In this edition: Further updates on the killing of John Carter; NY District Court allows class action lawsuit against NYPD; Red Onion Prisoners Start Hunger Strike and more…
Petition to End the 20+ years of Solitary Confinement Torture of Russell Maroon Shoatz reached 2511 signatures. Please sign here if you have not signed the petition yet and share widely. Thank You!
News from the Inside
More Details in the Killing of John Carter: Human Rights Coalition has received a detailed report outlining the events leading up to the cell extraction, the extraction itself, and the aftermath of Carter’s murder. The report reiterates the fact that the cell extraction and subsequent murder were in retaliation towards Carter protesting his denial of a dinner tray. The denial of his dinner is the reason Carter had covered his cell door window. Contrary to the DOC’s statement that he “refused numerous orders”, Carter was never ordered beforehand to remove the door covering. Instead, a forcible cell extraction was ordered.
Earlier on the day of Carter’s murder, prison guard Sherman told another prisoner in the Restricted Housing Unit (RHU), “Your buddy is going down tonight.” Immediately before the cell extraction took place, Sutton turned on an “extremely loud” fan, intended to be used after cell extractions to suck the OC gas (pepper spray) out of the atmosphere. “The fan served only to make noise, knowing that all RHU prisoners’ witness accounts in such situations are based on what we can hear,” writes a prisoner in the RHU.
After spraying an excessive amount of OC gas into Carter’s cell (more than the DOC’s own policy allows), prison guards tried to enter his cell, but realized the door was jammed. After repeated attempts to open the door, more OC gas was sprayed into the cell. In total, it is reported that the guards sprayed gas into Carter’s cell at least ten times. The DOC nurses present in the RHU at the time never attempted to intervene or caution the guards about the excessive amounts of OC gas being used.
Finally, Carter’s door was taken down and 6 guards in riot gear and gas masks rushed in, pinned Carter to the ground, and reportedly electro-shocked him “at least seven times.” This is also in direct contrast to the DOC’s press release that stated Carter was “found” unresponsive in his cell. It is apparent, however, that Carter left his cell unresponsive. Writes a witness: “Carter was then dragged out of the cell by his knees with his head dragging along the floor, out into the hallway.” The witness also reports that prison guard Sutton ordered that the camera which had been filming the extraction be cut off at this time.
Immediately after Carter’s body was taken to the hospital, Sutton and other prison guards ordered the cleaning of Carter’s cell. OC soaked items were removed, and the cell was watered down and mopped. This tampering of the crime scene left no evidence for further investigation surrounding the events that took place.
The following is a statement by a prisoner in the RHU: “The murder of John Carter on April 26, 2012 is deeper than ‘a cell extraction occurred in the RHU and a man died.’ His death exemplifies what Carter himself and many others have endeavored to expose for years: that solitary confinement is a dark hole where anything goes. There is no accountability for rogue prison guards and top officials turn a blind eye to the abuse, dismissing abuse claims in rote fashion. This only encourages the perpetrators to continue breaking the law…Prison guards are part of a system that endeavored to uphold an image of professionalism. They will cover-up and protect that image no matter what.”
Many in Rockview’s RHU are afraid that they are next to die, as many prison guards have added to the already hostile environment by making light of Carter’s death. Racially charged verbal and physical abuse continues to be the norm.
Mandatory Sentencing Laws Send Kids Away For Life:
A recent article in the Nation
focuses on the story of Trina Garnett, a woman spending life in prison in PA without parole, after being convicted of a crime when she was 14. The number of young people currently sentenced to life in prison in the US has increased to the thousands over the last 30 years, as a result of tough on crime policies and the war on drugs, which have dictated the spread of mandatory minimum sentencing.
Mandatory minimum sentencing policies make it so the judge cannot use discretion in sentencing a youth to a rehabilitative term, but must go by strict sentencing guidelines for the type of crime conviction. Garnett was convicted of homicide and arson in 1977, and despite being mentally slow and not having an intent to start the fire that killed 2 boys, she was sent to SCI Muncy with a life sentence, where she remains today.
Youth advocates with the Youth Art Self Empowerment Project
organize to repeal Act 33, a Pennsylvania Law that dictates youth charged with specific crimes can be directly filed into adult court, leading to harsher and longer sentencing and adverse housing in adult facilities.
Recent activity in the Supreme Court has changed some of the laws affecting sentencing of juveniles and there a few cases coming up. In 2010, the Supreme Court ruled in a case called Graham v. Florida, that youth could no longer be sentenced to life in prison for non homicide offenses. Two upcoming cases, Miller v. Alabama and Jackson v. Hobbs, will argue that a higher age guideline should be put on life sentences; that the justice system should not throw kids away for life because they have the most potential to be rehabilitated. Trina Garnett’s life sentence could be affected by the ruling.
