Trial looms for Scarborough roofing contractor charged with manslaughter in death of worker

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A Scarborough roofing contractor was in court for breach of bail Monday, just two weeks before his manslaughter trial in the death of a worker in 2018.

Shawn Purvis appears in court in May 2019 on arraignment over the death of a worker who fell from the roof of a house on Munjoy Hill in December 2018. Jill Brady / Staff Photographer

A grand jury indicted Shawn Purvis in April 2019 on one count of manslaughter and one count of manslaughter in the workplace, a statue rarely used. Purvis pleaded not guilty the following month and was released under certain conditions.

The hearing at the Cumberland County Courthouse provided a window into the tensions that have simmered for nearly three years since Alan Loignon, Purvis’ half-brother, fell from a roof on Munjoy Hill.

Last month, Purvis walked into a Subway store in Scarborough and met Loignon’s fiancee’s mother. At the time, Purvis was in the middle of a civil hearing into workplace safety violations that could cost him more than $ 2 million in fines. Surveillance footage showed he and Sharon Huff ignored each other at the sandwich counter but failed to capture the interaction in the parking lot that prompted the judge to say the harsh words on Monday.

Huff testified that Purvis told him to tell his daughter that she “is (expletive) junk”. Purvis admitted in court that he made a profane statement to the woman as he drove past his car, but denied telling him to pass a message on to his daughter. Purvis has not been allowed to have contact with Loignon’s fiancee since the court found last year that he had thrown nails in front of his car.

Superior Court Judge Thomas Warren told Purvis on Monday that he wanted to revoke his bail, but only withheld it because COVID-19 at the Cumberland County Jail could jeopardize the trial at come and be late. Warren, however, said he would if Purvis had another violation before or during his trial.

“I would run the risk of aborting the trial – because at some point we have to think about what we say with these bail conditions,” Warren said.

The trial was originally scheduled for March 2020 but was delayed by the onset of the pandemic. Jury selection is scheduled for November 29. The parties spent the remainder of Monday working out pre-trial issues, such as whether and when marijuana use would be mentioned before jurors, and how much the state will be allowed to say about Purvis’ previous interactions with the Federal Administration for Occupational Safety and Health. They also discussed the logistics – including how many people would be in the courtroom – for holding a trial with precautions to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

Purvis, 47, owns Purvis Home Improvement in Scarborough. The company’s website advertises services for roofing, siding, windows and gutters, and its slogan is “Don’t be nervous, call Purvis”.

Loignon, 30, from Biddeford, fell on December 13, 2018, while working on the roof of a third story on Congress Street. He was not wearing a safety harness. He died that day at Maine Medical Center.

Purvis and Loignon were half-brothers. Loignon was engaged to Kristina Huff and the couple had two daughters. His obituary, published in a local newspaper, described him as “an extraordinary hard worker, supplier and family man.” In 2019, his family filed a wrongful death lawsuit against Purvis in York County Superior Court.

Deputy Attorneys General Leanne Robbin and Gregg Bernstein declined to discuss the criminal case on Monday.

Defense lawyer Thomas Hallett said on Monday that what happened to Loignon was “a real tragedy, a terrible tragedy”.

“But it was not a crime,” he said.

This was the second hearing for Purvis on possible bail violations. Initially, he was released on personal commitment. In January 2020, the attorney general’s office accused him of failing to take seriously the obligation to report his jobs weekly to the state. Robbin also said at the time that Purvis threw nails in front of Kristina Huff’s car as she drove past one of his construction sites and took photos. Warren warned Purvis that he would send him to jail if he found out about any other violations, and he increased his Personal Undertaking bond to $ 250.

Sharon Huff testified on Monday that she was in her truck in the subway parking lot, with the doors closed and the windows up, when Purvis walked past and said, “You lifted two bastards (expletives).” She said she opened her car door and called him, “At least your kids have their dad.” She said he made the comment about what to say to his daughter as he walked away.

“I watch my daughter and my grandchildren suffer every day,” Huff said.

Purvis, who testified to contest his claim, said he felt like she was stinging him looking at him from his vehicle. While he admitted to making a version of the first statement Huff recounted and repeated it several times in court, he denied asking him to give his daughter a message.

“I almost felt like a pincushion, like it was pushing me,” he said.

On Monday, Warren added an additional $ 1,000 to Purvis’ bail and ordered him to submit to electronic surveillance until trial. After the hearing, Hallett said he didn’t have much time to discuss this decision with Purvis, but he believed his client was upset but accepted the judge’s decision.

“They committed bail violations all the time,” he added. “The state is going too far. “

A central question for the jury when deciding the charge of manslaughter at work will be how to define the working relationship between Purvis and Loignon. Federal law requires employers to provide certain safety equipment, such as fall arrest harnesses, or take other measures to prevent falls. But in an interview after the indictment, Purvis argued that he was not an employer and instead hired independent contractors. He said he cannot force these contractors to use the safety equipment he provides.

The case is likely only the second time Maine prosecutors have filed a complaint under the workplace manslaughter law, which is a subsection of manslaughter and punishable by law. up to five years in prison and a fine of $ 5,000.

The first known lawsuit, in 1991, took place in York County, when a grand jury indicted a New Hampshire construction company for the death of a 23-year-old man who was run over while crews overhaul the Highway 1 bridge between Portsmouth and Kittery in 1989, according to the Associated Press. Robbin said on Monday the case ended with an acquittal.

If Purvis is convicted of manslaughter, a Class A felony, he faces up to 30 years in prison and a fine of $ 50,000.

He could also face more than $ 2 million in fines for OSHA citations for failing to protect workers from falls. Purvis disputed those quotes and a hearing was held over several days in October and November. An administrative judge is not expected to rule in this case for months.

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