(Editor’s note: this story and the inmate grievance can also be viewed in the Special Report section.)
Witnesses ask Attorney General Beau Biden, Correction Commissioner Carl Danberg, ACLU, NAACP to protect them from abuse and retaliation.
By Lee Williams
An entire tier – 42 inmates – at the Sussex Correctional Institution in Georgetown has come forward telling state officials they witnessed an unprovoked assault by three guards on one inmate – an attack which they say was started by the guards.
The 42 whistle-blowers claim physical assaults, taunts and intimidation by guards on SCI’s Medium Security Building’s “A” tier are a daily occurrence.
They documented the assault on a Department of Correction (DOC) grievance form, which bears their 42 signatures. It was sent to Attorney General Beau Biden, Correction Commissioner Carl Danberg, the American Civil Liberties Union of Delaware, the NAACP and Dover attorney Steve Hampton.
In their complaint, the inmates state they want criminal charges brought against two guards and a sergeant “who assaulted inmate Usef Dickerson on 11/11/09, in front of about 43 inmates on A-Tier.”
“We the inmates fear these two officers, and request that they be moved out of the building, that they do not retaliate against the inmates for writing this petition and the grievance that they have filed concerning this incident,” the grievance states.
According to the grievance form filed three days after the assault, which describes the type of incident as “ongoing,” the attack on Dickerson occurred around 1:30 p.m., when the three guards, “after an exchange of words grab (sic) inmate Usef Dickerson around the neck, forced him to the chow hall.”
There, the grievance states the guards, “violently punched and kicked inmate Dickerson to the body and about the head and face.”
The inmates report that guards on A-Tier frequently “invite” the inmates to “come off the tier for a physical confrontation.”
“These three officers constantly harass us and threaten us with bodily harm,” the report states. “Also, they talk about our dead family members, kids and say stuff like ‘tell your mother to s— my d—. Now, what are you going to do?’”
Neither Danberg nor Biden were willing to be interviewed for this story, or say whether they would protect the inmates from retaliation for coming forward.
In an e-mail, Biden’s spokesman Jason Miller said, “An assault on an inmate is a serious allegation. The Department of Correction maintains a process for reviewing such allegations and investigating if warranted. The Department of Correction has informed us that they have initiated this process.”
SCI Deputy Warden G.R. Johnson was similarly certain the assault was being investigated. However, Johnson admitted he hadn’t seen the inmates’ grievance or any document ordering an inquiry.
“I feel confident it’s being investigated,” Johnson told the Caesar Rodney Institute. “That’s all I’m going to say on it.”
Dover attorney Steve Hampton has seen the results of numerous investigations by the DOC’s internal affairs unit. Few have resulted in discipline or charges.
“The IA investigators do the best with what they’re able to do, but they’re not arms-length from the warden and they’re under the control and oversight of the Attorney General’s office, who also represents the subjects of the investigations – the correctional officers and the wardens,” Hampton said. “It puts the IA investigators in a difficult spot. It’s difficult for them to do a truly independent investigation.”
Hampton pointed out that even if an IA investigation finds malfeasance or criminality, the investigators have no authority to prosecute the cases.
The bigger problem, Hampton said, is the “Culture of Silence” at SCI, also known as the “Blue Wall.” Guards at SCI, he said, will not report the misdeeds of their peers.
“Until they change the culture of silence, they’re not going to have any substantive changes down there,” he said. “The correctional officers don’t fear that anyone is going to do anything. They feel as if they have immunity to do whatever they want.”
SCI has a reputation for abuse, especially if the inmate is small, non-threatening and mentally or physically ill.
Dickerson stands 5-foot, 4-inches, suffers from severe asthma and weights 130 pounds.
In June, guards at the facility nearly beat Laurel businessman David Sully to death, by raining down blows to his head and face. Several wounds on Sully’s face required stitches to close. When he left the facility, he was covered with dye used in the guards’ pepper spray.
Despite horrific photos that chronicled the assault, Danberg said his guards did nothing wrong. He implied Sully had done something to merit the repeated beatings. Sully is 5-feet, 5-inches tall and weighs 140 pounds.
Last month, Gianfranco Carta said guards at SCI shot pepper spray directly into his mouth, and then smacked his head into a concrete wall several times as he walked blindly down a hallway. Carta stands 5-feet, 7-inches and weighs 140 pounds.
Danberg’s internal affairs unit has said Carta’s story is “under investigation.”
In 2006, several guards attacked inmate David Kalm. Sometime during the assault, one of the guards shoved a nightstick or similar object down Kalm’s throat, tearing his trachea. Kalm is 5-feet, 7-inches and suffers from asthma, COPD and severe anxiety.
Danberg’s internal affairs unit investigated and found the guards did nothing wrong. Kalm has since sued the DOC. His case is pending. The guards – defendants in the civil suit – are represented by the Attorney General’s office, after the office concluded they did nothing to merit criminal charges.
Contact investigative reporter Lee Williams at (302) 242-9272 or firstname.lastname@example.org
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