NY District Court Allows Class Action Challenge to NYPD’s Racist Stop-and-Frisk Program:
In a major victory, a federal court in the southern district of New York has permitted a lawsuit challenging the New York Police Department’s stop-and-frisk program to proceed as a class action. The ruling
means that hundreds of thousands or even millions of people who have been unlawfully stopped and frisked by the NYPD since 2005 may become plaintiffs in the suit. The lawsuit, _Floyd v. City_
of New York claims that the NYPD’s racially discriminatory stop-and-frisk policy violates the Fourteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution’s equal protection clause, due to its deliberate and systematic targeting of people of color. The suit also argues that stop-and-frisk violates the Fourth Amendment’s prohibition on unreasonable searches and seizures. The plaintiffs are represented by the Center of Constitutional Rights (CCR), and the law firms of Beldock, Levine, and Hoffman and Covington & Burling, LLP.
Between 2004 and 2009, New York City cops stopped and frisked more than 2.8 million people, the vast majority of whom were black or Latino/a. These numbers have increased since then. In 2011, the NYPD reported a record 685,724 stops—a 600 percent increase since Raymond Kelly took over as NYPD commissioner in 2002. 84% of those stopped were Black or Latino, and 88% of persons stopped were not arrested, nor did they receive summonses. There is also a marked racial disparity in use of force against those stopped by the NYPD, as people of color are more likely to be subject to forceful measures by police.
In holding that the plaintiffs had submitted sufficient evidence of a systemic, race-based stop-and-frisk program to warrant class action certification, District Judge Shira Scheindlin noted that an affidavit submitted by New York State Senator Eric Adams indicated that Commissioner Kelly was fully aware and supportive of the racist intent behind the program. Senator Adams’ affidavit stated that he met with Kelly in July 2010 to discuss legislation related to the stop-and-frisk program, and that "Kelly stated that the NYPD targets its stop-and-frisk activity at young black and Latino men because it wants to instill the belief in members of these two populations that they could be stopped and frisked every time they leave their homes so that they are less likely to carry weapons.” Another item cited by the court in its decision was a recent Operations Order issued by Commissioner Kelly that encourages Department managers to set “performance goals,” more commonly referred to as quotas, in regard to issuing summonses, stopping and questioning people, and making arrests. Quota-based policing is widely recognized as providing an incentive for police harassment and fabrication of charges, as quotas—or “performance goals”—place pressure on individual officers to stop, frisk, cite, and arrest people in order to satisfy their superiors, maintain favorable assignments, and advance up the ranks.
The court also cited the testimony of a former police officer who stated “that he believed the NYPD ‘absolutely’ has a problem with racial profiling: ‘I work in a minority community and what we do to people in the South Bronx you would never do to people in midtown Manhattan. . . . Illegally searching, illegally stopping, illegally handcuffing, put phoney charges on them, put it through the system.’” This officer testified that when he worked for the NYPD, “he personally witnessed officers stop and question civilians without having reasonable suspicion ‘every day.’”
Countering claims by defenders of the program that race-based, suspicion-less stops helps deter crime, the court noted that “according to their own records and judgment, officers’ ‘suspicion’ was wrong nearly nine times out of ten,” as most of those stopped by NYPD are never cited nor charged with a crime.
The opinion ended with a rebuke to the defendants assertion in this case that any court injunction that sought to remedy the NYPD’s unconstitutional practices would essentially be meaningless. Judge Scheindlin remarked that “suspicion less stops should never occur. Defendants’ cavalier attitude towards the prospect of a widespread practice of suspicion less stops display a deeply troubling apathy towards New Yorkers’ most fundamental constitutional rights.”
The ruling has come at a time of increased attention and organizing against the stop-and-frisk program, including acts of civil disobedience and the formation of a multi-organizational coalition, Communities United for Police Reform
Court Grants Plaintiffs’ Injunction to Enjoin Obama’s National Defense Authorization Act On
Wednesday May 16th, Federal Judge Katherine B. Forrest, from the Southern District of New York granted a preliminary injunction to block provisions of Obama’s 2012 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) that would allow military to indefinitely detain anyone it accuses of knowingly or unknowingly supporting terrorism. In this case, a group of activists, journalists, and others argued that section 1021 of the NDAA violates the 1st and 5th Amendments as applied to them.
The government argued that the statute is simply an affirmation of the Authorization for the Use of Military Force (AUMF), which was passed shortly after September 11th and has been used to detain people indefinitely without affording them access to the courts. The Supreme Court upheld the AUMF in the case Hamdi v. Rumsfeld, but required that American citizens detained under the AUMF receive notice of the charges and an opportunity to be heard, but did not require that the burden of proof be placed on the government or that normal hearsay rules apply.
