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US judge hears Central Prison inmates' abuse claims

Posted August 22, 2013
Updated August 23, 2013

— Corrections officials at North Carolina's maximum security prison must save the video from cameras that monitor key blind spots, says a federal judge who is hearing a lawsuit that accuses guards at of sadistically beating inmates in solitary confinement.

U.S. District Judge Terrence Boyle also told state attorneys they had 10 days to spell out how Central Prison in Raleigh would install cameras to watch blind spots where inmates claim guards took them for unrecorded beatings.

"We are really happy that the judge took this seriously," said Elizabeth Simpson, an attorney for North Carolina Prisoner Legal Services, which is representing the inmates. "We're really gratified something's going to be done."

Central Prison Federal judge hears inmates' abuse claims

However, state attorneys told him those cameras have already been installed. Boyle said officials must save video from the cameras for two months rather than erasing the images after about a month.

State attorneys want Boyle to dismiss the lawsuit on behalf of eight inmates at Central Prison in Raleigh, but he did not take up their request Thursday.

The plaintiffs include inmate Jerome Peters, who described for Boyle a beating that broke his right hip and fractured bones in his hand and face while he was in the prison's solitary confinement.

"They were stomping me with their feet and hitting me with their hands," said Peters, 48, who is serving 14 years for first-degree burglary.

The inmates accuse 19 correctional officers of taking handcuffed and shackled inmates to blind spots out of view of security cameras, then using "malicious and sadistic force" to beat them.

Former prison administrators Gerald Branker and Kenneth Lassister are accused in the lawsuit of failing to preserve video that might contain evidence and to develop policies on investigating inmate abuse complaints.

Peters entered the courtroom with legs shackled and leaning on a walker after spending months in a wheelchair following the December incident.

Peters said he was handcuffed and escorted by two correctional officers from an outdoor recreation area back to his cell. He told Boyle one of the guards punched him in the face while another grabbed a leg and pulled him the ground. A third correctional officer then helped the other two kick, stomp and punch him, Peters said.

Boyle directly quizzed Peters for several minutes, asking what might have led to the beating.

"They don't randomly pick guys out and beat them up," Boyle said.

Peters said he had complained about guards tampering with his meals or not receiving the food he was due to get.

Assistant Attorney General Jodi Harrison noted Peters had been in solitary confinement after hitting a prison staff member, that he tossed urine on an officer and on the day he suffered the broken bones tried to spit on one of the guards. Peters denied spitting or throwing urine.

State attorneys say there is no merit to the allegations. Corrections officers use force with inmates relatively rarely, but must have that option with up to 192 inmates in the prison's solitary confinement block sent there for offenses committed behind bars, state attorneys wrote in court documents.

That can't justify systematic beatings that violate the U.S. Constitution's prohibitions against cruel and unusual punishment, the inmates' lawyers contend. Medical records document that inmates who were segregated from other prisoners suffered blunt-force injuries, including broken bones and concussions, attorneys said.

Lassiter was promoted in May to director of 12 prisons in the state's central region. Branker retired in 2011 after The Associated Press obtained a copy of a scathing internal review that found inmates with serious mental disorders were often kept in isolation for weeks, sometimes nude, in roach-infested cells smeared with human waste.

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  • Rusty Shackleford Aug 23, 1:29 p.m.

    Just because a person is violent does not mean an official should degrade themselves by behaving just as badly. It's barbaric. I guess this is what happens when an offender owes a debt to the State and not the victim or their family.

  • dollibug Aug 23, 11:14 a.m.

    Just because these people are in prison DOES NOT mean that they are all GUILTY....it is sad but so very true. Being indicted, tried and convicted does NOT mean that they are GUILTY of what they are in prison for. These guards are abusing the prisoners because they CAN....I would certainly hope doing so is NOT part of their job. Everyone should be held responsible and accountable for what they do....regardless of who they are OR what they did. The punishment is decided through the court system OR should be.

  • jackflash123 Aug 23, 11:11 a.m.

    "So I know a prison guard who got punched in the face by an inmate. Broke his nose, fractured his eye socket, split his lip. If the inmate got a broken bone back would that be ok?"

    It would be appropriate for the guard(s) to respond immediately to subdue the immediate threat, including using weapons in self-defense. If the inmate ends up w/ worse injuries, that seems completely reasonable. If the inmate is sufficiently subdued and the beating continues, or if guards return later for further punishment, I suspect that is outside the law and unacceptable.

    Ultimately, there is no way to ensure that legal consequences equal or otherwise make-up for a crime. If someone kills two people, you can only administer the death penalty once. If a conviction isn't for treason or capital murder, the death sentence can't be legally applied. Punch a guard? Unless the immediate, lawful response causes the inmate's death, there is no way it ever adds up to an official death penalty.

  • arfamr1008 Aug 23, 11:04 a.m.

    I gag every time I read a headline like this. Inmates should be living in tents eating bread and water

  • jackflash123 Aug 23, 11:02 a.m.

    "Don't do the crime if you can't do the time (beatings and all)."

    Constitutional violations and all?

    "Do a DPS offender search on this guy and see if that doesn't soften your sympathy for this career criminal."

    He deserves to be in prison, and his exact sentence was determined in a court of law. Beyond that, consequences administered unjustly are a violation of the Constitution and he becomes a victim himself. Again: If you don't want criminals to become sympathetic figures, treat them in accordance to law and Constitution. If you want to hate on someone, you really ought to insist on that, b/c otherwise you're letting him off the hook for what should remain the focus for the duration of his sentence.

  • Red Green Aug 23, 10:48 a.m.

    “And we should care why??”

    Because “supposedly” we are a nation of civilized people. However, that opinion gets marginalized by those who share your sentiment.

  • BeastieBoy Aug 23, 10:47 a.m.

    What we have HERE, is a failure to communicate!

    "where inmates claim guards took them for unrecorded beatings" As opposed to "recorded" beatings?

  • Red Green Aug 23, 10:39 a.m.

    “So why would you treat criminals better than the victims? Don't do the crime if you can't do the time (beatings and all).” LKG-Lover

    The guards are not supposed to be the judge, jury and executioner, they are there to do a job and that job does NOT include taking out their frustrations of life on inmates. If they cannot do that job without resorting to this behavior they’re no better than those that are in lock up.

  • nic Aug 23, 10:09 a.m.

    So I know a prison guard who got punched in the face by an inmate. Broke his nose, fractured his eye socket, split his lip. If the inmate got a broken bone back would that be ok? What should the remedy be? The prisoner is already in solitary and in for life so what should the punishment be for breaking a guards nose and eye socket?

  • dewpac1 Aug 23, 9:59 a.m.

    And we should care why??

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