The mother of a transgender teenager who died by suicide at the Long Creek Youth Development Center in South Portland has settled a wrongful death lawsuit against the Maine Department of Corrections for $225,000.

A copy of the settlement agreement, which the Press Herald received from the Maine Attorney General’s Office in response to a public records request, states that Michelle Knowles of North Vassalboro will receive a $225,000 payment from the state on behalf of her son, 16-year-old Charles Knowles, who died at a hospital after attempting suicide at Long Creek in October 2016.

Charles Knowles, who is referred to in settlement documents as Maise Knowles, was admitted to Long Creek in South Portland five years ago. A transgender boy, Charles was housed in the girls’ unit at Long Creek in 2016. Charles was ordered to be detained in Long Creek while awaiting a court hearing on charges of setting fire to his house earlier in 2016.

His death prompted scrutiny of how Long Creek treats LGBTQ youth, in addition to how well it protects young people with mental health problems. An independent review later found that the prison was understaffed and ill-equipped to handle the serious mental health needs of young people who are often placed there because there is nowhere else for them to go.

Knowles’ death spurred renewed calls to close Long Creek that recently gained increased traction following the release of a report that detailed how a lack of staffing, mental health support and structured activities contributed to several episodes of unruly and destructive conduct at the facility this summer and fall.

It was the third time in four years that the Center for Children’s Law and Policy investigated issues associated with Long Creek. And advocates for youth prison reform said the study is consistent with findings made in 2017. Namely, that the facility is not designed to meet or manage the mental health needs of the young people incarcerated there.


Michelle Knowles filed her lawsuit  in U.S. District Court in Portland in April. In the suit, Knowles said her son was on suicide watch when he killed himself at Long Creek Youth Development Center.

His mother’s complaint alleges that Joseph Ponte, a former commissioner of the Maine Department of Corrections, approved an inadequate suicide prevention policy and employees failed to follow the basic instructions of mental health providers about suicide watches. Ponte was the commissioner of the Department of Corrections between 2011 and 2014. The complaint says Ponte approved a suicide prevention policy in 2012 that failed to address the use of “suicide-resistant, protrusion-free rooms” for high-risk detained youth. At the time of his death, Charles was not in such a room.

The Maine Department of Corrections did not respond Thursday night to an email seeking reaction to the settlement agreement. But the “Release and Indemnity” settlement, which was dated Dec. 14, makes it clear that the state, including Ponte and three other defendants who all worked at the youth center, have been discharged from any future claims or liabilities connected to Charles Knowles’ death.

The agreement between the state and Michelle Knowles represents a compromise of “certain disputed claims and is not to be construed as an admission of liability,” according to the terms spelled out in the settlement.

 Knowles’ attorney, Matthew Morgan of Augusta, praised his client’s efforts on behalf of her son.

“Our firm was honored to represent Michelle and the estate,” Morgan said in an email Thursday night. “More than anything, Michelle hopes her efforts in this suit will result in real and lasting changes to Long Creek and the way children are treated in Maine’s juvenile justice system.”

It’s unclear how the report by the Center for Children’s Law and Policy will affect the upcoming legislative session. Several Republicans serving on the oversight committee said Thursday that they continue to oppose closing the facility. However, a Portland representative who sponsored a bill to close the facility last session said he expects supporters to maintain pressure on the state to close Long Creek.

Staff Writer Megan Gray contributed to this report.


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