Prison guards cleared of retaliation claims

Case started with padlock attack
By Juliette Laaka | May 20, 2014
Photo by: File photo

A former Maine State Prison inmate, who filed a civil action against two guards claiming they retaliated against him for speaking out to advocacy groups about treatment in the facility, lost his case May 1 in federal court.

Keith Ayotte, who served five years for aggravated assault, said in the initial complaint he was violently assaulted by another inmate, who used a padlock to strike him in the head and face in 2010. Ayotte suffered serious head and facial injuries as a result of the attack, said court documents.

The trial earlier this month centered around Ayotte's claim that after he spoke out against the issuance of padlocks, he was threatened and made to strip off his clothes by corrections officers David Cutler and Curtis Doyle in an effort to stop his communication with outside groups.

A jury panel decided Cutler and Doyle did not retaliate against Ayotte for exercising his right to free speech.

In his initial complaint, Ayotte cited other inmate assaults, contending prison staff knew of the danger of issuing padlocks to inmates, but despite the risk to personal safety, still distributed the tool.

The prison gives out padlocks so prisoners can secure their personal belongings, said court papers. Prison authorities are required by Maine law to provide a means for inmates to protect their property.

Ayotte originally named former warden Patricia Barnhart, Corrections Commissioner Martin Magnusson, and prison employees Dwight Fowles, Anthony Cartlidge, David Cutler, Joshua Cutler, and Nova Hirsch as defendants in his lawsuit. In 2012, claims against Hirsch, Joshua Cutler and Cartlidge were jointly dismissed.

Judgement was also ruled in favor of Barnhart, Magnusson and Fowles and counts against them were dismissed and not tried in court.

The remaining claim of retaliation was allowed to continue to trial.

For the retaliation claim, Ayotte stated he voiced concern about safety in the prison to advocacy groups outside the prison. He claims after speaking out, he was taken to the unit manager's office in March 2011, stripped of his clothes, and threatened to keep his mouth shut "or they would bury him," said the complaint.

In March 2013, a Magistrate Judge granted partial summary judgement to the defendants Doyle and Cutler, stating Ayotte's claim that the officers intentionally disregarded the risk of injury to him was insufficient to continue to trial as the padlocks have a lawful reason to be distributed at the prison, and that the defendants did not act with deliberate indifference to inmates' risk.

Ayotte's retaliation claim against Cutler and Doyle, however, was found to be sufficient to move to trial.

This decision was affirmed by U.S. District Court Justice John A. Woodcock Jr.

Through his counsel Verne Paradie Jr., of Auburn, Ayotte has appealed the judgement to the U.S. District Court of Appeals.

Courier Publications' reporter Juliette Laaka can be reached at 594-4401 ext. 118 or via email at jlaaka@courierpublicationsllc.com.

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Juliette Laaka
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Juliette primarily covers the cops and courts beat for The Courier-Gazette.

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