A Brutal Beating Wakes Attica's Ghosts
March 2, 2015 10:46 AM   Subscribe

 
No trial after all, the three guards are pleading guilty to misdemeanor misconduct charges.
posted by LightMayo at 11:02 AM on March 2, 2015 [2 favorites]


The plea deal required their resignations, in return for no trial and the release of all charges.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 11:09 AM on March 2, 2015


Only unions more toxic than police unions are CO unions.
posted by PMdixon at 11:16 AM on March 2, 2015


No jail time? WTF.

I hope Williams sues them for a boatload of money. But I expect they're probably judgment proof unless they had homeowners insurance with liability coverage or something.
posted by Jahaza at 11:17 AM on March 2, 2015


This is the part that disgusts me:

Many did not want to talk about it. Under their union contract, corrections officers are obligated to answer questions only from their employers and have the right to refuse to talk to outside police agencies. State Police investigators attempted to interview 15 guards; 11 declined to cooperate.

These clauses need to be outlawed.
posted by NoxAeternum at 11:34 AM on March 2, 2015 [11 favorites]


Frankly, resignations are extraordinarily useful because it's insanely difficult to fire these people or even reassign them to desk duty. That plus a local jury? I'd say it was a good deal, given the tragic and preventable circumstances.
posted by internet fraud detective squad, station number 9 at 11:36 AM on March 2, 2015 [2 favorites]


Many did not want to talk about it. Under their union contract, corrections officers are obligated to answer questions only from their employers and have the right to refuse to talk to outside police agencies. State Police investigators attempted to interview 15 guards; 11 declined to cooperate.

This does seem outrageous at first blush, but if you put it a different way, it's not as clear. I think it's also true that Like everyone else, corrections officers have the right to refuse to talk to police. However, because of their union contract, they can be required to co-operate with investigations by the Department of Corrections.

So one answer would be to make the DOC, and the governor who is its executive, politically accountable for failures to adequately investigate abuse of prisoners by its employees. Pinning the problem on the union contract seems to me to shift the blame away from where it really belongs.
posted by layceepee at 11:43 AM on March 2, 2015 [2 favorites]


Even when they do investigate abuses, their hands are frequently tied by arbitration clauses and other contractual limitations on their power to manage employees.

I am pro-union for some industries. Corrections is not one of them.
posted by internet fraud detective squad, station number 9 at 11:59 AM on March 2, 2015 [2 favorites]


I mean, they are literally unable to assign desk jobs. Same pay, same benefits, same hours? Doesn't matter. The officer gets to choose his assignment. Removing brutal sadists from positions of power over inmates is near-impossible because of the union contract. Make no mistake, these are brutal sadists who I would not trust alone with a goldfish, lest I return to find it beaten to death. That's what made their resignations so valuable to the prosecution.
posted by internet fraud detective squad, station number 9 at 12:06 PM on March 2, 2015 [5 favorites]


Removing brutal sadists from positions of power over inmates is near-impossible because of the union contract.

I don't think that's true, and I think that it's passing the buck to unions, whose job is not to insure the safety of the inmates but to protect the interests of their members.

It's the DOC that is responsible for inmate safety, and I think virtually any act of physical abuse of prisoners is a crime. If the DOC vigorously investigated claims of abuse, and shared the evidence with police and prosecutors who charged guards with criminal offenses when the evidence supported it, the union contract wouldn't protect them.

Yes, the union contract makes it difficult to deal with abuse that doesn't rise to the level of criminal behavior. The kind of bullshit mentioned in the article--COs turning off power to a block a cells because one inmate pissed them off--is fostered by the limits on the DOC's power to deal with employees. But the most serous abuses are not the result of union contracts.
posted by layceepee at 12:18 PM on March 2, 2015 [1 favorite]


I didn't get past the description of the Attica prison uprising as "violent." The "riot" was relatively peaceful as these things go. it was the police decision to shoot everyone which was violent.

which is to say: same as it ever was. the Attica prison riot is one of those things where if you imagine it as a TV movie, it would be the story of how black prisoners and white prisoners looked beyond racism and rallied together to address their grievances. the inmates protect the captive guards from the prisoners who can't forgive when the tables are turned, the music starts to swell and just when the "good" official is supposed to step forward and acknowledge that there could be some changes... instead they decide to just shoot all the niggers and commies.

which is how the sixties ended, roughly.
posted by ennui.bz at 12:20 PM on March 2, 2015 [7 favorites]


Maybe this makes me more cynical than most, but I'm surprised that prison gangs, with ties to the outside, aren't the counter-balance to this. Or maybe they are and COs know only to break the legs of people not in gangs. Or maybe the gangs in New York's prisons just aren't powerful enough.
posted by Hactar at 12:38 PM on March 2, 2015 [1 favorite]


Have they started shipping surplus materiel to the prisons yet or is only for the police?
posted by infini at 12:49 PM on March 2, 2015


It's the DOC that is responsible for inmate safety, and I think virtually any act of physical abuse of prisoners is a crime. If the DOC vigorously investigated claims of abuse, and shared the evidence with police and prosecutors who charged guards with criminal offenses when the evidence supported it, the union contract wouldn't protect them.

I'm not sure what evidence you have that they're not doing this. It's extremely difficult to prosecute for these crimes, in large part because inmate witnesses fear retaliation. This particular prosecution required multiple witnesses being moved to different prisons and IIRC a cooperating witness.

Ultimately, the DOC is in part to blame because they agreed to the contract. A union that allows for its members to brutalize vulnerable people is, in fact, partially at fault as well. It might be "their job" to do so, but that doesn't make it morally neutral.
posted by internet fraud detective squad, station number 9 at 1:10 PM on March 2, 2015 [1 favorite]


From the linked article: In his complaint, Mr. Barnes said that, after being frisked, a guard he later identified as Gary Pritchard Jr. slugged him in the eye, while others struck him in the head and body with their batons. Mr. Barnes said that after he had been shackled, guards rammed him face-first into a wall. “If you thought you were ugly before, look at your face now,” Mr. Barnes said Officer Pritchard taunted him, adding a racial slur.

Barnes won that case, but it was a civil case, not a criminal one. And it’s true that the standard of evidence is higher in criminal evidence, and maybe Pritchard wouldn’t have been convicted if he’d been indicted.

Barnes filed that case himself, and I’m betting he didn’t get any investigative help from the Department of Corrections. I think it’s very likely that, had the DOC vigorously pursued an investigation, it could have collected evidence that would have supported a criminal conviction. And if not in this particular case, than in some of the other cases that must exist if, as the linked article argues persuasively, physical abuse of prisoners is close to routine in Attica. Didn't the article say there have been 24 suits based on Prichard's behavior?

I’m willing to bet that the state is much more vigorous in its defense against lawsuits from prisoners alleging abuse than it is in its investigations of officers who are the subject of the suits.
posted by layceepee at 1:28 PM on March 2, 2015 [2 favorites]


I am pro-union for some industries. Corrections is not one of them.

You don't want to add "underpaid" and "overworked" on to the resume of prison guards. Obviously a lot needs to be done to make sure scum like these guys face consequences, but I'm not sure why you'd assume why going on a race to the bottom would lead to improvements.
posted by Hoopo at 3:00 PM on March 2, 2015 [1 favorite]


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