Another of dozens of serious prison abuse articles I see every week!
Excerpts from the Article:
A Vermont civil rights chapter is attempting to pry open the cover of secrecy between a health-care contractor and the state of Vermont.
Earlier this week, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Vermont filed an amicus brief in support of the Human Rights Defense Center’s (HRDC) effort to look into the state of Vermont and a corrections health-care contractor. HRDC is a nonprofit charitable organization dedicated to advancing the rights of prisoners.
Behind the brief is the issue that some Vermont prisoners have alleged inadequate health care by Wellpath, a firm contracted by the state.
By legal definition, amicus briefs (literally, “a friend of the court”) are filed “by people who typically take the position of one side in a case, in the process of supporting a cause that has some bearing on the issues in the case.”
The ACLU of Vermont’s brief is supporting an effort by the Florida-based Human Rights Defense Center (HRDC) “to obtain records of legal claims filed against Vermont’s former prison healthcare provider over a period of five years.”
Is it legal for a state contractor to withhold public records involving a core government function, in this case, the provision of healthcare in Vermont prisons? That’s what the ACLU and HRDC are attempting to ascertain.
The issue has been presented to the Vermont Supreme Court to consider in the hopes of a ruling this year.
The most notable official supporting the ACLU and HRDC is Secretary of State Jim Condos, a long-time outspoken advocate of government transparency. Along with Condos, Vermont State Auditor Doug Hoffer, the Vermont Prisoners’ Rights Office, and the New England First Amendment Coalition have joined the amicus
According to a March 23 news release, ACLU of Vermont Senior Staff Attorney Lia Ernst said, “Vermonters expect their government and its contractors to be accountable. For that to happen, we can’t allow private corporations performing traditional, core government roles to evade our public records laws. Transparency is especially important in this context, given the continuing failures of our prison healthcare system and the resulting harms to incarcerated Vermonters and their families. The state can choose to outsource its work, but its legal obligations do not just disappear.”
The ACLU brief essentially outlines that, from 2010 to 2015, private for-profit Correct Care Solutions/Wellpath, contracted with the state to provide health care for all people incarcerated in Vermont prisons. “In return, the state paid Wellpath roughly $94 million,” according to ACLU Vermont. “HRDC…requested copies of settlements of the lawsuits filed against Wellpath. Wellpath refused to disclose those records, prompting this lawsuit.” Vermont’s Department of Corrections “contractually delegated to Wellpath a function that the DOC is both constitutionally and statutorily mandated to undertake and argues that, because it was operating as a ‘functional equivalent’ of the government, Wellpath took on the government’s transparency obligations under the state’s public records law.”
The ACLU of Vermont litigated the same issue in 2013. At that time, the Vermont Supreme Court ordered the Corrections Corporation of America to disclose records ACLU Vermont requested.
ACLU of Vermont stated, “that the Public Records Act’s purpose of ensuring governmental accountability cannot be achieved if agencies can outsource their core responsibilities – but not their transparency obligations – to private entities.”
The text of the amicus brief may be read online at https://www.acluvt.org/sites/default/files/2020-308_hrdc_v._ccs_secretary_condos_et_al._amicus_brief.pdf.
This has been an ongoing battle in many states. Because our prisons are so out of control, they try to hide everything with a blanket of secrecy. They say it is for “security” reasons, but that is total BS!
Excerpts from the Article:
Exacerbating the alarm for civil and human rights organizations is the record of malpractice that private prison companies in Florida have. Human Rights Defense Center is appealing to the Third District Court of Appeal in Miami, arguing that by working in prison on a state contract, Armor must comply with Florida public records laws. “Any lawyer who represents people in prison can tell you that it’s incredibly difficult to get information on what is going on behind bars,” said Kelly Knapp, senior supervising attorney at the Southern Poverty Law Center.
African Americans comprise about half of the more than 100,000 inmates in Florida prisons and jails.
