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Joshua Dall-Leighton is accused of sexually assaulting a female inmate in his charge at the Southern Maine Reentry Center in Alfred.

Joshua Dall-Leighton of Standish, who made headlines in 2015 when he donated a kidney to a woman who was looking for a donor, denies accusations that he had sexual encounters with a female inmate he supervised. 2015 Press Herald fileJoshua Dall-Leighton of Standish, who made headlines in 2015 when he donated a kidney to a woman who was looking for a donor, denies accusations that he had sexual encounters with a female inmate he supervised. 

A trial begins Monday for a former prison guard accused of repeatedly sexually assaulting a woman who was incarcerated at a transitional corrections facility in Alfred.

Joshua Dall-Leighton, 34, faces five charges of gross sexual assault and one of unlawful sexual contact. All are felonies, and he has pleaded not guilty.

Dall-Leighton received widespread media attention in June 2015 for donating a kidney to a woman who advertised her need for a new organ in the back window of her car. That gift of his kidney to a virtual stranger may play a role in his trial.

Among the motions filed in the case is a request by the state to keep that information from the jury. The defense objected, saying it was evidence of his character. It was not clear Friday how the judge had ruled on that motion and others.

The indictment states the alleged crimes took place on multiple days between December 2015 and February 2016. During that time, Dall-Leighton worked at a pre-release center for female inmates in Alfred, where the woman was finishing a prison sentence.

An affidavit filed in York County Superior Court by a Maine Department of Corrections detective describes alleged sexual encounters between the guard and the woman in a prison transport van. Dall-Leighton drove the van to take the woman to her workplace in Sanford, according to the affidavit.

The affidavit quoted a letter the woman wrote to a Bangor attorney describing the advances of an officer at the pre-release center. She said she eventually became intoxicated so she would be transferred from the Southern Maine Reentry Center in Alfred back to the Maine Correctional Facility in Windham to get away from him.

“I avoided sexual intercourse with this officer for some time but because of his position of power, and the many things I stood to lose, I felt pressured to engage,” she wrote. “This officer transported me to work several times per week and we were often alone while driving. I requested a job change, but was repeatedly denied. I felt I was in a no-win situation.”

Dall-Leighton stopped working at the pre-release center when he was charged, his defense lawyer told the Portland Press Herald at the time.

More than two years have passed since a York County grand jury indicted Dall-Leighton in November 2016. Neither the defense attorney nor the District Attorney’s Office returned a call for comment Friday.

The woman was convicted in January 2012 in Rockland of elevated aggravated assault, robbery and burglary. She was sentenced to 10 years in prison with all but six years suspended. Now 34 years old, she has been released and is on probation. The Portland Press Herald does not name the victims of alleged sex crimes without their consent.

She also filed a lawsuit in 2017 against Dall-Leighton, as well as the state and prison officials she said failed to protect her from the assaults. The former guard did not respond to the complaint, meaning he was in default. A federal judge then ordered him to pay $1.1 million to the former inmate, although it is not clear if he can or will pay that sum.

Ezra Willey, who represents the woman in the civil matter but does not have an active role in the criminal case, said he is pursuing options for his client to collect at least part of that award. The judge also dismissed the lawsuit against the state and the corrections officials, a decision Willey has appealed.

Willey credited the woman for coming forward with her allegations against Dall-Leighton and referenced the #MeToo movement that has shed light on sexual misconduct.

“She’s a recovery coach now,” he said. “She’s been speaking at different events about addiction. She’s really gotten out there in the community and is not only trying to help herself, but she’s really trying to help other people. I really admire her for that.”

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HALLOWELL — One corrections officer spread a false rumor that the new female officer at the state prison in South Windham was a stripper.

Another one called her “Genitalia,” instead of her real name, which also began with a “G.”

She was asked by a colleague if he could measure her buttocks. When she said no, he did it anyway. She was asked about her favorite sexual positions and to describe her breasts.

When her complaints were not taken seriously, she quit her job and filed sexual harassment and retaliation complaints against the Department of Corrections with the Maine Human Rights Commission, detailing her claims in a sworn statement.

