Yes, and it is the same in prisons all over America. READ Culture of Cover Up
Only when the abusers are prosecuted and imprisoned will they get the message: they must obey the law. READ How to avoid the deaths of prison guards and inmates
Excerpts from the Article:
One former Panhandle prison employee said she filed a written complaint about a correctional officer’s racist behavior, then came into work several days later to another officer dangling a noose made of toilet paper in front of her. Another former employee said she walked in on a handcuffed inmate being beaten in the medical unit, surrounded by a group of officers. She was suspended one day after filing an incident report about it, and fired within two weeks.
Though both of those employees are now gone, they aren’t alone.
In interviews with the Times-Union, a dozen former and current employees at Santa Rosa Correctional Institution described a culture of abuse, bullying, racism and administrative cover-ups in the mental health dorms. Officers selected inmates they had problems with for unsanctioned forms of punishment: to include physical violence or withholding their food to the point where prisoners lost considerable weight, employees said.
“It frustrates us and makes us angry every time this happens and we report it and these officers are still there working,” said Betty Young, a former activities technician. “They won’t fire them because they’re so short on staff, and they keep them.”
Several employees complained all the way to the top — Warden Walker Clemmons.
The Times-Union isn’t identifying any current employees, who expressed fears of retaliation. It is naming two former employees and used records to corroborate many of the claims.
The facility has a capacity of some 2,600 inmates but housed more than 3,300 prisoners from across the state as of the last audit in February 2015. It’s unclear how many of those are from Northeast Florida.
The Office of Inspector General is reviewing and investigating the allegations, the department added. Glady said the institution had a “track record of ensuring that any individuals involved in misconduct are held fully accountable.”
Ronald Thornton was one week away from his release date, serving a four-year sentence for cocaine possession, when correctional officers called him out from his cell. Thornton, a black man, had been fighting with several correctional officers who he said used racist language toward him. He had already been badly beaten once before, to the point where his eyes were swollen shut, according to multiple sources at the prison. But Thornton wasn’t staying quiet. He continued to call out officers for racist behavior. On April 9, one month ago, a couple of officers told Thornton they had a going-away present for him, he said — then they told him he had to take a tuberculosis test. The men led Thornton to the medical unit in handcuffs. It’s one of the few areas in the facility that has no cameras, according to several employees.
“They closed the door and put their gloves on and said, ‘You know what time it is,’” Thornton told the Times-Union. “Then they started hitting me.” Thornton identified Sgt. Lee Peacock Jr. as one officer who beat him, but could not name others. He said violence against inmates was rampant in the prison. The Department of Corrections would not say whether Peacock was under investigation but confirmed that he is still an active employee there.
Young, the former activities therapist at the prison, heard what she described as grunting in the midst of Thornton’s beating, and forced her way into the medical office. One officer whistled out a warning, she said, and when she arrived she saw several officers and some nurses were trying to shield Thornton from her view. Young said Thornton leaned away from an officer and looked to her, and she was able to see evidence of physical injury to his face.
Young, who said she had knowledge of Thornton being beaten up once before, said she called out in surprise at the officers that they were beating Thornton again. The officers simply stared at her and said nothing in response, Young said. She went directly to her supervisor to report the incident, she added.
That same day, Young wrote a report about the beating. She identified Peacock and other officers as being in the medical unit surrounding Thornton when she entered. The incident report would be her last. Young was suspended the day after she filed it, then terminated a week and a half later, she said.
Officers regularly coerced inmates in the mental health unit by withholding or ruining their food, according to a dozen former and current employees.
Because inmates at the mental health unit are kept in one-man cells, officers deliver trays directly to them. But sometimes, the officers served “air trays” or “ghost trays,” the employees said. The trays have a lid on top, so they appear to be full on video, but contain no food, they said, adding that officers will also position cups of juice to spill into the tray and soak the meal.
Employees said officers used the trays for coercion or retaliation. For instance, Thornton said that after his beating, an officer came up to the back of his cell, off camera, and told him to file an incident report saying he fell. The officers threatened him with ghost trays, he added. Several current employees and former employees said officers commonly withheld food to get inmates to change their stories for investigations into abuse or to concoct fictional narratives that would cover up the wrongdoing of an officer.
Employees who attended the meeting described it as “punitive” and felt the administration was more upset that they had reported the abuses than they were disturbed about the misconduct by officers.
The Department of Corrections faces wrongful death lawsuits not uncommonly, including those that raise questions about deaths that were ruled as suicides by the department’s Office of Inspector General.