Black males ages 30 to 34 have the highest incarceration rate of any race, age, or gender group in the Sunshine State, which boasts the third-largest prison population in the United States.
Against that backdrop, an amicus brief filed this week in the Third District Court of Appeal in Miami is critical.
The First Amendment Foundation, ACLU of Florida, and the Southern Poverty Law Center filed the brief supporting the plaintiffs in Human Rights Defense Center v. Armor Correctional Health Services Inc.
According to a news release, the organizations filed the brief because of their “longstanding interest in preserving an open and transparent government and protecting the public’s right to access public records, including public records held by private companies that provide services to Florida’s incarcerated population.”
The Human Rights Defense Center filed a public records request with Armor Correctional Health Services, which provides medical care in Florida prisons, seeking details of its treatment of incarcerated people.
The release noted that the trial judge dismissed the case because Armor is a private company, and any request for information needed to go through the Florida Department of Corrections.
Human Rights Defense Center is appealing to the Third District Court of Appeal in Miami, arguing that by working in prison on a state contract, Armor must comply with Florida public records laws, the release further stated.
“Any lawyer who represents people in prison can tell you that it’s incredibly difficult to get information on what is going on behind bars,” Kelly Knapp, senior supervising attorney at the Southern Poverty Law Center, stated.
“Organizations like ours rely on Florida’s public record laws to make sure that the law is being followed. But with the privatization of so many prison functions, it has become harder than ever to uncover what is happening to people inside. Private companies getting public money should be required to answer to the public.”
The organizations have argued that the steady increase of privatization in administering medical care provided to incarcerated people naturally calls for robust monitoring of prison conditions.
“The public must be able to access information about the government in an open and transparent way,” Benjamin Stevenson, staff attorney at the ACLU of Florida, said in a statement emailed to NNPA Newswire.
“Our democracy depends on the public’s right to know what the government is doing, and access to public information is a constitutional right that must be protected,” Stevenson determined.
In 2013, Florida entered into a five-year, $1.2 billion contract with Corizon, a Tennessee company, to provide medical care to thousands of incarcerated people in Florida. Reportedly, in the five years before Corizon’s partnership, the private company faced over 600 lawsuits stemming from allegations of malpractice.
In December 2012, the Florida Department of Corrections also entered into a $240 million contract with Wexford Health Sources, a Pennsylvania-based company, to provide medical services to incarcerated people in nine institutions throughout South Florida.
Reports indicated that between January 2008 through 2012, Wexford faced over 1,000 claims of malpractice from people in prisons.
The organizations argued in their brief that the sheer number of lawsuits against private contractors providing prison services underscores the need for effective monitoring in prisons.
“Access to records of government contractors is critical as more prison services are privatized. These records are necessary for the public and the press to oversee the conditions of Florida prisons and jails,” Pamela Marsh, President of the First Amendment Foundation, argued.
“Forcing the public to sue a government entity, rather than a contractor acting on behalf of an agency, unnecessarily drags out the enforcement of a public records request and increases the costs of enforcing the constitutional right of public access.”
Part of the racism, rampant in our criminal justice system.
Excerpts from the Article:
Last week in this space I bashed Chinese strongman Xi Jinping for forcing millions of people into slave labor in Xinjiang and elsewhere. But the United States does it too. Prison Legal News, the premier U.S. source for reporting from inside prisons, has published many articles about forced, nearly unpaid labor in U.S. prisons.
“It’s illegal to import convict-made goods into the United States, but the USA exports convict-made goods,” the editor of Prison Legal News told me in an email. “Every license plate in El Salvador is made by prisoners in Texas.”
That’s astounding: that the most densely populated, labor-intensive country in the Americas’ mainland, with a per capita income of $8,720 ($167.70 a week), would export jobs to the United States for our cheap labor.
So tell me, precisely what is the difference between Lord Xi’s war upon ethnic minorities, and his attempted extermination of Xinjiang, Muslim and Tibetan cultures, and our own lordly, centuries-long assaults and disproportionate imprisonment of Black people?
