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Video Shows Maine Prisoner with Mental Illness Brutally Subdued by Guards

spit-mask, cloud of pepper-sprayA graphic video (shown below) recently leaked to the public shows a team of corrections officers make liberal use of prison torture tactics on a man who was, at the time of the incident,  incarcerated at Maine Correctional Center and had been held in solitary confinement for two months. A still of the explicit footage, originally obtained by the Portland Press Herald, captures Captain Shawn Welch spraying pepper spray directly into the face of the restrained man as the team of guards use brutal force to thwart any efforts at resistance.

The man, Paul Schlosser, who suffers from mental illness, was at the time taking several medications to treat his bipolar disorder and depression. Allegedly leading up to the incident, which took place in June 2012, was Schlosser’s refusal to go to the prison medical unit to be treated for a self-inflicted injury on his arm. Next, in what is referred to as a “cell extraction,” corrections officers wearing protective gear removed Schlosser from his cell, putting him into a restraint chair. At first, Schlosser was compliant, but, as reported by the Press Herald:

[W]hen one of the officers pins back Schlosser’s head, as his arms are being put into the chair’s restraints, Schlosser starts to struggle. When he spits at one of the officers, Welch sprays him with pepper spray, also called OC spray.

Schlosser becomes compliant and complains about not being able to breathe. One officer puts a spit-mask on him, trapping the pepper spray on Schlosser’s face.

Welch tells him he must cooperate to avoid similar treatment. Schlosser is in distress for 24 minutes before he is allowed to wash his face.

Welch, who sprayed the OC without warning, held the canister about 18 inches away from his target’s face, despite the fact that this particular canister type has the potential to stop multiple people dead in the tracks from over six feet away. After the story broke, Welch was terminated but, following an appeal that took into consideration his service to the Maine Department of Corrections, he was reinstated.

Upon viewing the footage, the investigator assigned to the case made an important observation:

In the 24 minutes between Schlosser being sprayed and when he can wash the spray off his face, Welch strolls in and out of the cell holding the OC spray canister, telling Schlosser that if he doesn’t cooperate, “this will happen all over again.”

“You’re not going to win. I will win every time,” he says.

Welch says repeatedly, “If you’re talking, you’re breathing,” suggesting that as long as Schlosser was complaining, he was not in serious medical distress. Welch does call for a member of the prison’s medical staff.

At one point, he whispers to Schlosser, “Useless as teats on a bull, huh … What do you think now?” an apparent reference to an insult Schlosser directed at him two days earlier, according to the investigator’s report.

The investigator concluded that Welch’s treatment of Schlosser was personal.

“Welch continues to brow beat Schlosser and it looks like he has made this a personal issue,” said Durst in the report. “There is not one incident of de-escalation and in fact Welch continues to escalate the situation even after the deployment of chemical agent.”

Welch later defended his use of the pepper spray to an investigator, stating his actions were not out of line since Schlosser, who has Hepatitis C, had spit at an officer.

In detailing what Schlosser may have experiences as a result of the spit-mask trapping the pepper spray, Pete Brook writes that “Pepperspray instantly dries out mucous membranes in the eyes, nose and mouth causing intense and overwhelming pain. Pepperspray leads to a sensation of not being able to breathe, although a National Institute of Justice study found it does not compromise a person’s ability to breathe.” Brook continues:

“It’s just like getting jalapeno pepper in your eye, only multiplied by a bunch,” said Robert Trimyer, a use of force instructor and OC trainer with the University of Texas Health Science Center Police Department in San Antonio.

Depending on the concentration, OC spray is roughly 300 times “hotter” than a jalapeno pepper.

“It’s painful, but it goes away. The people that have the problem breathing, it’s really more of the anxiety involved,” said Trimyer.

Yerger believes that putting the spit shield on top of the pepper spray would intensify the effect of the spray.

“I have never heard of any trainer I have ever worked with as a peer that would ever say, ‘Put a spit hood on someone after pepper spraying them,’” he said.

“They’re spinning out of control. Restraint, pepper spray, now cover their face — you’re just escalating the situation. In cases I’ve reviewed when people have died in a (restraint) chair, it’s not uncommon to see factors like that involved.”

Schlosser’s story is disturbingly reminiscent of an incident that took place in 2000, also involving a leaked video (shown below) of a brutal cell extraction in Maine. The footage, leaked to journalist Lance Tapley, shows the cell extraction of Mike James, who, like Schlosser, suffered from mental illness.  The video shows officers forcibly removing James from his cell as he is maced by officers. The corrections officers then remove the incapacitated man’s clothing and place him in a restraint chair.