The state settled the case. Cost to taxpayers: $20,000.

A beginning state trooper – a male – was placed under the supervision of a male sergeant, who took him on assignments to secluded locations, rubbed the trooper’s inner thigh and talked about skinny-dipping. The sergeant gave the trooper a rug and told him how good it felt to lay naked on it, according to the trooper’s sworn statement.

The trooper got a transfer, but the sergeant called him regularly, making comments about penises and oral sex and suggested they take a naked sauna together.

The trooper filed a sexual harassment complaint and the state settled the case out of court. Cost to taxpayers: $50,000.

A corrections officer was threatened on a website run by anonymous corrections staff after she complained of sexual harassment. Cost to taxpayers: $137,500.

Retaliation in the Human Services department, disability discrimination in Public Safety, sex discrimination in Corrections and on and on for a total of 45 such cases settled by the state in the past 10 years.

• The cost to taxpayers for a range of alleged bad behavior by state employees towards their fellow workers in the past 10 years is almost $1.85 million.

• The state has spent about another $500,000 to defend itself in the cases.

• Forty-four percent of the cases came from two law enforcement departments – Corrections and Public Safety, home of the Maine State Police. Those 20 settlements cost taxpayers more than $1 million.

• The most common charges were sexual harassment, sex discrimination, and retaliation, the latter often in response to filing a previous charge.

• Of the 19 state employees who said they experienced sexual harassment or discrimination, two-thirds were women.

• In all of the settlements, the state admitted no liability.

No tracking by department

State law requires that all new employees receive sexual harassment training their first year in the job, according to Assistant Attorney General Susan Herman.

Herman said her office does not track the claims to find out where there might be a chronic problem.

Public records do not include any disciplinary action that may have been taken in the 45 cases.

Some details kept secret

The settlement agreements – legally binding documents signed by the state and the employee – are often written in a way that prevents full public disclosure.

For example, in 34 of the 45 cases, in return for the settlement, employees and the state agreed not to disclose the terms of the agreements.

The secrecy goes even further in the 21 cases that have non-disparagement clauses. Typically, they state, “Both parties agree that they will not disparage the other.”

In 82 percent of the cases, the process began with the employee filing a complaint with the commission. (The others filed civil lawsuits.) The commission, a state agency established in 1971, investigates complaints of discrimination from public and private employees.

Webbert, the employment attorney, said, “Based on representing many state employees … I have observed that the worst problems … are in the law enforcement areas. … These are the areas that most often have leadership that sends a message to the rest of the organization of hostility or indifference to civil rights requirements, especially equal treatment and respect for women and workers with same-sex sexual orientation.”

Payments from state budget

The settlement payments don’t come from traditional insurance; the state is self-insured for these cases. That means the cash comes directly from the state budget.

The Department of Corrections, which runs the state’s prisons, is currently assessed $101,000, 10 percent of the total self-insurance budget, while it only has 6.8 percent of the state’s 18,500 employees. The reason is the disproportionate number of settlements in Corrections.

The department’s employee discrimination settlements were one reason the Legislature asked its investigative agency to evaluate Corrections in 2009. The Office of Program Evaluation and Accountability report was called “Organizational Culture and Weaknesses in Reporting Avenues Are Likely Inhibiting Reporting and Action on Employee Concerns.”

The report said intimidation, retaliation and distrust within Corrections kept a lid on exposing internal problems. Combined, the practices “appear unethical” and “expose the State to unnecessary risks and liabilities.”

Recent progress

According to two long-time state Human Resources officials, in the past two years there has been a push in state government to deal more effectively with discrimination and harassment.

The change was at least partially a reaction to the costly settlements.

She also praised a new attitude in Public Safety, which she traced to a new head of the state police, Col. Robert Williams.

Joyce Oreskovich, human resources director for the state, said “(Williams) is much more interested in fairness and equity” than previous management.

The two women said there’s been a shift in Corrections, also, under Commissioner Joseph Ponte, who took the job in early 2011.