“African Americans are incarcerated in state prisons across the country at more than five times the rate of whites, and at least ten times the rate in five states,” according to a report by The Sentencing Project. In five states — Iowa, Minnesota, New Jersey, Vermont and Wisconsin — the disparity is more than 10 to 1.
And though no U.S. state has a majority black population (Mississippi has the largest Black population by percentage, at 38.9%), twelve states’ prison populations are more than 50% Black: Alabama, Delaware, Georgia, Illinois, Louisiana, Maryland, Michigan, Mississippi, New Jersey, North Carolina, South Carolina and Virginia.
Maryland, whose population is 32.2% Black, leads this tawdry parade, with a prison population that is 72% Black.
And how, if at all, are our prisoners employed, to do what, and for how much money?
Well, according to Prison Legal News’s February issue: “When historic wildfires burned through Arizona in June 2020, two out of three of the firefighters who brought the blazes under control were state prisoners who were paid just pennies on the dollar to do the same job as well-paid professional firefighters working right next to them.”
Inmate firefighters were paid $1.50 an hour to fight the forest fires: time deducted for breaks. State-employed firefighters average a little over $22 an hour, though with hazard pay and overtime on the fireline, they surely made more than that — as they should.
“What those numbers say to me is they’re using inmate labor to close the budget gap,” state Rep. Kristin Engel told Prison Legal News.
In the same issue, Prison Legal News reported that Texas state prisoners in the past year have been paid $2 an hour to move Covid-19 corpses in El Paso.
When I worked as a paralegal for refugees in U.S. immigration prisons during Reagan’s wars against Central America, immigration prisoners were paid $1 a day to work: cleaning, painting, cooking, repairing the prison that held them.
A dollar a day. They didn’t get the money in their hands, of course; it went on the books so they could buy a cookie or a Coke.
I remember one guy who told me: “No. I won’t work for a dollar a day. Twelve cents an hour? No. I’m a worker. My labor is worth more than a dollar a day.”
He had been a labor organizer in El Salvador, and fled after several of his colleagues were murdered and his life was threatened. And here he was in the United States, in prison, a union organizer, offered a job at $1 a day.
Arguments in our country’s “immigration debates” are endless, though they are not really arguments: just endless vituperation from the right and exasperation from the center. (There is no left wing in the United States.)
Well, if President Biden really wants to reduce undocumented immigration from Central America, I suggest he start by encouraging El Salvador to tell its own workers — free or in prison — to make their own damn license plates, rather than subcontracting Texas prisoners to do it.
I will not be surprised if he kills himself. Protective Custody in all jails and prisons is a total joke: guards more often than not sleep through their 8 hour shift, then awaken to check off the form saying that they checked on each inmate every 8 hours, as they are required to do. I know this because I saw it many times.
Excerpt from the Article:
Former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin was put into a prison’s segregated housing unit for his own safety, a prison spokesperson said, after Chauvin was found guilty of the murder of George Floyd on Tuesday.
Here’s what’s next for Chauvin after his conviction:
Derek Chauvin's booking photos, released Wednesday.
Derek Chauvin’s booking photos, released Wednesday.
Sentencing will be in eight weeks.
Chauvin will be sentenced in about eight weeks — so, around the second week of June — Judge Peter Cahill said Tuesday, with a precise date to be announced.
Although Chauvin had been out on bail since October, Cahill revoked Chauvin’s bail after the verdict. Chauvin will now await sentencing while behind bars.
in a segregated unit. Chauvin on Tuesday was taken to a state prison — the Minnesota Correctional Facility-Oak Park Heights — to await sentencing, Department of Corrections spokesperson Sarah Fitzgerald said.
There, he was placed in an administrative control unit — a housing unit that is separated from the general population, Fitzgerald said.
“He is on ‘administrative segregation’ status for his safety,” Fitzgerald wrote to CNN in an email. “Administrative segregation is used when someone’s presence in the general population is a safety concern.”
