In this edition: Pennsylvania state police allege no foul play in death of John Carter; Lawsuit filed for Lack of Mental Health Treatment in Solitary, OSP Hunger Strike Ends and more…
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News from the Inside
Pennsylvania state police allege no foul play in death of John Carter as prisoners demand justice: On Thursday May 10, the Pennsylvania State Police released a statement regarding the investigation of the death of prisoner John Carter at SCI Rockview. According to the statement, Carter was found “unresponsive in his cell”, but goes on to describe that he had “barricaded himself in his cell and refused numerous orders” which precipitated “the DOCs response to the inmate’s cell”. The response that the statement refers to but does not mention was a cell extraction that officials at SCI Rockview confirmed took place the day that John Carter died. The Pennsylvania State Police, who are in charge of the investigation of any prisoner death not determined to be from natural causes, also failed to mention the use of pepper spray or electroshock weapons in their May 10 statement. It is the practice of the PA DOC for guards in full riot gear to wield both weapons during the cell extraction of a prisoner. Numerous prisoners have also reported to the Human Rights Coalition that the day John Carter died, guards used three canisters of pepper spray and a stun shield during the cell extraction. Despite these reports, the PA State Police alleged that “Evidence including video evidence of the incident, does not indicate any foul play at this time.”
Reports received by HRC from SCI Rockview in the last three weeks portray prison officials as callous and abusive, and indicate that a decision was made almost immediately after the lethal cell extraction to allege that the death of John Carter was a suicide instead of a homicide. One prisoner reported that Carter was “murdered . . . here in this RHU torture zone, where guards come the tier calling people racial slurs.” The report also states that when Carter was cell extracted on April 19—one week before the extraction of April 26—guards were heard yelling “f*** him up” several times as the extraction team rushed into his cell.
This eagerness to engage in brutality was also evidenced in the April 26 extraction when Carter agreed to be handcuffed and peaceably led out of his cell, and was instead told by Lieutenant Sutton: “You should’ve come out of the cell when we told you the first time.” Guards continued to pump pepper spray into Carter’s cell after Sutton’s statement. Lieutenant Sutton has also reportedly stated that Carter “deserved everything he got.”
Other information received by HRC stated that SCI Rockview’s Superintendent Marirosa Lamas appeared in the RHU soon after Carter died and alleged that he had committed suicide. Superintendent Lamas appeared at a Muslim prayer service in the prison the day after the cell extraction and repeated the allegation that Carter’s death was a suicide.
In the weeks since the death of John Carter, the Human Rights Coalition and Carter’s family have both received numerous letters attesting to John’s good character and strong spirit. John had been held in solitary confinement in several different prisons for the last ten-to-eleven years, but continued to help others. A prisoner at SCI Rockview wrote of Carter: “He was a person of integrity. He did not believe in abuse of others, especially the abuse of prisoners from prison guards. If he could help someone in understanding the law, he was there. And he had a lot of patience with others, especially the mentally impaired.” Another prisoner from SCI Camp Hill stated: “Its no question in my mind. He died fighting against oppression. His name and memory will not be forgotten.” Carter’s death has been a shock to many prisoners, and they want justice for him; “Why isn’t there a big investigation, an outrage about John Carter’s death like there is about Trayvon Martion? John Carter was black, he was someone’s son and he died senselessly. Let not his death go in vain,” said an SCI Frackville prisoner. Many of the letters received simply shared memories of Carter, who was sentenced to life in prison at the age of sixteen and spent half of his life there, but continued to be a strong and loving person. Another prisoner said there were three words for John; “Loyalty, intelligence, fearless.” A man incarcerated at SCI Huntingdon wrote to his departed comrade: “You’ve made that transition to the other side, wherever that may be. But what I say shall come to pass, for it is written J-Rock, that children of the night shall forever find each other in the dark.” He will be missed.
One of those writing from inside SCI Rockview ended his report with the following expression of outrage and call for solidarity: “We’re in here dying, getting murdered, beat, starved to death, abused, threatened, and our rights as human beings are being violated. When will it stop? Who’s going to help us receive justice?”
Lawsuit filed for Lack of Mental Health Treatment in Solitary: Mark Anthony Robinson, a prisoner in the Special Management Unit (SMU) at SCI Camp Hill, is filing a civil suit with five other people in solitary regarding the lack of access to mental health care for prisoners. Robinson contends that the severe harassment that is commonplace in the SMU exacerbates mental health problems and the likelihood of prisoners attempting suicide.
Guards in the Camp Hill SMU, particularly Lt. Leedom and Sgt. Prayal, have repeatedly harassed, threatened, and imposed racist penalties on Robinson. Robinson stated to the guards that their abuse was increasing his stress and depression, and was causing him to have suicidal thoughts and could possibly lead him to attempt suicide. Leedom responded to Robinson’s warning signs of suicidal behavior by saying, “Well, that is your choice, your decision.” After repeatedly asking for help, Robinson was told by Leedom that he would have to go to court in order to see a mental health professional, and then threatened to assault him if he filed paperwork.
On February 12, 2012, after an incident in which guards Leedom and Prayal destroyed some of Robinson’s personal documentation of guard abuses while “shaking down” his cell, Robinson attempted to kill himself. He was left hanging in his cell until the next shift arrived. No psychologist or other mental health care provider was called after the incident. When Leedom next saw Robinson after the attempted suicide he asked, “Why didn’t you finish the job.” Furthermore, Robinson indicated that he has been unable to file grievances because guards in the SMU, many responsible for the harassment that led him to attempt suicide, will not give him access to grievance paperwork.
