Leaders and staff at Long Creek Youth Development Center violated the civil rights of an 11-year-old boy when they failed to treat his mental illness and used excessive force, knocking out two of his front teeth, the American Civil Liberties Union of Maine alleges in a federal lawsuit filed Wednesday.
After the incident last summer when the boy’s teeth were damaged, it took Long Creek staff six days to have him seen by a dentist, the ACLU said. The dentist then refused to treat him because the boy could not sit still.
The confrontation occurred July 26, about a month after the sixth-grader, identified in court records as A.I., was detained at Long Creek on two misdemeanor charges. He was being confined alone in his cell at the time. Guards at the facility refused to allow him to use the bathroom, triggering an escalation that ended with two officers entering the cell, grabbing the boy and slamming him face-down into a metal bed frame, the lawsuit alleges.
“No child should be treated like this, ever,” said Zachary Heiden, the ACLU of Maine’s legal director. “Our client was an 11-year-old boy who didn’t belong in prison. He shouldn’t have been isolated in his cell and denied access to the bathroom, and he shouldn’t have been brutally attacked by guards. And the best way to stop this from happening ever again is to stop putting kids in prison.”
The suit, filed in U.S. District Court for Maine, seeks unspecified damages on behalf of the child and his mother, Sadiya Ali, of Portland, for alleged mistreatment, excessive force and constitutional rights violations.
The new allegations come as Long Creek and the state’s corrections system are already facing intense criticism from the ACLU and others for their treatment of young people, including some with overwhelming mental health problems. Long Creek is in South Portland and is the state’s only correctional institution for youths and young adults.
Reached Wednesday morning, Corrections Commissioner Joseph Fitzpatrick said he cannot comment on pending litigation or the underlying facts alleged by the ACLU.
“The Attorney General’s Office will have to review the situation,” Fitzpatrick said.
FAILURE TO FOLLOW POLICIES
The boy was detained at the facility June 24 after he acted out at a local swimming pool when he was told he could not swim in the deep end, and was charged with two misdemeanors. Heiden declined to discuss the nature of the charges or what the boy did to warrant them, citing confidentiality rules that prevent the disclosure of information in juvenile court cases. A judge later determined that A.I. was not competent to stand trial and the charges were dismissed, but not before A.I. spent 39 days in state custody, Heiden said.
During that time, Long Creek staff acknowledged the boy’s mental health diagnosis, including severe attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, but failed to follow their own policies and procedures by not administering medication that A.I. had been prescribed by his family doctor.
As a result of the withheld medical care, A.I.’s behavior worsened, the ACLU alleges, and in response, Long Creek staff met his defiance and outbursts with increasing punishment before the July 26 confrontation.
The altercation was captured by at least one video camera, and the recording is being held by the Department of Corrections, the suit alleges.
The incident and A.I.’s resulting injuries also were highlighted in a September 2017 evaluation of Long Creek by the Center for Children’s Law and Policy, which found that the incident report about the confrontation was “less than accurate.” The evaluation said the incident report failed to recognize that corrections officers “clearly used excessive force,” saying instead that they failed to follow department policy to use the course of action least restrictive to the juvenile.
A.I. suffers from severe attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and oppositional defiant disorder, and before he was arrested in June, he was taking Ritalin to control his behavior.
After the incident at a pool that resulted in him being criminally charged, A.I. was taken to Long Creek, but medical staff did not continue giving him his medication, despite having full knowledge of what his family doctor had prescribed, the suit alleges. Without the twice-daily doses of 15 milligrams of the commonly prescribed drug, A.I.’s behavior worsened into an escalating series of outbursts over roughly a month.
ESCALATING LOSS OF PRIVILEGES
The ACLU alleges that throughout the boy’s incarceration, Long Creek medical staff had numerous opportunities to restart his prescribed Ritalin dosages, but failed to do so.
The outbursts did not prompt more mental health treatment because Long Creek, as a policy, does not permit mental health clinicians to intervene during the course of a confrontational situation because doing so could encourage more outbursts.
This policy also was highlighted by the September outside report, which found the practice to “mix up priorities in the facility.”
“The purpose of having clinicians at the facility is to provide mental health services to youth who need them,” the September report said. “In many situations the assessment team reviewed, clinicians could have intervened effectively as third parties in standoffs between youth and staff.”
In the case of A.I., the ACLU alleges that after each outburst, Long Creek workers took away privileges such as outdoor recreation and time watching television, before ultimately confining him to his dormitory or his cell for long periods.
It was during one of these punishments on July 26 when A.I. was confined to his cell that his behavior worsened and juvenile corrections officers were called.
After A.I.’s teeth broke, he began to bleed from the mouth, but it took Long Creek staff two hours to place A.I. in shackles and transport him to Maine Medical Center’s Emergency Room.
He did not see a dentist at Maine Med because the outside company that provides medical services at Long Creek, Correct Care Solutions, has an oral surgeon on staff.
Six days later, A.I. saw the oral surgeon, Dr. David Drohan, but Drohan refused to treat A.I. because the boy could not sit still through the examination – a result, the ACLU argues, of the facility’s failure to provide his medication.
“The medical response to the attack on our client we believe was grossly inadequate,” Heiden said. “We look forward to learning why that was through the course of this lawsuit.”
LATEST IN SERIES OF CHALLENGES
In addition to Long Creek itself and the Maine Department of Corrections, the suit names as defendants Fitzpatrick, the corrections commissioner; Long Creek Superintendent Caroline Raymond; Officers Mullin and Ferrante, who are alleged to have violently restrained A.I.; Kim Foster, a nurse practitioner; Drohan, the oral surgeon; and Correct Care Solutions.
The suit is the latest in a series of challenges for the youth prison, which has been criticized in the past for how personnel there have responded to a population with overwhelming mental health problems that staff are neither equipped nor trained to address.
Scrutiny intensified after Charles Maisie Knowles, a 16-year-old transgender boy, committed suicide while on suicide watch at Long Creek in October 2016. Knowles’ mother has alleged that her child was not provided adequate mental health treatment despite her repeated pleas for more personalized medical attention.
State corrections officials have prioritized reducing the number of children in correctional custody. Although it is designed to house about 160 youths, Long Creek to date houses roughly 65 people under age 21.
Heiden hopes the suit prompts changes within the Department of Corrections.
“This lawsuit is primarily about our clients and achieving justice for them about what happened to them in July 2017,” he said. “But if we want to talk about what’s happening today and in the future, we hope the Department of Corrections is investing in improvements for treatment for children in its custody.”