He is at the prison through an agreement between the Hennepin County Sheriff’s Office and the Minnesota Department of Corrections, Fitzgerald told CNN. The judge will consider these factors
Chauvin’s sentence will depend on several factors, including the state’s sentencing guidelines, and whether the judge decides to go beyond the guidelines because of certain circumstances.
Technically, Chauvin could face up to 40 years in prison for second-degree murder, up to 25 years for third-degree murder, and up to 10 years for manslaughter.
However, Chauvin has no prior criminal record. The state’s guidelines say that for such a person, the presumptive sentence for both second-degree and third-degree murder is 12 1/2 years. The judge is given discretion to hand down a sentence between 10 years and eight months and 15 years for each.
Second-degree manslaughter carries a presumptive sentence of four years for someone with no record, according to the guidelines. The judge’s discretion ranges from three years and five months to four years and eight months.
However, prosecutors are asking for a tougher sentence than the recommendations provide.
In two filings last year, prosecutors said five aggravating factors warrant an increased sentence. Those factors include that Floyd was particularly vulnerable, that he was treated with particular cruelty, and that children were present when the crimes were committed.
If the judge applies aggravating factors, it would shift Chauvin’s sentence to a higher part of the legal range.
The sentences for all three crimes would likely be served at the same time, not consecutively. “Generally, when an offender is convicted of multiple current offenses… concurrent sentencing is presumptive,” according to the guidelines.
What about the other officers charged?
The three other officers facing charges in Floyd’s death are expected to be tried together in August. Tou Thao, Thomas Lane and J. Alexander Kueng are all charged with aiding and abetting second-degree murder and aiding and abetting second-degree manslaughter.
Each one could have been prevented. My many sources told me that guards, idiots that they are, removed their masks as soon as they got out of camera range.
Excerpts from the Article:
l of 13 prison inmates died while in custody of the Delaware Department of Correction over the past year after testing positive for the COVID-19 virus.
That’s why Sen. Marie Pinkney, D-New Castle, chairwoman of the Senate Corrections Committee, is working on moving a couple of House bills forward to help reward prisoners who survived despite being forced to live in crowded prison cells by giving them reduced time on their prison sentences.
Sen. Pinkney was one of the speakers at the ACLU of Delaware and Campaign for Smart Justice virtual vigil Thursday night that marked a “Year of Loss in Delaware’s Prisons.”
A year ago today, Joseph Russo passed away from COVID-19 complications, becoming the first Delawarean to die while in custody of the DOC. He was incarcerated at James T. Vaughn Correctional Facility near Smyrna at the time.
Since Russo’s death, 12 more Delawareans have lost their lives to COVID-19 while in DOC custody: Robert Francisco, James Waller, Jim Hunter, Jr., Richard Roth, Peter Schellinger, Joseph R. Slider, Jose Rivera, John W. Rosciolo, Jackie R. Lovett, Fred J. Clanton, Charles R.J. Patterson, and Michael Harris.
Javonne Rich, policy advocate for the ACLU of Delaware, said more than 2,700 correctional officers and inmates have tested positive for COVID-19 over the past year. She said conditions inside the prison facilities are ripe for transmission of a virus.
She said that has been particularly true throughout the pandemic and is a strong advocate of House Bill 37 and House Bill 7, which have both passed the House Corrections Committee.
Devon Clark, a former inmate at the Howard R. Young Correctional Facility in Wilmington, said conditions for the prisoners have been deplorable throughout the pandemic with a revolving door of prisoners coming in and out of crowded prisons that makes it easier for inmates to catch the virus.
“They were shuffled into the prisons for no reason when all they had to do is contain and isolate. This is why you have so many people dying in these prison systems to COVID.”
Sen. Pinkney offered her condolences to the families of the 13 inmates who have died over the past year. “I’d like to offer up my forgiveness and my sorrow to those lives that have been lost to those families that have lost loved ones, and to let them know that there are people here in the General Assembly that are fighting to do everything we can to keep people safe,” she said.
