Vinal Thompson, a former corrections officer at the Cumberland County Jail, walks into court in 2021. He was found not guilty Friday of assaulting an inmate in 2020. Shawn Patrick Ouellette/Staff Writer

A former corrections officer has been found not guilty of assault and reckless conduct charges for breaking an inmate’s nose and his own hand in July 2020.

Vinal Thompson, 43, was cleared of the criminal charges on Friday after Portland District Court Judge Jed French ruled Thompson had acted in self-defense.

Thompson was indicted in July 2021, a year after Cumberland County Sheriff Kevin Joyce asked Portland police to investigate Thompson. The sheriff had seen surveillance footage from the jail of Thompson fighting with an inmate, John Katula.

Thompson had been on paid administrative leave for about a year before he was fired following his indictment, Joyce confirmed Monday. He had worked for the jail for 15 years, according to court records.

Katula reached a civil settlement in February 2021 with the county, the sheriff’s office and Thompson. The defendants paid Katula $41,000, all through insurance, and signed an agreement denying any liability.

The criminal case finally made it to trial in late September, when French scheduled a three-day bench trial because Thompson had waived his right to a jury.


Neither the Androscoggin County District Attorney’s Office, who took over the case because Thompson was a Cumberland County employee, nor Thompson’s defense attorney, Bruce Merrill, responded to calls and emails Monday seeking to discuss the verdict.


Thompson approached Katula at the jail on July 7, 2020, to collect a urine sample, according to court records. When Katula was unable to provide one after 45 minutes, Thompson told him he had 15 minutes, or he was going to take him to a segregated housing unit.

Court documents state that Katula told the officer “Oh, you think that it will be that easy,” and the men started fighting.

The parties largely disagree on what surveillance footage actually shows. There was no audio, and witnesses who testified in September were relying on memories from more than three years ago, according to court records.

Prosecutors wrote in October that the video shows Thompson hitting Katula five times while holding metal handcuffs. They also argued that Thompson grabbed Katula around the waist, lifted him and threw him to the concrete floor.


Thompson’s attorneys argued that he was protecting himself from an inmate who was resisting arrest and attacking him. They said Katula grabbed Thompson’s arm and the officer reacted quickly, not realizing he was still holding the handcuffs.

His attorneys say he didn’t throw Katula to the ground, but he had to wrestle him down to get the handcuffs on.

A nurse said she saw Thompson punch Katula in the face three to four times, according to court records. She said she also heard Thompson complain that “the inmate made him break his hand, so he ruined his summer,” a comment that she said “stuck” with her.

Katula and Thompson were transported to the hospital.

In his ruling Monday, French said Thompson broke Katula’s nose, requiring surgery. Thompson also required physical therapy for his broken hand.

But French said Katula acted first and therefore the officer was within his rights to defend himself. French also disagreed with prosecutors that Thompson was executing deadly use of force. Even though Katula needed surgery, the judge said he didn’t believe the injuries were serious or disfiguring enough.

Joyce, who wasn’t aware of the verdict when a reporter called Monday, acknowledged that the video wasn’t clear, but that “it was very concerning” when he watched it, and that’s why he wanted police to investigate, “internally, administratively and criminally.”

“It looked like excessive use of force in the video, but again, you don’t know what the provocation is,” he said. “That’s the criminal justice system. You act on what you believe, you have it investigated, and then you have a trial in which people decide whether it occurred or didn’t occur, whether it was justified or it wasn’t.”

Related Headlines

Comments are not available on this story.