September 20, 2020

Waldo County hit with discrimination suit> Former jail employee claims sex, racial bias

BELFAST — A former corrections officer at the Waldo County Jail has filed suit in Waldo County Superior Court claiming she was discriminated against on the basis of her race and sex.

Cherisse M. Hamilton of Belfast, who describes herself as being mulatto in the court complaint, claims she received harsher discipline for prematurely releasing a prisoner than did a white male corrections officer at the jail.

“The two employees were treated differently on a subjective level, as well,” according to the complaint, which was filed Jan. 21. When Hamilton erroneously released the prisoner, she was instructed in writing to be “more meticulous.” The white officer was told, “Don’t worry about it — just don’t let anybody else go,” the complaint said.

Hamilton declined to comment on the case when contacted Tuesday.

Hamilton resigned from the Waldo County Sheriff’s Department on May 20, 1996, and about two months later filed a complaint with the Maine Human Rights Commission. According to the commission investigator’s report dated Oct. 3, 1997, Hamilton said she resigned because she could no longer tolerate the way she was treated.

Waldo County Jail officials said Hamilton was treated “no differently than any other unruly or uncontrollable employee,” the report said.

The report concluded there were no reasonable grounds to believe Hamilton was discriminated against on certain claims she made about performance evaluation, training opportunities, harassment or discharge. But the report did conclude that “there are reasonable grounds to believe that Cherisse M. Hamilton was discriminated against on the bases of race and sex with regard to disciplinary actions by Waldo County Jail.”

“That’s the one action we’re hanging our hat on,” said Robert Ringer Jr., the Waterville attorney representing Hamilton. According to the state civil rights statute under which the suit is filed, Hamilton could be awarded up to $10,000 in penalties if a court rules against Waldo County, Ringer said.

Hamilton is now “happily employed” at the Knox County Sheriff’s Department as a corrections officer, Ringer said.

Waldo County Sheriff John Ford said he disagrees that there was any discrepancy in discipline in regard to Hamilton and any other officers.

Hamilton filed suit over two incidents described in the Maine Human Rights Commission’s report. On Dec. 1, 1995, Hamilton received a written reprimand for releasing an inmate from custody the previous week, a reprimand that was to remain in her personnel file for a year. Hamilton had not checked the paperwork thoroughly enough to find a document that noted a requirement that a certain individual remain in custody, the report said.

On Jan. 22, 1996, a white male corrections officer at the jail released a prisoner after “assuming that the court released the inmate from custody on all charges pending against him,” the report said. However, some charges remained pending and the inmate should not have been released. The officer was not disciplined, according to the complaint.

“Now that a legal suit has been filed, the county’s insurance company will look at this,” Ford said.

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