This was published on The Atlantic website, written by Andrew Cohen for The Atlantic on Jan. 10th, 2014:
A judge’s order in an inmate abuse case highlights the role played, or not played, by the state’s political and legal infrastructure.
In two months, America will observe the 50th anniversary of one of its most dubious moments. On March 13, 1964, Catherine “Kitty” Genovese was brutally murdered in Queens, New York. What made her case infamous—legendary, even—was that nobody responded to her cries for help. “Please help me, please help me!” she cried, over and over, and at least 38 people in her neighborhood who heard those cries did nothing to help her. They did not call the police. They did not come to comfort her. They did not, they later said, want to get involved. “When good people do nothing” is a timeless moral question, indeed.
One could say the same thing about the citizens of the state of South Carolina, who stand condemned today by one of their own. On Wednesday, in one of the most wrenching opinions you will ever read, a state judge in Columbia ruled that South Carolina prison officials were culpable of pervasive, systemic, unremitting violations of the state’s constitution by abusing and neglecting mentally ill inmates. The judge, Michael Baxley, a decorated former legislator, called it the “most troubling” case he ever had seen and I cannot disagree. Read the ruling. It’s heartbreaking.
From: Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
By Paula Ward
Sept 27, 2011
A corrections officer at the State Correctional Institution at Pittsburgh was arrested this morning on charges that he assaulted — both sexually and physically — more than 20 inmates at the prison.
Harry Nicoletti, 60, of Coraopolis, is charged with 92 counts of institutional sexual assault, official oppression, terroristic threats and simple assault.
The investigation has been ongoing for several months by the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections Office of Special Investigations and Intelligence and the Allegheny County District Attorney’s office. More arrests are expected, according to the DA’s office.
The charges were filed based on testimony of inmates and prison staff before the county investigating grand jury.
On Thursday, a federal lawsuit was filed against eight corrections officers and the DOC, alleging a “common plan and conspiracy to sexually abuse, physically abuse and mentally abuse inmates who were homosexual,” along with those who were transgender or convicted of sex crimes.
America Criticized For Human Rights Abuses
Source: This Can’t be Happening
Created 12/08/2010 – 09:16
by Linn Washington Jr.
Given the sensationalism in mainstream US news media coverage of alleged sexual impropriety charges filed against WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange in Sweden, it’s no surprise that other significant news about America involving that Scandinavian nation is being left uncovered.
In early November, Sweden called on the US to end the death penalty and to improve conditions in maximum security prisons, as the United States went through its first-ever Universal Periodic Review by the United Nation’s Human Rights Council.
US condemned for its continued use of capital punishment
Sweden joined nearly two dozen countries in calling upon the US to end its pariah-like status as the only western industrialized nation to engage in executions. The US has over 3,200 people facing death sentences, a sharp rise from 1968, when America’s death row population numbered just 517, according to statistics compiled by the Death Penalty Information Center.
Other countries critical of the US posture on the death penalty – practiced by the federal government and 35 states – included Australia (the birthplace of Assange), France, Germany, the United Kingdom and the Vatican.
The caustic onslaught in the U.S. against Assange for leaking sensitive documents, where attackers include members of Congress – some even calling for Assange’s death, either extrajudicially or after a trial–is ironic, coming so close to December 10th, the annual international observance of Human Rights Day.
That observance commemorates the UN’s 1948 adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
One clause in that Declaration provides people worldwide with the right to receive and impart information “through any media and regardless of frontiers.”
The American assaults on Assange extend beyond the White House and Capitol Hill. Amazon, under pressure from Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-CT), removed WikiLeaks from its computer servers, while MasterCard, PayPal and Visa have halted payments to WikiLeaks from donors supportive of work of that entity, almost certainly after receiving pressure from the US government.
While US officials attending that human rights review held in Switzerland proudly pointed to such continuing rights progress in America as the election of a black President and his selection of a Hispanic female US Supreme Court Justice, fifty-six countries including staunch US allies offered 228 recommendations for improving human rights in the nation that touts itself as the world’s leader in protecting the rights of all.
Those recommendations involved a wide range of issues, ranging from attacking poverty among Native Americans to addressing abuses impacting immigrants and closing the infamous Guantanamo prison. However, most of the recommendations presented at that human rights review centered on concerns about deprivations and disparities in the U.S. criminal justice system.
Belgium and Switzerland, for example, called on America to stop sentencing teens to life in prison. Pennsylvania leads the nation in the number of life-sentenced teens, with over 300 currently languishing in the state’s prisons.
Haiti called for ending the discriminatory impact of mandatory minimum sentences and Thailand called for addressing sexual violence inside U.S. prisons, where homosexual rapes far exceed heterosexual rapes outside prison walls.
France urged the U.S. to study the racial disparities evident in the application of the death penalty. African-Americans comprise 41.43 percent of the people on death rows across America – a figure more than twice the percentage of America’s black population.
