Physical Abuse and Retaliation in California State Prisons

Rallie Murray, Kim Pollak and Jeff Trembath

Issue 56

From Prison Focus Issue 56 Based on years of concurring reports from people inside California’s prisons, physical assault and the inciting of violence by prison guards is a serious, on-going problem. In fact, CPF receives reports of guard assault from imprisoned people nation-wide. Physical abuse in California prisons is not a new issue to contend with. Although California Department of Correction and Rehabilitation (CDCR or commonly referred to as CDCr, due to their lack of rehabilitative programming) claims to be interested in the welfare of the people whom it holds in custody, one need only look at the piles of concurring letters from the experts – those who live it - to see the severity of the cruelty and harm they are causing. Violence is a way of exercising power over the imprisoned population; to break peoples’ spirits, keep them in their place and terrorize them into silence. The threat and occurrence of physical violence is used in conjunction with other threats to coerce people to debrief (become an informant) and to make other decisions desired by correctional officers (COs), which often endanger prisoners’ safety and lives. It is an attempt to discourage filing appeals, complaints and lawsuits, and a form of retaliation after individuals do so. Inciting violence leads to unwarranted written violations and charges that are placed in ones file resulting in loss of privileges and up to 15-year parole denials. In addition, these violations may result in years of solitary confinement. Even if an investigation ultimately finds the prisoner innocent of the charges, the individuals is usually held in Administrative Segregation until an investigation is completed. These investigations can take years, while one languishes in the horrible conditions of extreme isolation. Physical assault and inciting violence through excessive use of force provides guards with unfounded justification for putting prisoners on long-term lockdowns, where they may not be let out of their cells (except for showers?) for weeks or months at a time, losing “privileges”, including programming, phone calls and family visits. When group violence breaks out, triggered by excessive use of force by guards (See Pelican Bay Report on pg. ?) the incident is usually referred to as a “prisoner riot”, a form of propaganda attempting to justify the killing and abusive treatment of prisoners. In addition, Correctional Officers often take no action to stop violence they witness, that they may or may not have incited in the first place. The likelihood of being brutalized by law enforcement, especially for black and brown men, both inside and outside the prison walls, puts a huge segment of our society in danger of having their life and liberty taken from them. Since the widespread use of cell phones and social media, public has finally been exposed to the extent of police brutality towards people of color across the country. But the general public is not aware of the extreme brutality taking place in jails and prisons across the country. And when they do hear of it, people tend to believe the false narrative of the “authority” over the people labeled as “criminals”, or simply don’t care because they assume people in prison deserve it. They are unaware of prison guard culture, the code of silence, the corruption, discrimination and lack of repercussions for those in positions of power and authority who violate CDCr policies, state and federal law and UN sanctioned human rights. Though the Corcoran State Prison gladiator fights of the 1990s were exposed and allegedly (by CDCr) ended, the culture that allowed such egregious actions on the part of the prison guards, it has not changed a bit. Indeed in 2015, sheriffs at the San Francisco jail were accused of running a “fight club”, forcing people under their authority to participate in gladiatorial-style combat. Though CPF has consistently received prisoner reports on physical abuse since our inception in 1989, before and after the exposure of the gladiator fights, the following report is based on reports received by California prisoner just since January 2017. All names are withheld to protect individuals from further abuse. A report about a prisoner’s time at Salinas Valley Prison told of an assault by guards against a man on suicide watch who was forced to smash his head against the wall repeatedly, then told to hang himself . “He [tied] the cloth around his neck!...lucky the cloth broke but it [was] still tied around his neck.” The violence did not end there, as the guards proceeded to pepper spray him and slam him onto the ground several times before calling medical. Another letter, calls out the COs at Salinas Valley State Prison for putting EOP/DDP inmates directly in harm's way. People with psychiatric issues and even those with mental health status (in other words, individuals of whom staff are well aware of their level of vulnerability) are reportedly targeted for harassment and assault. A man at California State Prison – Los Angeles (CSP-LA) stated that officers there “have a reputation...for excessive force against Black mentally ill inmates.” A man from CSP-Sacramento Psychiatric Services Unit (PSU) reported, “I was beat so bad my back was broken… I underwent surgery…I still have nightmares and am in constant back pain...I was also forced to swallow urine and feces mixture on two separate occasions.” (See report on CSP-SAC PSU in Prison Focus, Issue 52) Letters documenting abuse go on. At Corcoran State Prison (COR) and at Pelican Bay State Prison (PBSP) people have been beaten inside and outside of their cells. A man wrote of witnessing four guards assaulting and beating a fellow prisoner in the man’s cell. Another report describes how the writer’s hand was crushed by a guard in the heavy door of his cell, and that his “fingers became swollen, especially my middle-finger, which had a ⅓ inch gash.” When a guard attempted this again he managed to jump out of the way in time to avoid being crushed. Yet another described being attacked inside his cell while handcuffed., After the COs beat him they threw a sheet over his head and around his neck. After passing out he says “I felt more kicks and punches. I fell out of the wheel chair directly in front of the ASU front door... I knew something bad was going to happen this time because they didn’t press their that point, I had no more fight in me and I was dragged back to my cell where I just laid in pain.” The following are just a few of the many statements regarding physical assault, compiled by CPF from prisoner reports received from seven different prisons across California, including some of those mentioned above. California State Prison Sacramento • After having been falsely accused of violence against guards, a man tells use “I was dragged to the gym - stomped, and kicked...Police [are] attacking African Americans.” July, 2017 • “I had a fight in the yard...Three C.O.s ran over beat me breaking my left knee