Judge Forrest granted the preliminary injunction on the grounds that; (1) the Plaintiffs had standing because they already were experiencing a chilling effect on their speech from the possibility of detention, and that the government declined to say that they were not in fact potentially subject to detention; (2) the NDAA is not simply an affirmation of the AUMF because the AUMF applies only to persons linked to September 11th and the NDAA encompasses “associated forces”; and (3) the AUMF’s “support” and “associated forces” elements are unconstitutionally vague and could infringe on protected activity and speech.
Across the Nation
United Red Onion Prisoners Protesting Abuse Start Hunger Strike: On Tuesday May 22 as many as 45 prisoners at Red Onion State Prison, comprising at least 2 segregation pods, will enter the first day of a hunger strike protesting deplorable conditions in the prison and ongoing abuses by prison staff. For the men participating in the strike this is their only recourse to get Red Onion warden Randy Mathena to officially recognize their grievances and make immediate changes to food, sanitation and basic living conditions at the prison.
Supporters from DC and Virginia along with prisoner family members will hold a press conference at 11 AM in front of the VA Department of Corrections, in Richmond at 6900 Atmore Dr., to urge Warden Mathena, the Virginia Department of Corrections under Harold Clarke, Governor Bob McDonell, state Senators Mark Warner and Jim Webb and other state and congressional legislators to act on behalf of justice and human rights.
A statement released by one of the hunger strike representatives said, "We’re tired of being treated like animals. There are only two classes at this prison: the oppressor and the oppressed. We, the oppressed, despite divisions of sexual preference, gang affiliation, race and religion, are coming together. We are rival gang members but now are united as revolutionaries.”
Red Onion has been repeatedly criticized since it opened in 1998. A 1999 Human Rights Watch report on Red Onion concluded that the “Virginia Department of Corrections has failed to embrace basic tenets of sound correctional practice and laws protecting inmates from abusive, degrading or cruel treatment.”
After exhausting legal and administrative channels, prisoners are holding this hunger strike to bring these abusive prison conditions to light. This action comes at a time when many are speaking out against the expanding prison system in the United States in an effort to uphold their human dignity and basic human rights.
Letters signed by residents in Congressional District 9 will be delivered to the Senators office later in the week and concerned citizens from across Virginia and the nation will be pressuring the Virginia DOC to meet the prisoner’s demands.
Ten Demands of ROSP Hunger Strikers
We (Prisoners at Red Onion State Prison) demand the right to an adequate standard of living while in the custody of the state!
1. We demand fully cooked food, and access to a better quality of fresh fruit and vegetables. In addition, we demand increased portions on our trays, which allows us to meet our basic nutritional needs as defined by VDOC regulations.
2. We demand that every prisoner at ROSP have unrestricted access to complaint and grievance forms and other paperwork we may request.
3. We demand better communication between prisoners and higher- ranking guards. Presently higher-ranking guards invariably take the lower-ranking guards’ side in disputes between guards and prisoners, forcing the prisoner to act out in order to be heard. We demand that higher- ranking guards take prisoner complaints and grievances into consideration without prejudice.
4. We demand an end to torture in the form of indefinite segregation through the implementation of a fair and transparent process whereby prisoners can earn the right to be released from segregation. We demand that prison officials completely adhere to the security point system, insuring that prisoners are transferred to institutions that correspond with their particular security level.
5. We demand the right to an adequate standard of living, including access to quality materials that we may use to clean our own cells. Presently, we are forced to clean our entire cell, including the inside of our toilets, with a single sponge and our bare hands. This is unsanitary and promotes the spread of disease-carrying bacteria.
6. We demand the right to have 3rd party neutral observers visit and document the condition of the prisons to ensure an end to the corruption amongst prison officials and widespread human rights abuses of prisoners. Internal Affairs and Prison Administrator’s monitoring of prison conditions have not alleviated the dangerous circumstances we are living under while in custody of the state which include, but are not limited to: the threat of undue physical aggression by guards, sexual abuse and retaliatory measures, which violate prison policies and our human rights.
7. We demand to be informed of any and all changes to VDOC/IOP policies as soon as these changes are made.
8. We demand the right to adequate medical care. Our right to medical care is guaranteed under the eight amendment of the constitution, and thus the deliberate indifference of prison officials to our medical needs constitutes a violation of our constitutional rights. In particular, the toothpaste we are forced to purchase in the prison is a danger to our dental health and causes widespread gum disease and associated illnesses.
9. We demand our right as enumerated through VDOC policy, to a monthly haircut. Presently, we have been denied haircuts for nearly three months. We also demand to have our razors changed out on a weekly basis. The current practice of changing out the razors every three weeks leaves prisoners exposed to the risk of dangerous infections and injury.
10. We demand that there be no reprisals for any of the participants in the Hunger Strike. We are simply organizing in the interest of more humane living conditions.
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!