A lawsuit filed by Robinson that documents abuse was submitted to the court March 22. The suit names 5 prisoners including Robinson, Joshua Payne, Maurice Edwards, Tyree Davis, and Hector Borrerro who have experienced mental health degradation to the point breaking point of multiple suicide attempts in control units in PA prisons. The suit alleges that the DOC through customs, practice and policies allow prisoners with mental health problems to be “misclassified” for placement in the SMU where there are no therapeutic programs. Once inside the SMU, prisoners with long standing mental health needs are not being provided mental health treatment.
The suit outlines conditions that exacerbate mental health problems. Prisoners in the SMU are denied meals, showers, law library, receive false misconduct reports, or have false documents placed in their program review files, which prolongs their time in solitary. Officers vote on whether a person can advance to be removed from the program, but with no oversight, Robinson contends prisoners are denied on false merits, racial bias, or simply if the guard does not like you or you don’t participate in corrupt behavior.
Of the other prisoners named in the suit, Mark Anthony Robinson became depressed because of constant retaliation and degradation at SCI Rockview. Robinson listed a period of 90 days when he lived in the SMU with feces smeared on his door and a light that stayed on 24/7.
Joshua Payne tried to commit suicide 4 times at SCI Greene before being transferred to the SMU.
At the time of the suit, Payne was getting psych meds but no treatment. In a recent letter to the Human Rights Coalition, Payne indicated that he was being taken off the meds and that he needed resources for mental health and trauma recovery. During a recent episode, Payne indicated that a SMU staff member gave him a razor during one of his suicide attempts. Instead of receiving mental health treatment after swallowing the razor, he was placed in a hard cell in a restraint chair for hours.
The day that Robinson was transferred to the SMU, he witnessed Maurice Edwards being assaulted in the hallway by SMU guards. Edwards is also confined to a cell with lights on 24/7, and has been denied showers and yard.
After filing complaints against the Department of Corrections, Hector Borrero was retaliated against and kept in solitary at SCI Forest. He was sent to the SMU and frequently engages in hunger strikes in protest of inhumane conditions.
Tyree Davis, the final plaintiff, also seeks mental health treatment after multiple suicide attempts in the SMU. The Human Rights Coalition has received letters from other prisoners who have had similar life experiences in the SMU at Camp Hill.
The lawsuit names Secretary of the Department of Corrections, John Wetzel, and the then acting superintendent of Camp Hill, Jeff Ditty, as its defendants, finding them responsible for unlawful restraint, cruel and unusual punishment, dues process violations, not supplying safe guards or keeping state prisoners free from retaliation and prolonged solitary confinement.
The lawsuit asks for relief that those prisoners be removed from the SMU and transferred to programs that include mental health care, or moved to general population where it is more accessible. The suit also asks that all prisoners with mental health problems are from here on out excluded from placement in the SMU.
Lawsuit over suicide of Pennsylvania prisoner settled: A lawsuit filed by the parents of a central Pennsylvania man who hanged himself in prison 5½ years ago has been settled for $700,000. The May 4 settlement came after three days of a Lancaster County trial over the 2006 death of Joseph Keohane. Officials said Keohane, 22, hanged himself on Thanksgiving Day in 2006 from a bedsheet he attached to a vent grate in his prison cell. The suit alleged that he followed through on repeated threats to kill himself just hours after being released from suicide watch.
Keohane’s parents had turned their son in to police in hopes of sparing him more harm to himself because of his mental illness and drug dependence. Allen said his clients felt that the most important “was to demonstrate that their son wasn’t protected and should have been.”
“They really believed where else are you going to be safer than where you’re watched 24 hours a day?” he said.
Across the Nation
OSP Hunger Strike Ends: LucasvilleAmnesty.org
has reported that after long negotiations with Warden David Bobby on Monday, May 7, the hunger-striking prisoners at Ohio State Penitentiary (OSP) began eating again. At this point, details on agreements are unclear, but sources inside say that the hunger strikers are satisfied and feel they achieved results. One source described the demands and the Warden’s response as “reasonable”. Without going into detail, the main concerns were in regards to commissary costs, state pay rates, phone costs, length of stay, and harsh penalties for petty conduct reports. The Warden said that he discussed “many things” at Monday’s meeting with strike representatives, “many things beyond the main demands” but he would not share any of the details. The strikers are resting and recovering, but have mailed detailed information to outside supporters at RedBird Prison Abolition, which will be released to the public as soon as possible.
The hunger strike began on April 30th and was timed to align with May Day protests outside. Prisoners have stated an interest in “joining hands in struggle toward common goals” with protest and resistance movements like Occupy Wall Street.
Philly area: Wednesdays are Write On! Prison Letter Writing Night at the LAVA space at 4134 Lancaster, 7-9 pm. Come help us stay connected with the many prisoners who write to us with news from inside, learn to document crimes committed by prison staff, and help bring an end to the abuse and torture of our brothers and sisters behind bars.
If you’d like to know more about the Human Rights Coalition or would like to get involved, come to Write On!, to our monthly general meetings (second Wednesday of each month, 5-7pm), or call us at 215-921-3491, email: firstname.lastname@example.org
, or visit our website at http://www.hrcoalition.org./
Write On! – Letter writing to prisoners and HRC work night every Wednesday at 5129 Penn Avenue from 7 -10pm. To get involved with HRC/Fed Up! in Pittsburgh, email: email@example.com
or call 412-654-9070.
You’ve been listening to the Human Rights Coalition’s PA Prison Report. HRC is a group of current and former prisoners, family members, and supporters, whose ultimate goal is to abolish prisons.
Keep up the fight!