Judge dismisses suit filed by former jail worker fired over pranks

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AUBURN — A judge dismissed a lawsuit this week lodged by a former jail employee who was fired after surveillance cameras caught him involved in two pranks while on duty: one involving duct tape; the other, a choke hold.

Androscoggin County Superior Court Justice Thomas Delahanty II ruled this week that an appeal by Patrick Gorham was not filed in time for the court to hear the complaint.

Gorham was required to file his appeal within 30 days of learning that the County Commission voted 2-1 to terminate his employment. Gorham attended that Nov. 4 meeting, but filed his lawsuit challenging his firing on Dec. 18, Delahanty noted in his written decision.

Attorney James Belleau had argued in court in March for the lawsuit’s dismissal, claiming that Gorham failed to invoke the proper legal mechanism to redress his firing.

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Delahanty concluded that Gorham had pursued the proper legal mechanism even if he didn’t specifically cite it in the complaint he filed with the court.

Belleau also had argued in March that, even if Gorham had cited the proper mechanism, he had missed the deadline for filing his appeal. On that point, Delahanty agreed.

“The court concludes that the plaintiff’s complaint was filed beyond the 30-day time period and is therefore untimely,” Delahanty wrote. “As such, the court is deprived of jurisdiction … the complaint must be dismissed.”

Gorham’s attorney had argued that his client had 30 days from the day of the commission’s written decision and findings of fact, recorded on Nov. 18.

Gorham, who had risen to the rank of corporal, sued Androscoggin County and Sheriff Guy Desjardins who had fired him over the two incidents.

In his complaint, he claimed his firing was unlawful and that his due process rights under the U.S. Constitution were violated.

Gorham admitted to the “horseplay.”

In one incident, corrections officers, including Gorham, bound a fellow worker to his chair using duct tape. That worker’s chair was wheeled into a prisoner transport elevator and sent to a different floor. The bound worker was returned to the proper floor and eventually freed himself. The prank’s instigator, a sergeant, later resigned.

In another incident, Gorham put a different corrections officer in a chokehold. Shortly afterward, that worker lay his head on his desk repeatedly and complained that he was disoriented and nauseous. The worker said he had consented to Gorham’s actions.

Desjardins had recommended that Gorham be fired.

On Wednesday, the sheriff said he was heartened by the judge’s decision.

“It’s a lot of weight off my shoulders,” Desjardins said. “We’re satisfied with the outcome. At the end of the day, we never felt we did anything wrong.”

Gorham could not be reached for comment.

cwilliams@sunjournal.com

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