“Very early on, Commissioner Ponte began talking about changing the culture in Corrections,” Shippee said. “I am definitely seeing an interest in swift and firm discipline that they’re not wavering on. That is one of the best ways to get across that we’re taking this seriously, if people are held accountable for these behaviors.”

‘They use a lot of retaliation’

One of the incidents that let to the OPEGA study was the 2008 case of Pamela Sampson, a corrections officer at the state prison in Warren.

In her lawsuit against the state, she said she was sexually harassed by a sergeant who was later fired for sexually harassing another officer.

When she complained to management, she said they retaliated by investigating her on charges of sexually molesting inmates.

She was later cleared, but she ultimately left the state job because of the stress and concern for her safety.

The state denied she was sexually harassed and that the sergeant was dismissed for harassment, but admits the charges against her “were not substantiated.”

The state settled her claim in 2007 for $66,000. Only six of the 45 claims were settled for a higher amount.

Although Sampson’s settlement has a non-disclosure and non-disparagement clause, she was willing to be interviewed.

“If you speak about anything against these guys (in Corrections), it’s not good,” she said. “They use a lot of retaliation. That’s why everything was thrown out in my case: They tried to create a false investigation against me.”

Sampson now lives in Bangor and is looking for a job in security.

“I wanted to continue working at my job, and I miss it very much,” Sampson said. “It’s just really hard right now.”

From the case files

Examples of discrimination charges from court documents and complaints filed with the Maine Human Rights Commission:

Bets on her sex life

The corrections officer was hired in 2001, one of the few females in that job. (The employee is not being identified because of the salacious nature of the allegations.) Among the claims in her sexual harassment lawsuit:

• Some fellow officers “had a betting pool about whom and when (she) would sleep with first,” including inmates.

• Rumors circulated that she “was willing to perform fellatio for $20.”

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• She claimed her supervisor was trying to force her out because she had complained about the sexual harassment. One example she cited involved a report she said was designed to undermine her: that she witnessed a male officer demonstrate how he could touch his nose with his tongue.

According to the report, she said: “I can’t believe he can do that. I think I’m in love.”

In her court filing, she claimed she never made the remark. Instead, she said the officer was ordered by the supervisor to fabricate the comment. In the state’s response to that charge, it agreed that the officer admitted he did not hear the offensive comment, but denied that he was ordered to make up the claim.

The female officer eventually quit the department when she said behavior and comments by officers and a supervisor created “a hostile work environment.”

While the state contested some of her allegations, it eventually paid a lump sum cash settlement to her for $65,000.

The kissing supervisor

From 2007-2008, Trish Smith was a juvenile program worker at the Department of Corrections Mountain View Youth Development Center in Charleston. Her lawsuit against the department for creating a hostile work environment and retaliation details the case of a supervisor known for his advances towards female employees.

The suit, citing Smith’s allegations and also affidavits from other employees, is unusual in that the state admits some of the behavior.

Some examples of what the state admitted:

• The supervisor “made inappropriate comments and jokes of a sexual nature, inappropriately touched and hugged and attempted to kiss” Smith and demonstrated similar behavior with other employees.

• In March 2004, the supervisor “intentionally snapped” the bra of an employee.

The state denied some of the other claims by Smith, including that management failed to keep her supervisor away from her, as they had promised to do after she complained.

Smith’s suit said she felt forced to resign because of the unwanted contact with the supervisor.

The state settled for $69,500.

There is no public record of what happened to her supervisor.

— Maine Center for Public Interest Reporting

Contact MCPIR at mainecenter@gmail.com or on the Web at pinetreewatchdog.org.

  

AUGUSTA, Maine — Inmates in Maine’s state prisons are more likely to be sexually assaulted than those in most other correctional facilities around the U.S., a recent Department of Justice report suggests.

The Maine State Prison in Warren was one of eight facilities from among 463 visited by Department of Justice officials in which the rate of sexual assault was significantly higher than the national average. Those assaults, according to DOJ, are perpetrated by other inmates and prison staff.

State prison officials are working to change that poor record in response to the federal Prison Rape Elimination Act, or PREA, of 2003, and to a report prompted by the law earlier this year that featured survey data of 81,566 inmates nationwide. Also, in May, the Obama administration began pushing a zero-tolerance approach for sexual assault in prisons.