The United Kingdom expressed concerns about damning evidence that the death penalty could sometimes be administered in a discriminatory manner.
Respected Harvard Law School Professor Alan Dershowitz recently wrote a commentary expressing his concerns about Kevin Cooper, a black California death row inmate facing execution for slaughtering four members of a white family in 1983, despite the troubling reality that the lone survivor told police the murders were white.
Facts now establish that police destroyed blood-stained clothing evidence supplied by the girlfriend of one (white) man police never investigated, and that the prosecution’s forensic witnesses falsified evidence against Cooper.
Dershowitz stated that the facts “do not add up” in the murder conviction of Cooper. He has asked outgoing California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger to grant Cooper clemency. America’s largest death row is in California, which has 697 persons facing execution.
U.S. representatives responding to their international critics stated that despite legitimate debate on the propriety of the death penalty, as a matter of law at the federal level and in 35 states, “that punishment is permitted,” according to the draft report issued by the UN Human Rights Council.
While the America’s governmental scheme makes it structurally difficult for the federal government to outright ban states from conducting executions, the federal government could end its own use of the death penalty for federal crimes. The U.S. government death row holds nearly 70 persons.
One U.S. death-row inmate – Pennsylvania’s ‘Death Row Journalist’ Mumia Abu-Jamal – received mention by name in one recommendation. Abu-Jamal, perhaps the most well-known of 25,000-plus under death sentence worldwide, observes the macabre anniversary of spending 29-years inside a death-row prison cell on December 9th.
Cuba called on the U.S. to “end the unjust incarceration of political prisoners including Leonard Peltier and Mumia Abu-Jamal.” Ample evidence supports international claims that Native American leader Peltier, repeatedly denied parole, and ex-Black Panther Abu-Jamal, are unjustly incarcerated for deaths involving law enforcement officers.
The issue of political prisoners in the US is a subject generating interest internationally, yet it is an issue largely ignored by Americans, said Efia Nwangaza, a lawyer who attended that UN human rights review session held in Geneva, Switzerland.
“There are over 75 political prisoners in the US, most of them former Black Panther or Black Liberation Army people,” said Nwangaza, a Philadelphia native now living in South Carolina, who helped prepare documentation on US political prisoners for that UN review.
“We’ve made progress through an admission by omission, with the US not denying it has political prisoners.”
In addition to criticisms about death penalty policies in the U.S., nations around the world raised concerns about racial profiling practices in America against blacks, Latinos and persons perceived as Muslim, inclusive of U.S. citizens, immigrants and visitors.
U.S. representatives, responding to criticisms about racial profiling, “assured delegations” that America condemns racial and ethnic profiling in all forms,” according to the Human Rights Council’s report.
Ironically, even as U.S. representatives offered their assurances, the ACLU of Pennsylvania filed a class-action lawsuit against the Philadelphia Police Department for racial profiling in that city where the U.S. Constitution was drafted and approved.
That lawsuit involves the police practice called ‘stop-&-frisk’ – where police detain and search persons. This practice in Philadelphia impacted 253,333 persons in 2009 – a 148-percent increase over 2005 – with 72.2 percent of those subjected being blacks, who comprise 44 percent of that city’s population, according to the lawsuit.
This dragnet-style policing only produced arrests in 8.4 percent of the ‘stops,’ with the majority of those arrests being for “interactions following the initial stop” like disorderly conduct and resisting arrest – i.e. alleged crimes that most likely resulted from legitimate objections to being stopped without cause.
One of the plaintiffs in that lawsuit is State Representative Jewell Williams, a veteran of 20-years in law enforcement work, who was roughed up by Philadelphia police in March 2009 while inquiring about a police stop of two 65-year-old black men during an encounter around the corner from Williams’ house.
Exposing a paradox in America’s race-based policing, Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter and the city’s Police Commissioner Charles Ramsey (named in the ACLU lawsuit) are both black, but they back their Stop-&-Frisk policy, downplaying its demonstrable racially-disproportionate impact.
“Mayor Nutter repeatedly promised that this policy [Stop-&-Frisk] would be carried out in a way that respected the Constitution,” said Mary Catherine Roper, an ACLU-Pa staff attorney. “But instead of stopping people suspected of criminal activity, the police appear to be stopping people because of race.”
Former Philadelphia Mayor John Street told ThisCantBeHappening! recently that the excessive Stop-&-Frisk practices are actually counter-productive to effective crime fighting because the practices alienate citizens that police need to assist them in crime fighting.
Source URL: http://www.thiscantbehappening.net/node/334
From: Sacramento Bee
By Charles Piller
Published: Monday, May. 10, 2010 – 2:58 pm
Last Modified: Monday, May. 10, 2010 – 9:39 pm
The American Friends Service Committee today challenged California legislators to look into allegations that state prison inmates were abused in a special behavior modification program – and pushed for the units to be sharply restricted.