What these articles do NOT tell you is that abusive DOC personnel make up fictitious charges to place those who complain about abuse in solitary, to try to shut them up. I SAW it for five years. READ It’s Not About What they Did to Me
This law is well intended, but it should be applied to all facilities, and enforced!
Excerpts from the Article:
Although the state hasn’t had long-term solitary confinement in its prisons since 2017, hundreds of people in county jails across Colorado spend 22 hours a day or more sitting alone in a small cell. Some stay in solitary confinement for days, others for weeks.
A bill in the state legislature, HB21-1211, would greatly restrict when deputies in Colorado’s largest jails can place a person in solitary confinement, defined as keeping someone alone in a cell for more than 22 hours a day. The sponsor and proponents of the bill said extended solitary confinement damages people’s mental health and destabilizes them, instead of providing rehabilitation.
“It’s a moral issue for our society,” Boulder Democratic Rep. Judy Amabile said. “We know about the damage that it does, and now we all have to put our shoulder to the wheel and fix it.”
The bill does not apply to all jail inmates and instead focuses only on juveniles, pregnant women, people with physical disabilities and those with serious mental health diagnoses or symptoms. The restrictions also would only be for jails with more than 400 beds, said Amabile, who is sponsoring the bill.
The county sheriffs oppose the bill, saying it does not address their need to separate dangerous inmates from others or give them money to implement the required changes. Sheriffs said they respected the intent of the bill but the specifics would be difficult to put into practice.
“This is too much too soon without any structure and without any funding to implement,” Boulder County Sheriff Joe Pelle said Tuesday at House Judiciary Committee hearing. The bill was moved to the full House with an 7-4 vote.
Solitary confinement is used as punishment, to keep an inmate from hurting others or to protect an inmate from being hurt by others, Pelle said.
There is no statewide standard policy for using solitary confinement in jails, Pelle said, though sheriffs are interested in creating one.
Among other changes, the bill would require sheriff’s offices to:
notify medical or mental health professionals within an hour of placing a person in solitary.
check on an inmate in solitary confinement in person every 15 minutes and send a medical or mental health professional to assess them every 24 hours.
seek a court order if they want to hold a person in solitary confinement for more than 15 days in a 30-day period.
collect and report data to the Colorado Department of Public Safety about solitary confinement.
In Boulder County, about 10% of the jail’s approximately 300 inmates are in “restrictive housing” (law enforcement’s term for solitary confinement) on any given day, Pelle said. Those inmates are in their cell alone for 22.5 hours a day and during the 1.5 hours out of the cell, the inmate does not socialize with others but is allowed to shower, walk around and make phone calls, Pelle said.
Other jail employees testified at the hearing that they also had dozens of inmates in solitary confinement. Spending day after day isolated in a small space can be disorienting, painful and can worsen a person’s mental health, Amabile said.
“Some would say that it’s tantamount to torture for certain groups,” Amabile said.
Ryan Partridge, who gouged out his eyes while in solitary confinement in the Boulder County jail, testified in support of the bill, saying it provided dignity and protections for vulnerable people. He spent 55 of his 200 days at the jail in solitary confinement, he said.
The Colorado Department of Corrections, which runs the state’s prisons, banned the use of long-term solitary confinement in 2017. The department’s director at the time, Rick Raemisch, noted that the United Nations considered prolonged and indefinite solitary confinement to be torture.
LOCAL NEWS Racial bias detected in housing, punishment at King County jail, audit finds An audit found Black inmates received 23% more infractions than white offenders in King County corrections from 2017 to 2019.
The same racial bias is rampant nationwide. Racism permeates every aspect of our criminal justice system.
Excerpts from the Article:
An audit of King County corrections found racial bias evident in housing and discipline and made recommendations to decrease disparities.
The audit, which was presented Tuesday to the King County Council Law and Justice Committee, examined data and incidents from 2017 to 2019 at the King County Correctional Facility in Seattle and Maleng Regional Justice Center in Kent.