Inmates at the Maine State Prison and the Maine Correctional Center in Windham were surveyed between 2007 and 2009 for the report.

In the 2007 survey at the Maine Correctional Center, 173 of an estimated 650 inmates were asked about sexual assaults and unwanted sexual advances, responding using a computer touch screen that maintained confidentiality. The overall rate of sexual assault — including inmate-on-inmate, staff-on-inmate and inmate-on-staff — was found to be 5.6 percent, compared with a national rate of 4.5 percent, according to Allen Beck, senior statistical advisor at the federal Bureau of Justice Statistics.

“If the data are restricted to inmate-on-inmate sexual victimization,” Beck reported, “the Maine facility rate was 4.4 percent, compared with a national rate of 2.1 percent.”

The 2008-2009 survey of 143 of about 950 prisoners at the Maine State Prison found an overall rate of 9.9 percent sexual victimization rate. The corresponding national rate was 4.4 percent, Beck said. If limited to inmate-on-inmate assaults, the rate at the facility was 5.9 percent, compared to a national rate of 2.1 percent.

Beck said both surveys were found to have high rates of statistical accuracy. Comparing the sampling process to a presidential preference poll, Beck said, “This is actually better,” because larger numbers were sampled and because mathematical formulas and historical data confirmed the accuracy.

The survey included 10 questions each for men and women inmates about various sexual acts. Each question started with one of the following two phrases: “During the last 12 months, did another inmate use physical force to make you …?” or “Did another inmate, without using physical force, pressure you or make your feel that you had to …?”

The survey found that nationally, most sexual assaults occurred in the first 24 hours of a victim’s incarceration and occurred between 6 p.m. and midnight.

Corrections Commissioner Joseph Ponte, who has been overseeing state prisons in Maine since 2011, said he had not been able to review the raw data that came from the inmate surveys conducted in Maine.

“I don’t know if it’s accurate,” he said of the DOJ report. “You just have to take the data for what it is.”

In Maine, any sexual contact between inmates and between staff and inmates is prohibited, and officials assume any such contact is not consensual. Maine also does not tabulate complaints from inmates of sexual assault at the hands of other prisoners or by staff, Ponte said, nor does it keep easily retrievable lists of criminal charges that followed such complaints.

“We’re just not collecting data in a sophisticated way,” he said, “but we probably should.”

The commissioner also noted that there is a range of complaints. Some fall into the petty category, he said, such as when an inmate claims a guard groped him during a pat-down search.

Better data will come as part of a $545,000 PREA grant to the state, Ponte said.

The grant is paying for a PREA coordinator at the Corrections Department, new information technology infrastructure and software, an outside consultant to review the culture at Maine State Prison to bring it into compliance with PREA, and a screening process which Ponte hopes will identify likely perpetrators and victims when they enter the facility, thereby allowing administrators to house them accordingly.

All states have until August to comply with PREA.

“Ten years ago, it was an untalked about topic,” Ponte said of rape in prison. Many prison officials viewed it as an inevitability, and incidents often were not reported. In those days, he said, “An assault was an assault,” and so a punch was not differentiated from a sexual attack.

That attitude changed with PREA, he said.

“It’s clearly an area that we’ve put a lot of attention and focus on,” he said, and improvements will come.

Stan Moody, who served as prison chaplain at Maine State Prison from 2008 to 2009, paints a different picture.

Though he gives Ponte high marks for making changes in the culture by moving staff and prisoners to different parts of the facility, Moody described a system he likened to “a mini Mafia.” Inmates were beholden to some staff members as their “kids,” and lower in the hierarchy, inmates were beholden to other inmates as their “kids.” Sexual favors and drugs were the currency in this power structure, he said.

Moody said prisons are “a hormone factory,” and that sex, both consensual and nonconsensual, “may not be tolerated officially, but it’s going to be a regular feature of prison.”

“The DOC has a zero-tolerance policy regarding sex, but that defies reality and really amounts to a zero-tolerance policy of dealing with sexual assault — the three-monkey defense of hear no evil, see no evil, speak no evil,” Moody said.