The advocacy group’s San Francisco office raised concerns after Sacramento Bee articles published Sunday and today revealed evidence of racism and cruelty by guards at the High Desert State Prison in Susanville, California. Sources described strip-searches in a snow-covered exercise yard, as well as guards who assaulted inmates, tried to provoke attacks between inmates, and deliberately spread human excrement on cell doors. Prisoners depicted an environment of brutality, corruption and fear.
Though the High Desert behavior unit has been closed for budgetary reasons, The Bee series found units at other prisons to be marked by extreme isolation and deprivation, without the education that is supposed to be an underpinning of the program, and without social contact, TV or radio, or even fresh air.
“What is especially frightening in this story is how long it has been going on and the extent to which the (corrections department) seems to have covered it up,” said Laura Magnani, an official of the nonprofit Quaker organization, in a written statement. “I’m particularly worried about the prisoners who are speaking out.”
The group called for the state Senate public safety committee to conduct hearings to examine the allegations described in The Bee stories. It recommended the state restrict the use of behavior units “and other forms of long term isolation.”
The group also called for improved access by prisoners to independent auditors in order to ensure that prison staff cannot intercept formal complaints about treatment by correctional officers.
The Bee’s report found substantiation of allegations of abuse in interviews with inmates, prison documents and a long-hidden report written by corrections department experts.
Read more here…
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CHEYENNE, WY – The American Civil Liberties Union and the ACLU of Wyoming today filed a federal lawsuit on behalf of a prisoner at the Wyoming State Penitentiary who was forced into solitary confinement for nearly two months in retaliation for reporting the abuse of a fellow prisoner by prison guards.
Joseph Miller was wrongfully convicted of false disciplinary charges and spent 57 days in isolation after filing a formal complaint with the penitentiary’s warden about physical abuse inflicted upon a prisoner by guards who warned Miller to keep his mouth shut.
The lawsuit also includes a class action claim against the penitentiary’s warden, Michael Murphy, for refusing to release un-redacted copies of prison incident reports and other public documents.
“It is unconscionable that Mr. Miller would be disciplined and forced into solitary confinement simply for reporting the excessive use of force by prison guards against another prisoner,” said Stephan Pevar, an attorney with the ACLU Racial Justice Program. “All prisoners have a constitutional right to file complaints as a result of any perceived wrongdoing and those complaints should be treated respectfully and taken seriously. They should never result in a prisoner being subjected to retaliation by prison guards or administrators.”
Miller filed his complaint with Murphy in the aftermath of a verbal argument that broke out between prisoner Ryan Bartlett and a prison guard. Eight guards arrived on the scene moments after the argument began and Bartlett was sprayed in the face with pepper spray. After the guards had forced Bartlett to the ground, shackled his hands behind his back and pressed on his back and neck to prevent him from moving, guard Michael Grubbe appeared to kick Bartlett in the head. When Miller informed Grubbe and guard Lonnie Prindle that he intended to file a complaint, he was told by Grubbe and Prindle to keep his mouth shut or he would be “in trouble.” When Miller reiterated his intention to complain, Prindle told Grubbe to “write him up for calling you a m….. f….. and I’ll witness to it,” according to the complaint, despite the fact that Miller said nothing of the sort. Both guards swore at Miller in an effort to get him to back down.
During Miller’s hearing on the trumped up disciplinary charges, Hearing Officer Clyde Goodman refused to allow Miller to call witnesses on his behalf. Miller was found guilty by Goodman, and his conviction was upheld by Murphy. Miller appealed Murphy’s decision to Wyoming Department of Corrections Director Robert Lampert, who reversed the conviction and ordered that Miller be given a new hearing.
During that new hearing yesterday, three eyewitnesses corroborated Miller’s account and confirmed that guards had threatened to retaliate against him if he reported the guards’ abuse. But despite the overwhelming evidence to the contrary, the hearing officer found Miller guilty.
“The deck has been stacked against Mr. Miller from the very outset,” said Jennifer Horvath, an attorney with the ACLU of Wyoming. “Mr. Miller did the right thing by letting the warden know about abusive conduct of his prison guards. In response, not only were false charges brought against him, but his every attempt to defend himself has been rigged in favor of his being convicted. There is no question that Mr. Miller is the victim of retaliation by prison guards and administrators, and his due process rights have been repeatedly violated.”
Prior to filing today’s lawsuit, Miller requested a copy of the staff reports submitted by guards to the penitentiary’s administration in connection with this incident. The reports he received were all heavily redacted in violation of state and federal law.
The lawsuit, filed in the U.S. District Court for the District of Wyoming, seeks to have all references in Miller’s prison file to the unlawful charges expunged, and a ruling that Miller’s constitutional rights under the First and Fourteenth Amendment were violated. Miller also is asking the court to rule that the censorship of public documents by prison officials violates state and federal law.
A copy of the lawsuit can be found online at: www.aclu.org/racialjustice/gen/38806lgl20090224.html
Additional information about the ACLU is available online at: www.aclu.org
Additional information about the ACLU of Wyoming is available online at: www.aclu-wy.org