Black people in custody were overrepresented in higher security housing and were more likely than white people to be infracted for violent incidents, according to the audit.
Although Black people make up 36% of the jail’s population, auditors found they made up half of the two highest security levels at the jails.
Black inmates also received 23% more infractions than other people, and the punishment was more severe. The audit found Black women were punished with 70% more days in restrictive housing compared to other women; Black men received 24% longer punishments. Indigenous women also faced harsher punishment, spending 18% more days in restrictive housing compared to other women.
The audit also examined violent incidents. Between 2017 and 2019, investigators found the rate of violent incidents was nearly three times higher and the rate of incidents targeting staff was nearly four times higher at the Seattle jail than in Kent.
However, the report found social distancing was key in reducing incidents last year. When the pandemic hit, the adult King County jail population decreased from about 2,000 inmates to 1,300, and the Seattle jail stopped double-bunking inmates. Although the inmate population dropped 47%, fights and assaults plummeted 63%, according to the audit.
Though auditors found pepper spray was sometimes misused by staff, excessive use of force among officers was “rarely found” with four cases of excessive and unnecessary force documented over the audit’s three-year period.
The audit made 25 recommendations, including several to reduce bias. Those recommendations include making changes to the sanctions process and revising its management risk scoring rubric to reduce bias as well as monitoring the racial makeup of incident data to detect disparities.
A smart move; get rid of the loopholes! Numerous studies have shown that 75% kids sent to juvenile prisons end up in adult prisons!
Excerpts from the Article:
Beginning in July 2021, California will stop accepting nearly all youth offenders at three facilities operated by the Division of Juvenile Justice (“DJJ”). This resulted from an August 2020 deal between Governor Gavin Newsom and the California Legislature whereby the majority of offenders age 25 and younger will be confined in detention centers operated by local governments to permit them to serve their time closer to their homes, families, and communities.
However, the deal contained a loophole: two state-operated facilities in San Joaquin and Ventura counties will remain open for youth who are at risk of being prosecuted as adults.
Two decades ago, around 10,000 youth ages 12 to 25 were confined in state facilities. But juvenile crime has since plummeted, with DJS facilities now holding about 775 youthful offenders (and county facilities confining another 2,250). The cost of housing offenders in the DJJ had skyrocketed to more than $300,000 per person annually.
The DJJ also had a dismal performance record. A 2017 evaluation reported that 75% of youth discharged were rearrested within three years of release. The report reflected a similar finding made in 2002. Generations of people who had been confined in the DJJ’s facilities spoke at a 2020 meeting in Salinas, stating that when they were released they were “ill-prepared for life outside, not knowing how to open a bank account or find a job,” The Imprint reported. Assemblyman Phil Ting said of the new plan, “This is about providing some sunshine on a system that is not working.”
The new program established an Office of Youth and Community Restoration (“OYCR”) as part of California’s Health and Human Services Agency instead of the Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation. The OYCR will be charged with the task of providing consistent standards and greater accountability for California’s 58 county juvenile justice systems. The OYCR is to “promote trauma responsive, culturally informed services” and will include the state’s first-ever ombudsman for youth justice to investigate complaints about harmful conditions or practices at juvenile facilities in California.
The new plan has faced much opposition and criticism. Assemblyman Jim Cooper said “this entire program is set up for failure for most of the counties.” Of primary concern is the challenge of how small, rural counties will have constitutionally adequate structures and programming to handle youth offenders.
Further, young people with mental health problems who had committed sex offenses or who had a history of involvement with violent gangs were previously sent to the DJJ because county facilities are not equipped to house them. But a new Juvenile Justice Realignment Block Grant will give counties $40 million in 2021 to make improvements, and that amount is set to jump to almost $209 million in the 2024 fiscal year.
