Prisoner admits to padlock beating

Victim filed federal action against former prison officials for the attack
By Juliette Laaka | May 28, 2014

Rockland — A Maine State Prison inmate admitted May 28 to assaulting a fellow prisoner with a padlock.

Dusty Michael O'Brien, 31, originally from Limerick before his incarceration in Warren, was sentenced to serve two additional years in prison for the attack, which occurred in May 2012. His earliest possible release date is listed as December 2014 on the state's department of correction's website.

Victim's federal suit against state for padlock assault

O'Brien's victim, Benjamin Bean, filed a civil suit in federal court last May against former Maine State Prison Warden Patricia Barnhart and former Commissioner of the Department of Corrections Joseph Ponte on the grounds prison authorities acted recklessly in issuing padlocks to prisoners that could be used as weapons.

The prison is mandated by state law to provide a way for inmates to secure their belongings.

An evidentiary hearing regarding the state's motion for summary judgement has been set for August. The defendants assert Bean failed to exhaust administrative remedies in bringing his case forward under the Prison Litigation Reform Act. A U.S. Magistrate judge recommended the motion for summary judgement under that claim be denied in March, and District Judge Nancy Torresson agreed and affirmed the decision May 12.

Bean, 30, served a 24-month sentence for Class D assault and terrorizing. His earliest custody release date was listed as July 2013, according to the Maine Department of Corrections website.

Barnhart changed from her position as warden in January 2013, and is now acting as a policy development coordinator. The management of the Maine State Prison in Warren was changed in part due to concerns about the amount of overtime and the number of incidents reported in the prison, Associate Commissioner Jody Breton said in February.

Through Lewiston attorney Verne E. Paradie Jr., Bean requests compensatory damages, punitive damages and counsel fees and costs. The monetary amount is to be determined at the trial.

Paradie, who has represented other inmates in similar cases of alleged assaults, said in previous comments when Barnhart became warden, in 2009, incidents of assaults saw a drastic increase — nearly doubling, and in 2012, they tripled.

The suit alleges several other inmates were also beaten with padlocks, and although prison officials were aware the devices were used as weapons, they continued to allow inmates to use them and continued to give locks to inmates as they entered the prison.

Despite knowing the possibility of the locks used as weapons, the defendants deliberately or recklessly disregarded the risk, the complaint said.

Bean said prior to the attack on him, he warned the defendants he was in danger if he was transferred from the Maine Correctional Center in Windham to Warren — he contends his warnings were ignored.

The first count of the suit— pursuant to the Eighth Amendment — asserts the defendants owed Bean and other inmates a duty to protect them from violence at the hands of other prisoners. The suit contends Barnhart and Ponte acted with indifference to Bean's health and safety when they disregarded the risks of issuing padlocks.

The second count alleges the defendants violated the Maine Civil Rights Act by interfering or attempting to interfere against Bean's rights secured by the Constitution. It further alleges that Ponte's and Barnhart's actions caused Bean serious physical and emotional harm.

The office of the Assistant Attorney General James E. Fortin said earlier they do not comment on pending litigation.

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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594-4401 ext. 118
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Juliette primarily covers the cops and courts beat for The Courier-Gazette.

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