Ultimately, the horrific footage of prison torture and Tapley’s ensuing story added fuel to a growing movement against solitary confinement in Maine, which led to reforms in that state (described in a recent report from the ACLU of Maine).

In another story reporting on the incident, Tapley highlights the irony of the U.S. prison system’s treatment of mentally ill people who are incarcerated, stating:

Of the four years James had been in prison when I met him, he had spent all but five months in solitary confinement. The isolation is “mental torture, even for people who are able to control themselves,” he said. It included periods alone in a cell “with no blankets, no clothes, butt-naked, mace covering me.” Everything James told me was confirmed by other inmates and prison employees.

James’s story illustrates an irony in the negative reaction of many Americans to the mistreatment of “war on terrorism” prisoners at Guantanamo. To little public outcry, tens of thousands of American citizens are being held in equivalent or worse conditions in this country’s super-harsh, super-maximum security, solitary-confinement prisons, or in comparable units of traditional prisons…

In the supermaxes inmates suffer weeks, months, years, or even decades of mind-destroying isolation, usually without meaningful recourse to challenge the conditions of their captivity…

[I]solation is the overwhelming, defining punishment in this vast network of what critics have begun to call mass torture.

Comments

  1. Sandy Maliga says:

    How has the US become a nation of torturers? Torture is promoted on TV. Prisons are run for profit, not as a service to the people. What will it take to humanize this supposedly Christian nation?

  2. Fr. Russ says:

    We have had this video on our Web for some time what is so disheartening is that so few care. I ask myself daily, where are the “Christian” the “Humanitarian”. Do you not see what is happening to another human being? Do you not see? And by not seeing you are the same as those who are metering out your will, for the guards and the system is everyone’s… If you, vote or not, you are the Sate, you are the community, where are your voices, where are your eyes and where is the Mercy?

  3. Alan CYA # 65085 says:

    Your right of course Russ, But it is not hard for me to imagine the panic this man felt.

    After a recent mini-stroke or TIA, I had a MRI done where they place a kind of hockey mask over your face and insert you into a hole not much larger than I am. Even knowing that I could stop the process at any time didn’t help me and as illogical as it was I just couldn’t handle it. They had to put me to sleep in the end. This captains words wouldn’t have helped me either.

    Now I’ve also been pepper sprayed while I was in the CYA during a serious fight between me another ward at the school house classroom. Not cool.

    I don’t think I could have handled being held down, sprayed and have a mask placed over my head any better than this young man.

    Hard to watch this video and think about my own little brother. I still don’t know why my brother was in the hole in the first place or why he remained there for almost his entire sentence. Don’t really want to know now for it doesn’t matterthey killed him whether directly or indirectly he was murdered as far as his family is concerned.

  4. Fr. Russ says:

    There is not only this tape, but several, that you want to cry over what they are doing to these poor individuals, you can tell they have mental problems and should be in a hospital versus prison.. Guards are not psychiatric personal, do not have the training or the skill for what is needed here.. On my TV show, next Wednesday night we have a psychiatrist on as a guest, to talk about this stuff.. He deals with our local Sate Agency… What I have, is people that come out of jail, are homeless, need psychiatric care; they do not get it, they end up back in jail, over and over… (jail to homelessness and no treatment back to jail and no treatment, no managed care, all bull shit..

  5. Laura says:

    I don’t know the back-story to either Schlossers or Tapley but question whether or not it matters. They are in prison; thereby I have no choice to believe they broke the law. However; whatever either of them did that led to the actions against them tells us there is no legal system once someone is incarcerated. Why is there no governance within the prison system – an in-house hearing or trial with representation? Rather, they are the mercy of their captors, many who are sadistic. Are the captors subject to periodic mental health evaluations? Granted, we are only seeing what has been done to them, not what caused them to be in these situations. But in Schlossers’ case, we hear his capture define his crime – spitting at a guard. Does the punishment justify the recourse? I thought our legal system was dictates the punishment is supposed to fit the crime. Aside from humiliation & frustration (who cares – after all they’re prisoners, right?) it’s blatantly obvious . And Tapely, we see no resistance when the guards are at his cell door, yet he is sprayed with mace nonetheless. Why? He starts to show resistance when they cut off his clothing. WHY was removing his clothing necessary? “For every action there is an equal and opposite reaction” Sir Isaac Newton. You cannot treat a human being like a caged animal and expect them NOT to react. All of the captors in the videos, either by ‘order’ or desire, need some serious psychological investigation. No one who receives any kind of pleasure from enforcing control should be permitted to BE in control of otherwise helpless people who have no choice but to do their bidding. It’s as though the tactics used are intentionally to produce the reaction they full-well expect to justify (in their own minds) their reasons for enforcing their will. As much as I believe prison systems are necessary and people who break the law need to be incarcerated and pay for their crimes, allowing treatment like this inhumane and overwhelmingly appalling. Just like a child, we cannot expect anyone to learn the ‘right’ thing when they are shown the ‘wrong’ way – do as I say, not as I do. What foolish, stupid, ignorant and sadistic people these guards are, most especially their supervisors all the way up to the top who allow these things to happen.