Edgar Ibarra, a student of the University of California, Davis (who was also incarcerated in DJJ’s facilities from 2008 to 2012), said, “We can’t afford to mess this up. We need to set these guys up for success so they don’t have to go back to prison or get locked up again like we did.”
This is the entire article from Prison Legal News. I wish I had a dollar for every case of such abuse; pray that she wins!
Woman sues MN Department of Corrections, says officer sexually assaulted her during transport
Randy Beehler, a defendant in the civil case, pleaded guilty last week to third-degree criminal sexual conduct in the state’s criminal case.
A woman is suing the Minnesota Department of Corrections and former corrections officer Randy A. Beehler for damages after Beehler allegedly traded lunch from McDonald’s for sexual favors while transporting her as an inmate in September 2019.
The lawsuit, filed in January by the woman, alleges that the state, its Corrections Commissioner Paul Schnell and Beehler violated the woman’s constitutional rights and Minnesota law.
The lawsuit also argues the state was negligent in allowing a single male correctional officer to transport a female inmate alone and without direct supervision.
Unfortunately, this was inevitable. Because the guards who beat inmates, then denied them medical care, and otherwise abused them, wore their “goon squad” uniforms – full facial coverage – and wore no badges or names, it was impossible to prove who did what to whom. Damn shame.
Here again we see that DOC officials cannot be believed: Correction Commissioner Claire DeMatteis, who took over the department in the summer of 2019, and other defendants denied the allegations in court. DeMatteis has said that no abuse occurred following the uprising. … Bullshit; If they had not intended to commit crimes and other abuses, why did the guards conceal their identity and prevent the filming of their conduct?
Excerpts from the Article:
Since the 2017 fatal riot inside a building at Delaware’s largest prison, dozens of inmates that were in that building have said in court, lawsuits, interviews and letters that they were assaulted and deprived of basic rights in the hours and months after by corrections officials.
And since then, those claims have been the thrust of lawsuits meandering slowly through local courts. Those challenges seek recompense for injuries suffered by prisoners that said they too were hostages when control of James T. Vaughn Correctional Center’s C Building was violently overthrown by a smaller set of prisoners.
Last week, a federal judge in Wilmington dismissed the largest lawsuit making such claims, a complaint that sought damages on behalf of 107 inmates against 52 defendants, including at times Gov. John Carney, top Department of Correction leadership and a host of officers.
That lawsuit largely focused on what happened after a team of inmates used coordinated violence to take the building’s three officers and a counselor hostage, kill one of those officers and hold the building for 18 hours starting on Feb. 1, 2017.
The lawsuit claims that officers retaking the building wore black masks, hid their name tags and went cell to cell, delivering indiscriminate kicks, punches and racial slurs to inmates while encountering no resistance from those still in the building.
It claims the police deliberately decided not to record the retaking of the building and denied the inmates substantive medical care immediately afterward. Then, in the months following, it claims corrections officials sanctioned “systemic torture” of C Building inmates.
Inmates who were taken from Vaughn’s C Building when the uprising was quashed were cycled into the building’s yard where investigators photographed puddles of blood, which inmates said was the result of indiscriminate beatings by officers.
That alleged torture included physical violence, mental abuse and denial of basic rights.
The veracity of these allegations was not tested before the court dismissed the lawsuit last week. Attorneys also did not reach the stage where they could compel evidence from the Department of Correction about the claims. Instead, the litigation failed for a lack of specificity.
In dismissing it, Delaware District Court Chief Judge Leonard P. Stark referred to the complaint as a “shotgun pleading,” leaving the reader “unaware of who exactly is being accused of what conduct.”
Attorneys for the defendants said the complaint’s lack of specificity left them unable to prepare a defense. Attorneys for the plaintiffs argued that was difficult because of officers’ effort to conceal their identities.
Acknowledging that, the judge said the complaint didn’t meet the required standard of clearly setting out which plaintiffs suffered which specific act of misconduct. Having afforded the plaintiffs multiple chances to address these problems in recent years, Stark dismissed the complaint and shut the door for it to be amended.
