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Archive for the ‘Rogue Force’ Category

(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.”

Abusive history

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 lee@caesarrodney.org

The Caesar Rodney Institute is a 501(c)(3) non-partisan research and educational organization and is committed to being a catalyst for improved performance, accountability, and efficiency in Delaware government.

© Copyright 2009 by the Caesar Rodney Institute

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The Delaware Department of Correction (DOC) today released a Request For Proposals (RFP) soliciting vendors to provide healthcare services to the prison inmate population.

The new RFP will allow the option of multiple vendors, so potential vendors will be able to bid to provide a portion of services, such as mental health services, substance abuse services or prescription drugs, among others, as well as to bid on the entire contract.

Another change will be to allow the option for a “shared risk” model, with DOC agreeing to bear the risk of certain costs in certain categories.

“We expect this flexibility, and the increased competition it is expected to provide, will foster improved medical care and cost savings,” DOC Commissioner Carl Danberg said in a written statement. “The Department spent significant time exploring alternative solutions to the way we contract for medical services. We believe this alternative will allow for large and small service providers to bid on the areas that fall within their specialization.”

Shoddy medical care provided by the DOC’s current medical vendor, Correctional Medical Services, was  highlighted in a recent special by the Caesar Rodney Institute.

The RFP can be found here.

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An inmate at the James T. Vaughn Correctional Center in Smyrna has a four-inch hole in his buttocks, which is full of MRSA, staph and other bacteria.

The abscess is burrowing toward the 50-year-old inmate’s midline, according to medical documents obtained by the Caesar Rodney Institute.

He’s had the wound for more than six months, and now faces surgery to remove the dead tissue, and possible skin grafts. The ulcerous wound has formed a pus pocket, referred to as a “sinus tract” in his medical records, which is four inches long.

Five months ago, according to the records, medical staff were irrigating the wound with saline, and packing it with 10 to 12 inches of gauze.

Not only does the inmate constitute a serious health risk to other inmates, the guards too are at risk for contracting the highly-communicable MRSA, which is also known as flesh-eating bacteria. Their families too could be exposed to MRSA, as could anyone they contact.

 

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The Delaware Department of Correction killed Daniel Kern, according to the findings of an autopsy report obtained by the Caesar Rodney Institute.

Kern, 41, was serving a one-year sentence for his third drunk-driving conviction. He was being held at the Sussex Correctional Institution. He acquired pancreatitis, an inflammation of the pancreas, which can be caused by alcoholism, other infections or gall stones.

Pancreatitis should have been easy to detect. A simple blood test would have revealed that Kern’s blood contained elevated levels of digestive enzymes, which are formed in the pancreas. However, Kern’s frequent complaints of abdominal pain and pleas for help went unheeded by the DOC and its medical vendor Correctional Medical Services.

The Caesar Rodney Institute, as part of its ongoing special report “Rogue Force,” reported what Deputy Chief Medical Examiner Dr. Adrienne Sekula-Perlman told Kern’s family after the post-mortem exam, that Kern died as a result of pancreatitis, which constitutes “gross medical negligence.”

The last page of Sekula-Perlman’s autopsy report confirms what she told Kern’s family.

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A 36-year-old Newark man is the latest inmate to die in Delaware’s prison system.

Gernell J. Archie died Friday, Nov. 13 at the Sussex Correctional Institute (SCI) in Georgetown.

He was serving an eight-year sentence for robbery, possession of a weapon and theft.

According to a press release, sent by Department of Correction spokesman John Painter after the Caesar Rodney Institute made inquiries about the death, “no foul play is suspected.” No cause of death information was provided.

Unlike other inmate deaths, the DOC did not notify the Caesar Rodney Institute of Archie’s death via the department’s press release e-mail system. Painter blamed this on another spokesperson, whom he said used an outdated e-mail list.

The death announcement, dated Monday, Nov. 16, was also not placed in the DOC’s press release archive, as has been the DOC’s policy.

 

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Cathcart

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As he was laying on his back in the James T. Vaughn Correction Center infirmary confined to a cot by his ailing health, Benjamin Sudler could feel the bed sores growing on his heels, burrowing their way toward the bone.

Held at the Smryna facility “pre-trial,” legally he was an innocent man.

Sudler knew if he didn’t get out of bed, he’d likely lose his legs.

Sudler, who suffered from strokes and diabetes, had asked for physcial therapy, but his requests were denied by JTVCC staff.

Before I was incarcerated I was receiving professional physical therapy, and I was able to walk with a cane when I entered the correctional facility,” Sudler wrote in a medical grievance obtained by the Caesar Rodney Institute. “The medical system has not provided a physical therapist to help me continue to walk. I am just lying in bed, getting bed sores. I want to receive therapy to help me walk.

Sudler filed his grievance February 2. It was heard by the prison’s grievance committee, which is chaired by a guard corporal, and promptly denied. The Department of Correction won’t say why a guard chairs the committee that hears medical grievances.

Sudler appealed the denial, stating he wanted “to have a therapist help me exercise so I won’t lay on my back all the time.”

The appeal wound its way through the sluggish grievance system, eventually landing on the desk of Bureau Chief Richard Kearney, the former warden of  the Sussex Correctional Institution.

Kearney granted the appeal three months later, after bed sores rotting on Sudler’s heels had reached the bone, which led to the amputation of both of his legs.

Sudler required immediate therapy. If it was to have worked, it should have started once he became bedridden.

Any grievance system that takes three months to correct a poor medical decision can only be thought of as a civil rights violation.

As a result, Sudler lost both legs — an easily preventable trauma for which Delaware taxpayers will no doubt pay.

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