When pressed for specifics, the former chaplain said that during the time he was at the prison, no inmate filed an official complaint about a sexual assault. Moody said that was because assaulted inmates feared retribution from other inmates or guards. He stressed that he would warn inmates for their own protection that if they reported a sexual assault to him, he was obligated to report the incident and the name of the complainant.

“Virtually all of the reporting that I received had to do with physical and emotional harassment and guard complicity with harassment,” he said. “Sex could very well have been part of that harassment, but if so it was not mentioned. … What that tells me is that sexual assault is an accepted part of prison life and buried.”

Ponte declined to comment specifically on Moody’s claims because he was not commissioner during the years Moody worked at the prison, he said. But he cast some doubt on those claims based on his contact with inmates and their families.

“I think the place was much different when [Moody] was there,” Ponte said. “I take 10-15 calls a day and I get 10-15 emails a day from families,” and in his nearly two-year tenure, no one has reported a sexual assault.

“I talk to family members, I talk to inmates,” he said.

Now, any complaint of sexual violence from an inmate is required to be passed up the chain of command. “That goes right to the warden,” Ponte said, and an investigator is assigned to the case. The perpetrator is removed from the general population.

With the federal PREA grant, a special telephone number on a phone in the prison’s day rooms can be accessed by inmates to make complaints of sexual assaults. The calls will be monitored by the PREA coordinator hired through the grant, the commissioner said.

“We established a security team at Maine State Prison,” Ponte said, which identifies sexual predators and drug dealers. “We have a very good handle on who’s in those categories.”

Two important keys to changing the culture, the commissioner said, are training and hiring practices. Ponte wants to raise the employee screening process to that used by the Maine State Police, which employs polygraph tests and psychological profiles to ensure good hires.

Last month, the Corrections Department published a request for proposals to develop an inmate screening process. A $75,000 grant, created with federal funds, will go to the winning bidder, expected to be announced next month. The work must be completed within six months and the state must be in compliance with the federal law by Aug. 20, 2013.

Once developed, the screenings will be conducted at the Maine State Prison, the Maine Correctional Center, the Mountain View Youth Detention Center in Charleston and the Long Creek Youth Development Center in South Portland.

In Maine, there are just over 2,000 adult prisoners in the state facilities and about 200 under 21 in state facilities.

The department is not limiting the bidders for the grant to any particular kind of organization, though psychiatric research centers and institutions of higher learning would be likely groups to respond, according to the Corrections Department’s Michelle Urbanek, who has been named the state’s PREA coordinator.

“Nobody has been able to form [an effective] screening tool yet. We’re hoping someone out there can help,” Urbanek said.

Judy Plummer, a Corrections Department spokeswoman, said two or three states had developed their own screening process, but when they were applied to Maine prisoners, nearly everyone was identified as either a potential perpetrator or victim, rendering it useless.

If potential perpetrators and victims can be identified, Urbanek said, “It’s going to help us know where to house them. It will help us fit them appropriately.”

Urbanek said information generated by a screening tool also would help medical and mental health staff in prisons.

Not everyone sees the screening as innocuous, though.

Judy Garvey of the Maine Prisoner Advocacy Coalition said her group wholeheartedly supports the goal of eliminating sexual assaults in prisons. But she worries that an incoming prisoner’s criminal history might unduly affect the screening, and that the process may be too subjective, resulting in curtailed civil liberties.

“Our concern is that the screening can cause problems that are not there,” Garvey said.

“It’s a problem in all prisons,” she said of sexual assault, the result of “putting together hundreds of people” without adequate outlets.

On TV and in movies, rape in prison is often a punchline to a joke, the DOJ report notes.

“But sexual abuse is never a laughing matter, nor is it punishment for a crime,” the report asserts. “Rather, it is a crime, and it is no more tolerable when its victims have committed crimes of their own.

“Prison rape can have severe consequences for victims, for the security of correctional facilities, and for the safety and well-being of the communities to which nearly all incarcerated persons will eventually return,” the department concluded.

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