Prison transport company denies mistreatment; DAs seek alternatives

0

District Attorney Andrew Robinson.

LEWISTON — A private prisoner transport company used for years by Maine prosecutors to extradite prisoners back to this state has denied it mistreated a Lewiston inmate during a five-day trip from Florida to Maine in November.

Maine’s district attorneys are seeking alternative sources for those extraditions.

Advertisement

In a letter (see related story) from Prisoner Transport Services to the Androscoggin County Jail in Auburn, an internal affairs investigator at the company addressed allegations of the neglect and mistreatment of Meghan Quinn, 34, that were featured in a Sun Journal special investigative report published March 26. 

“Based on the allegations in this complaint there (are) no findings that U.S. Prisoner Transport personnel violated policy and procedures and/or any U.S.P.T. standard operating procedures,” Lt. Christopher M. Snow, investigator for internal affairs at the company, summarized in his four-page report. “Although the conditions during transport may have been unpleasant, they did not amount to deprivation and is only the opinion of offender Quinn and that U.S.P.T personnel acted in good faith.”

The company’s president and general counsel, Joel Brasfield, told the Sun Journal by phone Friday that he considers the matter closed.

“We stand by our findings,” he said.

Brasfield declined to comment on the Sun Journal’s reporting, including a harrowing account of Quinn and another inmate, except to say he had not been aware of a problem until the Sun Journal’s story was published.

The Sun Journal also had reported that district attorneys in Southern and Central Maine had halted their use of that transport company after learning of the allegations by Quinn and David Bowden, 45, of Bangor as chronicled by the Sun Journal.

In January, the newspaper filed a request for records from the company regarding Quinn’s transport.

Brasfield said he “had two lawyers look at it and they do not believe we are required to give a response — at all.”

The Sun Journal filed its request citing Maine and Florida right-to-know laws that mandate private companies comply with those laws if they are acting as agents of a public entity by performing a service that would otherwise be performed by a public agency. Not responding within five days of a freedom of information request is a clear violation of the law.

Brasfield said: “We’re not prepared to share any of our documents with you at this point.”

Androscoggin County District Attorney Andrew Robinson, whose office had contracted with U.S. Prisoner Transport for Quinn’s extradition, said Friday the company’s letter fails to answer all of the questions his office has about Quinn’s transport. The company’s letter has been shared with five other Maine district attorneys whose offices had used the services of U.S. Prisoner Transport for extraditions, he said. Two district attorneys in Maine said they don’t use private prisoner transport services.

“At this point,” Robinson said, “We’re not scheduling any new transports with them until we’re satisfied that (allegations made by Quinn and Bowden) did not occur.”

The six county prosecutors who had used the transport company are planning to meet to discuss other options for extraditing those prisoners whom they would in the past have had transported by the Florida-based company, Robinson said.

Instead of each county going it alone, Robinson said, discussion is likely to include: “Is there a way we can coordinate our resources to make it easier on all of us, but we haven’t had that meeting, so I don’t have the answer to that yet. I have some ideas.”

None of the prosecutors have decided to continue to use or resume using U.S. Prisoner Transport’s services after viewing the company’s internal affairs letter, Robinson said.

He declined to comment on the contents of the company’s investigation and its conclusions, saying he preferred to wait until he and fellow prosecutors had a chance to meet and discuss the four-page letter.

“If we can find a legitimate alternative and we all decide that we’re not satisfied with the report, we’ll proceed with the alternative,” Robinson said. “If, after looking at the report and speaking as a group we decide we have questions and want to meet with the president of the company, then we should do that also.”

Cumberland County District Attorney Stephanie Anderson, whose office contracted with U.S. Prisoner Transport to perform 21 of that county’s 40 extraditions last year, suspended all future contracts with the company after reading the Sun Journal report on March 26.

Anderson said in an email Friday that she had reviewed the company’s recent letter.

“We are looking into two other companies and will give one of those a try for an extradition from North Carolina that will be coming up in a couple of weeks,” she wrote.

Matthew Forster, district attorney for Hancock and Washington counties, wrote in an email to the Sun Journal that, after reviewing the company’s letter, he concluded that, “with the information I have, I am not comfortable using (U.S.) Prisoner Transport.”

Foster noted a “dearth of information” contained in the letter.

“It has not changed my decision about the use of their services,” he wrote, though that decision could change if more information were to “come to light.”

He said his office hasn’t identified any alternative transport services to take the place of the private contractor, other than the U.S. Marshals Service.

Christopher Almy, district attorney for Penobscot and Piscataquis counties, said he, also, had read the company’s letter from its internal investigation of Quinn’s account of her five-day trip.

“The incident was disconcerting as reported,” he wrote in an email. “We have not yet had to hire PTS since that time. The company has responded to the allegations. We are still deliberating on whether to use PTS again.”

Geoffrey Rushlau, district attorney for Knox, Lincoln, Sagadahoc and Waldo counties, said his office had used U.S. Prisoner Transport for extraditions for “quite a number of years,” but had considered looking elsewhere largely due to price increases, even before he learned of the Sun Journal’s report on Quinn’s transport experience.

He said the company’s service “had gotten more impersonal.”

The Florida company had, for years, gained a reputation for being “very responsive. They provided good service and they were reasonably priced.”

He said he hadn’t been made aware of any complaints about prisoner conditions during transport with them.

But more recently, his office’s experience with the company, since it had been acquired by Prisoner Transportation Services LLC of Tennessee, “had not been as positive. We were trying to figure out if that was something we could work with and make it more positive. But we’re prepared to look elsewhere if there were other options. We’re not sure if there are other options that are particularly good,” Rushlau said.

He pointed to the U.S. Marshals Service as an option his office has used before. “That’s a good way to go, sometimes” he said.

For extraditions closer to home, he said, his office will tap local law enforcement agencies as long as the transport isn’t too distant. If the extraditions would require a trip farther than upstate New York, they wouldn’t be as cost-efficient to hire local agencies, he said.

“We will continue to look at other options if any of them look reasonable to use,” he said.

Asked whether he would use U.S. Prisoner Transport again if an alternative can’t be found, Rushlau said: “I don’t know. A lot of it will depend upon timing and cost.”

Prisoner conditions during transport is one of several elements his office would consider in choosing who should be entrusted with extraditions, Rushlau said. Other factors include security, training and qualifications of personnel and safety.

“That’s what we’ve always looked for,” he said.

cwilliams@sunjournal.com

Advertisement
SHARE