Racketeering Charged At Maine State Prison

Posted on February 11, 2011

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Author, Stan Moody:

Motion to Intervene:
A Feb. 4, 2010 deposition taken of one former security guard in support of a lawsuit filed against the State of Maine by another former security guard has disclosed a “shadow government” at Maine State Prison (MSP) that operates independently of Maine Department of Corrections policies and procedures.

On April 4, 2010, MSP Chaplain, Stan Moody, filed a Motion to Intervene in a hearing before Lincoln County Superior Court to unseal the deposition of Ira Sherr. Sherr, a 7-year veteran guard with a bachelor’s degree in Psychology and graduate study in Education and an honorable discharge from the US Navy, had served as a unit chair, chief steward, president and vice president of AFSCME, the bargaining union representing prison guards in Maine.

Sherr reportedly resigned under pressure for attempting to bring sexual harassment charges against the son of a Deputy Warden. Implicated in his testimony are the Director of Personnel at MSP, a Deputy Warden and a number of key staff members and prison administrators, including the current Commissioner of Corrections.

The Motion to Intervene was opposed by the Maine Attorney General’s Office and the AFSCME union. The Court ordered release of a redacted version of the deposition on May 17.

The Shadow Government at MSP:

In his sworn testimony, Sherr averred an atmosphere of “fear, intimidation, retaliation and harassment,” a “shadow hierarchy” that failed to follow standard officer protocol.

Throughout the deposition, Asst. AG Susan Herman hammered away at whether Sherr had “personal knowledge” or if his information was allegorical. Sherr deflected that effort on the grounds that, as a union representative, he was not required to have personally witnessed incidents of harassment but was obligated to report them. Nor could there be, he suggested, surviving documentation in a system designed to protect select, privileged staff members.

What emerges is a picture of an “old boy network” shielding itself against public disclosure of wrongdoing while engaging in a common practice of building a paper trail against any employee who complained. “It they want to get rid of somebody, they build what they refer to here as a paper trail so that they could have some plausible deniability and justification for relieving somebody they didn’t want here.”

Prisoner complaints that never saw the light of day often resulted in the complainant being sent down to solitary confinement on a whim, vehemently denied by the Department of Corrections in its defense against the 2010 solitary confinement bill, LD1611.

Sherr described what was commonly referred to as the “Kid System” in the Department of Corrections. The “Kid System” is a secret cabal of nepotism and patronage prevalent at MSP and unrelated to job qualifications or performance. Staff members on the inside of the “Kid System” would cover each other’s tracks, commonly including “collecting checks but not coming to work.”

Being a “kid” somehow confers protection in the same way as does being the member of a (organized crime) mob. “Kids got promoted even if they were incompetent – about 80% of the promotions.”

Sherr testified about his experience as a union representative in filing whistleblower complaints. “I personally complained about violations of whistleblowers and got absolutely nothing from anybody in the State…Nobody in this place trusts the system to take care of any of their rights…People feared for their physical safety from retaliation at this facility.”

Corroborating Documentation:

The sworn deposition of Officer Sherr follows a series of complaints of systemic cultural problems within the prison system. On May 22, 2009, Chaplain Stan Moody submitted an extensive disclosure of management problems within Maine State Prison.

In June, 2009, the legislative watchdog committee, OPEGA, submitted its findings of systemic cultural problems within MSP. The OPEGA report was tossed back to the Department by the committee of jurisdiction and considered to be a territorial encroachment on the committee’s responsibility.

Now this sworn deposition appears, reinforcing the previous 2 reports but more extensive and specific as to the structure of the “shadow government.” The defense that the Department raises is that Officer Sherr was found sleeping on the job, a charge later found to be without merit and described by Sherr as a veiled retaliation against him for pressing claims against protected staff members.

Where do we go from here?

There is now sufficient information on the record to raise a reasonable suspicion of a shadow government system throughout the Department of Corrections that sanctions inconsistent discipline, ignores Department policies and protects its own with a shield of silence.

It is doubtful, however, that any agency in State government could conduct an impartial investigation, as Sherr alleges collusion between prison security and the State Police.

An alternative is to request an intervention by the US Justice Department. With 3 suspicious and unexplained deaths within the prison system in less than 12 months, time is overdue for an independent investigation.

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