FARMINGTON — A federal lawsuit has been settled before a jury could decide whether corrections officers at the Franklin County jail violated the rights of two former inmates who claim their food was poisoned as a prank.
The deal was reached just days before the trial that had been scheduled to begin Monday in U.S. District Court in Bangor, but details of the settlement agreement remain unclear despite the potential for a financial effect on county taxpayers.
Robert Ayer of New Sharon and Stephen Wing of Industry made the accusations based on an alleged incident in 2008, when they were inmates at the jail in Farmington.
Attorney Jonathan Hull, representing both men, said Monday that he was prohibited from releasing any details of the settlement agreement, citing a confidentiality clause in the deal.
He called it typical for a legal settlement to have such as clause, which keeps either side from making public statements or releasing information. His clients had been seeking compensation for damages related to the incident.
When asked about whether or not his clients received money as part of the deal, Hull described it as a “satisfactory settlement” for both sides.
“Otherwise we would have been in federal district court this morning,” he said.
Jail employees were accused of intentionally contaminating veal patties and spaghetti with pepper spray, mace or some other noxious chemical, according to the lawsuit, and then laughing at the inmates when they became sick after eating the tainted food.
The complaint also alleged that jail officials denied the inmates’ repeated requests for medical attention, and that they threatened and harassed the men until their release.
The initial lawsuit named eight jail employees, including Sheriff Dennis C. Pike, as well as the county administrative unit as defendants.
The federal court already had dismissed the complaints against all but two of the jail employees, leaving two female corrections officers named as defendants in the jury trial.
Peter Marchesi, attorney for the county, said Monday that the settlement agreement applies to the entire list of initial defendants. The deal prohibits any appeals or future lawsuits tied to the incident, he said.
The settlement also states that none of the defendants admits to any wrongdoing or legal liability, Marchesi said.
Samantha Wyman and Nicole Quick are the two jail employees who the lawsuit claims had the most direct involvement in the incident and faced the trial, he said.
The defendants denied the allegation — specifically that they used pepper spray on the inmates’ food — throughout the more than yearlong court proceedings, he said.
“(The defendants) looked at it as a good-natured prank that they put a very small portion of hot Chinese mustard into a small portion of their food,” he said.
Hull said Monday that his clients maintained their food was “adulterated with pepper spray.”
Marchesi declined to answer questions about whether the women or the county taxpayers would be responsible to pay compensation for any damages potentially awarded in the settlement deal.
The county government’s insurance policy paid for the legal defense, he said.
Franklin County commissioners will learn about the details of the legal settlement at their meeting scheduled for 9 a.m. today, according to Julie Magoon, county clerk.
Magoon said Monday that the commissioners will discuss the settlement in executive session. She referred a request under the freedom of information law for the settlement documents to Marchesi, who didn’t respond immediately Monday afternoon.
Pike said Monday that Quick remains employed as a corrections officer at the jail, but Wyman left in September 2008. He declined to give other details.
Ayer was serving a sentence for his conviction on two charges of assault and one charge of stalking, according to county jail officials, who didn’t have his age. Wing, 33 at the time, was jailed on an aggravated criminal trespassing charge, officials said.
David Robinson — 861-9287