  6. Miya says:

    You don’t have to be a psychiatric professional to have common sense and a sense of decency. Welch is an amoral animal. And that’s insulting the animals that I know personally., The officers standing by doing absolutely nothing are equally and appallingly guilty. There is zero justification for this behavior. These ‘men’ are bullies. They got tired of a rebellious (and very ill) prisoner and became abusive, egotistical maniacs themselves. All of them should be jobless at this point. All of them should be pepper sprayed from 18 feet, and left to suffer with spit-covers for 24 minutes before any relief is rendered. American prisons are nothing more than legalized ‘chambers’ for the torture of criminals. Who the hell gave Welch back his job? Shame on Maine, The citizens and the government and the Dept. of Corrections should all be ashamed. They are a disgrace.

  7. My heart bleeds ….. how can people be punished this way, it’s torture and it’s horrible …

  8. DaveM49 says:

    Every one of the “officers” involved here should be charged with felony assault. It takes six (or more) men in armor with weapons to watch over a sick man who is strapped and chained to a chair? This is not discipline. This is not “control”. It is pure and simple sadism.

    All that was necessary was for one member of the “squad” to speak up, and the torture might well have stopped. But none did. Invoke the Law Of Parties. Charge all of them equally. These men belong on the other side of prison bars.

  9. Alice Benson says:

    madalleyreport — In New Mexico solitary confinement is extremely common (for your own protection) they are told. It can go on for months or even years. Brutality is common especially to those with a sex offense.

  10. Fr. Russ says:

    There is no moral conscience to punishment. That is the problem for punishment is suffering “delegates inflicted” by a penal authority upon a criminal for his crime, insofar as he is responsible for that crime… “Punishment” is a horror…

  11. Fr. Russ says:

    The question becomes the justification: who is to be punished? How severely are they to be punished? Does the punishment turn the criminal into a victim? For it appears our system is turning all its criminals into victims? Which is not the point of a social punishment…

  12. DaveM49 says:

    I have to wonder what result prison authorities expect after they put a mentally ill person in solitary confinement for a prolonged period. Do they expect the person’s condition to improve, or for them to become calmer? Perhaps each of the “officers” here should have a two-month stint in solitary. It probably won’t make them kinder and gentler, but they might learn something.

  13. Welsh should never work in a prison system or law enforcement again. When did the USA become a Nazi State?

  14. The question that begs to be asked here, how many inmates will have to die before the prison system changes their ways? We are an incarceration nation….

  15. DaveM49 says:

    Has anyone here seen the 1985 movie “Brazil”? The police in the movie resemble the “armored” bunch in this video. At the time the movie was released, they were intended to be farfetched and vaguely ridiculous (the actors wore football pads to give them exaggerated shoulders). What a difference 30 years can make.

  16. In the vast majority of Countries through out the world the punishment to those who break their Countries laws are never human, anywhere I know… (I know the exceptions) I am talking about the vast majority here… Only man is a wold unto man..

  17. “wolf” above…

  18. Andrea Cote says:

    pj i am so sorry this had to happen to you ur a great kid just got fucked up in the wrong things in life i know u personally and i know that ur not an asshole i cant beleave this c/o did this to u and then talks to u like everythings ok and u should have followed the rules kid i know that when i first saw the video u wasnt acting up so he made u upset and u did what u could do to protect urself i love u kid and karma is a motha f’er and his will come to him as u see this isnt really the way it should have went ur in a dam cell and all u can have is food ur meds and books whats wrong with this systeam ???

  19. Asshole Cop says:

    Would be nice if one of these other cops, put a stop to this shit. Chickenshits.

  20. Erika Zauzig says:

    A friend of mine with Dissociative Identity Disorder in a Virginia prison was confined in solitary with no blanket, no mattress and no clothes. He froze because the cement floor of his cell was very cold. The guards have encouraging him to commit suicide. It’s appalling. I will be spending my day advocating for my friend today.

  21. Erika Zauzig says:

    An update to the post I wrote. My friend committed suicide 3 weeks ago at Wallens Ridge State Prison in Virginia.

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