in half...I [had] screws and wires put in my knee… and it took 40 hours. They retaliated on me after I started with the paperwork...and filed it with the court.” July, 2017 • “I was violently shoved to the wall, then the floor roughly with a boot to my ribs of this date, my ribs are still painfully hurting and my back too.” 2017 • “I’ve been mistreated for all of my prison time and county time. C/Os use my DDP status against me as well as other EOP/DDP inmates. All of the prisons I’ve been to have mistreated all EOP/DDP inmates...They want to hurt [them].” • "A while back at CSP Sacramento, correctional officers threw away all my property, beat me twice and charged me with battery and found a weapon in my cell which I ended up spending two years in court for. I wrote several extremely well-written Inmate Grievances detailing everything that occurred, naming everyone involved and charging the whole administration that did not intervene with “deliberate indifference”. I also made some very serious allegations against custody saying in writing that they were selling drugs, leaking documents and participating in organized murder with inmates. I outlined the process in writing saying: Correctional officers are engaging in criminal activity and if inmates report anything, mental health personnel persuade the inmate to write everything down, make copies, and give them to specific influential inmates who themselves make copies and send them to prisons up and down the state to have this inmate stabbed and/or blacklisted; given inadequate medical and mental health care. I requested a senate investigation and an internal affairs investigation but because I really couldn’t prove any of it, it was all swept under the rug. I found myself at the center of a firestorm that triggered a significant adverse personnel response and resulted in me being completely ex-communicated by the inmate population and all personnel. Things got very scary. I told custody I was suicidal to try to get transferred out... And correctional officers at CSP-Sacramento are using false pretexts to try to get me transferred back to CSP Sacramento. I don't even know what to do.” • California State Prison – Los Angeles • “[Officers] have a reputation...for excessive force against Black mentally ill inmates.” • Richard J Donovan State Prison • “…At approximately 12 pm an inmate was being held in the cage in front of my cell and many others… 3 guards tell him to hit his head against the cage, which he does. But hard! A dozen times… He tells them over and over you are telling me to do this! Instead the guards tell him to hand himself, which he starts to do. He ties the cloth around his neck! But they do nothing. They walk away! Luckily the cloth broke… He passes out and goes on his knees and they decide to pepper spray him! They take him out and take it off his neck and body slam him on the cement… They place him in another cage right next to the other one but with handcuffs behind his back! They called medical and took him to CTC! Never seen him again!” August 2017 • “[My brother] was beaten by guards while handcuffed 3 years ago - put into the hospital. He has tried to file official complaints and since then, transferred and threatened to be silenced...when he was beaten he was naked and hands cuffed behind his back. They broke his knee in half and split his head open. He almost died.” 2017 • Salinas Valley Prison • They (COs) put the EOP/DDP [mental health] inmates in harms way… Salinas Valley Prison guards within the Green Wall hurting any inmate they want or killing any inmate they want dead... I am transgender… and I’m afraid to go out to the yard for fear of them beating me up” • “I am a transgender EOP/DDP inmate. I’ve gone through a lot of pain and suffering while in prison by the prison guards using illegal use of force. The C/Os always say stop resisting and beat up (the poor inmate) the inmate that they want to hurt.” February 2018 (reported after transferred to RJD) • “The prison guards beating me up then saying in a write up (115) that I beat up two COs with coffee and a kick. You should look at all my (115’s) - fill in the you can know what truly goes on in the prison system.” • Corcoran State Prison • “Then they arrived and put handcuffs on my wrist through a tray slot in the door… I hit my face on the wall; that’s when my lip busted open.. I felt a punch to my lower back toward my right rib… I felt another punch and then was slammed to the ground.” April 2017 • “I witnessed four guards beat [an] inmate... while he was in handcuffs… corrupt COs violate civil rights of mentally ill inmates.” May 2017 • California Medical Facility • “…while eating chow here at CMF, in the chow hall, I was attacked by an inmate, I was sliced in the face, head, neck and hand by a weapon later found out to be a box cutter. As I was bleeding profusely, the officer stood by and did nothing… I was handcuffed and put into the wall… I was taken to the clinic where they slowed down the bleeding but took their time to get me to the hospital. I received staples to my head plus 63 stitches on my head, face, neck, ear, and hand. Once back at CMF I was sent to administration [segregation]…” March, 2017 • Correctional Training Facility • “I was battered here by an inmate here… I was denied medical treatment [after] correctional facilities never did an incident report. The next day the same inmate… battered me again… I woke up at [the] hospital with a broken jaw.” May 2018 Location Unknown: • “Some mentally ill inmates are afraid to approach the COs because of how their responses are.” 2017 • “When they went to put me in a holding cell I resisted them by placing my right foot into the back of the cage. They then slammed me into the ground and started kneeing me in the back of my head and on the side of my face, calling me more racial slurs. After they assaulted and battered me they threw me into the holding cell barely conscious. I suffered a busted lip, chipped tooth, cut on my right eyebrow, and a confused wrist and fractured hand.” • “With my back facing officers, I was struck with spray, then baton on shoulder. I turned facing them to block more swings which led to knots and bruises on hand/forearms.” These reports make one question the values on which CDCr claims to base their policies as listed on their website: service, leadership, integrity, accountability, respect, trust and collaboration; or the CDCr goals they list, including workforce excellence, legal compliance, safety, transparency and delivery of health care. CDCR claims that it is their mission to “enhance public safety” and “successfully reintegrate offenders into our communities”. But this is clearly propaganda. Most people, professionals and otherwise, would agree that with so many men, women and LGBTQ individuals leaving California prisons with Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome and other anxiety disorders, the public is hardly safer, and in fact the risk to the public is significantly and unnecessarily enhanced.

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