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Trial nears for Scarborough roofing contractor charged with manslaughter in worker’s death

trial-nears-for-scarborough-roofing-contractor-charged-with-manslaughter-in-worker’s-death

Nov. 16—A Scarborough roofing contractor was in court for a bail violation on Monday, just two weeks before he goes on trial for manslaughter in the 2018 death of a worker.

A grand jury indicted Shawn Purvis in April 2019 on one count of manslaughter and another of workplace manslaughter, a rarely used statue. Purvis pleaded not guilty the following month and has remained free from custody under certain conditions.

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

Last month, Purvis walked into a Subway shop in Scarborough and ran into the mother of Loignon’s fiancee. At the time, Purvis was in the middle of a civil hearing on workplace safety violations that could cost him more than $2 million in fines. Surveillance footage showed that he and Sharon Huff ignored each other at the sandwich counter but did not capture the interaction in the parking lot that prompted the judge’s stern words Monday.

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

Superior Court Justice Thomas Warren told Purvis on Monday that he wanted to revoke his bail but held off only because COVID-19 at the Cumberland County Jail could jeopardize the upcoming and overdue trial. Warren, however, said he would do it 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 mean what we say with these bail conditions,” Warren said.

The trial was initially scheduled for March 2020 but was delayed by the onset of the pandemic. Jury selection is scheduled for Nov. 29. The parties spent the rest of Monday hashing out issues ahead of trial, such as if and when marijuana use would be mentioned in front of the jurors, and how much the state will be allowed to say about Purvis’ previous interactions with the federal Occupational Health and Safety Administration. They also discussed 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 business website advertises services for roofing, siding, windows and gutters, and its slogan is “Don’t be nervous, call Purvis.”

Loignon, 30, of Biddeford, fell Dec. 13, 2018, while working on a third-story roof 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 marry Kristina Huff, and the couple had two daughters. His obituary, published in a local newspaper, described him as “a hard worker and an amazing provider and family man.” In 2019, his family filed a wrongful death lawsuit against Purvis in York County Superior Court.

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

Defense attorney Thomas Hallett said 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 recognizance. In January 2020, the Attorney General’s Office accused him of not taking seriously a requirement to report his jobs every week to the state. Robbin also said at the time that Purvis threw nails in front of Kristina Huff’s car when she drove by one of his work sites and took photographs. Warren warned Purvis that he would send him to jail if he found any additional violations, and he increased his bail from personal recognizance to $250.

On Monday, Sharon Huff testified that she was in her truck in the Subway parking lot, with the doors closed and windows rolled up, when Purvis walked past and said, “You raised two (expletive) scumbags.” She said she opened her car door and called after him, “At least your children have their father.” She said that he made the comment about what to tell her daughter as he was walking away.

“I look at my daughter and grandchildren suffer every single day,” Huff testified.

Purvis, who testified to dispute her claim, said he felt she was needling him by staring at him from her vehicle. While he admitted to making a version of the first statement Huff recounted, and repeated it several times in court, he denied that he asked her to give a message to her daughter.

“I felt almost like a pincushion, like she was poking me,” he said.

On Monday, Warren added another $1,000 to Purvis’ bail and ordered him to submit to electronic monitoring until the trial. After the hearing, Hallett said he did not have much time to discuss that ruling with Purvis, but he thought his client was upset but accepting of the judge’s decision.

“They’ve been bringing bail violations the entire time,” he added. “The state is overreaching.”

A central question for the jury when deciding the workplace manslaughter charge will be how to define the employment relationship between Purvis and Loignon. Federal law requires employers to provide certain safety equipment, such as fall harnesses, or take other steps to prevent falls. But in an interview after the indictment, Purvis argued that he is not an employer and instead hires independent subcontractors. He said he cannot force those subcontractors to use the safety equipment he provides.

The case is likely only the second time prosecutors in Maine have sought charges under the workplace manslaughter statute, which is a subsection of manslaughter and carries a maximum penalty of five years in prison and a $5,000 fine.

The first known prosecution, in 1991, occurred in York County, when a grand jury indicted a New Hampshire contracting firm in connection with the death of a 23-year-old man who was crushed while crews were overhauling the Route 1 bridge between Portsmouth and Kittery in 1989, according to The Associated Press. Robbin said on Monday that case ended with an acquittal.

If Purvis is convicted on the manslaughter charge, a Class A felony, he will face as many as 30 years in prison and a $50,000 fine.

He also could face more than $2 million in fines for OSHA citations for failing to protect workers from falls. Purvis has contested those citations, and a hearing took place over multiple days in October and November. An administrative law judge is not expected to rule in that case for months.

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