES OF EVENTS

In response to Harriman’s use of the racial slur, he was ordered to undergo anger management training, and attend a de-escalation course called Verbal Judo, Gagnon said.

The lawsuit also lays out a different series of events that led up to the use of the racial slur than what the sheriff’s office described.

According to the suit, S.C. and Harriman began arguing over whether S.C. was permitted to have two mattresses in his cell.

In the course of the argument, Harriman allegedly called S.C. the racial slur, the suit alleges.

S.C. then asked to make a confidential phone call to a Cumberland County Sheriff’s Office employee who investigates crimes within the jail and sometimes assists with internal affairs investigations of jail staff. The investigator operates a tip line for inmates to use to report incidents or crime in the jail.

The suit alleges that Harriman believed the confidential call was to report Harriman’s use of the racial slur during their argument. S.C. alleges that in retaliation, Harriman told four inmates in the same housing unit that S.C. was a federal informant.

Matt Byrne can be contacted at 791-6303 or at:

[email protected]

Twitter: MattByrnePPH

Comments are disabled on some stories about sensitive topics.