A guard at the Cumberland County Jail could face criminal charges for punching an inmate in the face Tuesday morning.

Officer Vinal Thompson is on paid administrative leave while the Portland Police Department investigates the incident. Sheriff Kevin Joyce said Wednesday that he watched security footage of the confrontation and requested the criminal investigation.

“I’m very disappointed in what I saw,” Joyce said. “I’ll leave it at that.”

The use of force in county jails has come under recent scrutiny.

The head of the Maine chapter of the National Alliance on Mental Illness called for an independent review after employees at the Cumberland County Jail used pepper spray on two incarcerated people who were experiencing mental illnesses and needed to be transferred to the state’s psychiatric hospital. A state review released this week found those staff members followed the jail’s existing policies.

And a man who was incarcerated at the Kennebec County Correctional Facility filed a lawsuit this week against a guard who he claims assaulted him at the jail last year.

Joyce said this incident took place at 8:20 a.m. Tuesday during the part of the day when inmates receive their medication under supervision. He said one inmate “started to create a disturbance.” Thompson approached the inmate and tried to handcuff him to remove him from the pod, but the inmate started to back up and held his hands up as if to refuse the handcuffs.

“Officer Thompson immediately began to punch the inmate in the face, and they both began to scuffle,” Joyce said in a news release.

The two went down to the floor and two steps to a lower level. Joyce said the inmate was not handcuffed during the struggle. Another guard intervened. Both the inmate and the guard received medical treatment at the hospital but are no longer there.

Joyce said the video does not have sound, so he isn’t sure what was said before or during the confrontation. The incident will be investigated by both the police and internal staff.

“There’s a lot of questions,” Joyce said.

The Portland Press Herald requested a copy of the video late Wednesday afternoon in a public records request.

A defense attorney who is representing the inmate in his criminal case did not return a message to his office Wednesday. The man is being held in pretrial custody for aggravated drug trafficking.

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