DIGITAL WALKTHROUGH:See how the Vaughn riot unfolded
“Despite the preference of the courts to adjudicate claims on their merits – and, hopefully, reach the truth of what happened, redress proven wrongs, and do justice – the court cannot do so when plaintiffs fail to do what is required to give defendants notice and begin to press their case,” Stark wrote.
Correction Commissioner Claire DeMatteis, who took over the department in the summer of 2019, and other defendants denied the allegations in court. DeMatteis has said that no abuse occurred following the uprising.
“The Department of Correction has consistently argued that this frivolous litigation was without merit and must be dismissed,” wrote Jason Miller, a spokesman for DeMatteis. “We are pleased the court has done so.”
Stephen Hampton, the Dover attorney that filed the lawsuit, said he thinks the Department of Correction has sufficient information about the allegations to move forward and defend the case and feels that Stark is holding the plaintiffs to too high a standard in not allowing the lawsuit to continue. He said he will appeal the decision to federal appeals court.
While that lawsuit was the most sprawling, others tied to the takeover and alleged abuses afterward continue to churn through the courts.
Donald Parkell, an inmate who was in C Building that day, began litigating against the department two weeks after the riot. His initial handwritten complaint was an early account of what happened during the takeover and alleged abuses in the immediate aftermath.
It was also one of the first retellings of how a group of inmates, including Parkell and Terek Downing, banded together to protect prison counselor Patricia May, who was held hostage that day.
DOWNING: He protected a woman hostage on Delaware prison’s ‘darkest day’; now he seeks mercy. The complaint is now in its fifth iteration, and the court has appointed counsel to represent Parkell.
In addition to claims about a lack of medical care following the uprising, it claims the takeover was the foreseeable outcome to state and Department of Correction leaders that understaffed the building, knowingly mixed dangerous inmates and ignored glaring warning signs in the weeks and months preceding the riot.
Officials’ intent in creating such problems was to undermine a legal settlement that changed the way the Department of Correction operated, specifically as it related to how those with mental illness are confined, the lawsuit claims.
IN DEPTH: Never-released report shows prison officer’s death should not have happened
State officials have denied the claims in court, and the lawsuit has not yet reached the phase that would potentially allow Parkell’s attorneys to demand documents and depose current and former state leaders. There are also pending lawsuits still churning filed on behalf of the men accused by police of taking over the building.
Police originally indicted 16 on charges of murder in the death of correctional officer Steven Floyd, who was killed during the hostage standoff. Two others were indicted on lesser crimes.
Dwayne Staats, who admitted his role in the takeover, was convicted of murder. Another who admitted some hand in the plot was convicted of several charges, but not murder. One inmate charged with lesser crimes took a plea and cooperated with investigators.
The rest were either acquitted by juries or had their charges dropped before trial.
C tier of C Building
Most of them are now being held in Pennsylvania’s prisons, where some say they are being treated as if they had been found guilty.
Jonatan Rodriguez, a former C Building inmate whose murder charges were dropped, sued last year, claiming that after he was indicted in 2017, officers and officials at Sussex Correctional Institution in Georgetown intentionally instituted a “regimen of intimidation, torture and abuse,” which included threats, slurs and denial of rights.
He also claims he was assaulted by officers who afterward carried out a coverup by falsifying reports. Officials have denied the allegations in court filings.
A separate complaint filed by Staats, the one inmate who admitted to orchestrating the takeover as a protest of prison conditions, sought to represent several others formerly charged with Floyd’s murder. It makes claims of abuse before and after the uprising.
SENTENCING: How do you punish someone already serving life?
A 2019 court order stated that the defendants had to file lawsuits individually. Since then, officials have moved to dismiss Staats’ lawsuit, which has largely been on hold due to the pandemic.
Underpinning these continued legal challenges is the fact the state has already paid $7.5 million to settle a lawsuit filed by state employee victims of the takeover, who argued correction officials failed to act on warning signs ahead of the riot.