Michael Vitiello Tammy Wells Photo

ALFRED — Former York County Jail Administrator Michael Vitiello has appealed his dismissal to York County Superior Court in a single filing that encompasses both an appeal of the governmental action taken by York County Commissioners to terminate him, and a civil suit.

The suit and appeal, filed July 28, names the county itself and York County Sheriff William King, County Commissioners Richard Dutremble, Richard Clark, Donna Ring, Allen Sicard and Robert Andrews, along with York County Manager Greg Zinser in their official capacities, in connection with the dismissal.

Vitiello, who had been York County Jail administrator for more than 20 years, was dismissed in connection with a lack of mask wearing at the jail prior to an Aug. 19 coronavirus outbreak. He had been on paid administrative leave for 10 months following the outbreak that began after a corrections officer who had attended a Millinocket wedding on Aug. 7 returned to work Aug. 13, even though he didn’t feel well. After working several shifts, the officer subsequently tested positive for COVID-19.

Following a day-long hearing June 18, York County Commissioners voted to accept King’s recommendation that Vitiello be dismissed, and unanimously reaffirmed that decision on Wednesday, June 23 when they approved an 8-page, 38-point fact-finding document.

Vitiello’s appeal alleges “pretextual, arbitrary and capricious conduct by the defendants in the biased and prejudicial hearing into the recommendation to terminate Plaintiff,” the filing states. It goes on to allege that there was a failure to show just cause for terminating Vitiello’s employment, and for the failure to reinstate him “after determining the majority of the allegations against him to be unsubstantiated.”

The appeal alleges that the disciplinary process was motivated by “bad faith and political desires to seek favor with their electorate.”

The civil suit alleges violation of the Maine Constitution as to due process.

It asks the court to reinstate Vitiello as York County Jail administrator, award him back pay for wages and benefits, and compensatory and punitive damages along with full costs including attorney fees, according to the complaint filed on Vitiello’s behalf by attorney Amy Dieterich.

The Aug. 19 COVID-19 outbreak at the jail affected 48 inmates, 48 staff members and 16 staff household contacts, according to a report issued by a third-party investigator hired by county commissioners to delve into what had transpired.

Vitiello was placed on leave Sept. 3 — the first time he had been notified about any concerns with his performance or conduct in the 20 years he worked as jail administrator, the suit notes.

During the June 18 hearing, King said Vitiello had told him in March and in subsequent conversations that mask wearing would cause panic among inmates. Vitiello, for his part, said that his position on masks wearing progressed over time, and that he did not recall further conversations about masks causing alarm among inmates after the March discussion.

As of May 5, 2020, inmates were required to wear masks while in the intake section of the facility, but not once they were assigned to the jail housing units, prior to the outbreak. According to a report issued by the investigator hired by county commissioners, mask-wearing was prohibited for inmates other than in the intake area. Prior to the outbreak, there was some question whether masks were expressly prohibited among staff, but witnesses told the investigator there was a general understanding that corrections officers would not be wearing them.

King told Vitiello on March 23 that he was considering serious discipline, up to and including termination for his “actions and inactions” in connection with the outbreak, citing the lack of mask wearing by employees and inmates, lack of employee health screenings and that Vitiello was on vacation — which the suit notes was preapproved — when the outbreak commenced.

In the suit Vitiello said during the predetermination hearing held by King on May 6, he was told to admit fault or be fired.

Among other allegations, the suit claims York County Commissioners made several evidentiary errors that prevented Vitiello from entering relevant, admissible evidence into the record at the June 18 hearing. The suit claims the defendants discouraged county employees from testifying on Vitiello’s behalf by allegedly indicating they would have to take time off from work, unpaid.

The suit claims there was no just cause for Vitiello’s termination.

King declined comment when contacted Friday; “that would be inappropriate at this time,” he said.

“We are aware of the filing and have a copy,” though the county had yet to be formally served, York County Manager Greg Zinser said on Friday, July 30. “We have no comment on pending litigation.”

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