Retiring Arizona Prison Watch...

This site was originally started in July 2009 as an independent endeavor to monitor conditions in Arizona's criminal justice system, as well as offer some critical analysis of the prison industrial complex from a prison abolitionist/anarchist's perspective. It was begun in the aftermath of the death of Marcia Powell, a 48 year old AZ state prisoner who was left in an outdoor cage in the desert sun for over four hours while on a 10-minute suicide watch. That was at ASPC-Perryville, in Goodyear, AZ, in May 2009.

Marcia, a seriously mentally ill woman with a meth habit sentenced to the minimum mandatory 27 months in prison for prostitution was already deemed by society as disposable. She was therefore easily ignored by numerous prison officers as she pleaded for water and relief from the sun for four hours. She was ultimately found collapsed in her own feces, with second degree burns on her body, her organs failing, and her body exceeding the 108 degrees the thermometer would record. 16 officers and staff were disciplined for her death, but no one was ever prosecuted for her homicide. Her story is here.

Marcia's death and this blog compelled me to work for the next 5 1/2 years to document and challenge the prison industrial complex in AZ, most specifically as manifested in the Arizona Department of Corrections. I corresponded with over 1,000 prisoners in that time, as well as many of their loved ones, offering all what resources I could find for fighting the AZ DOC themselves - most regarding their health or matters of personal safety.

I also began to work with the survivors of prison violence, as I often heard from the loved ones of the dead, and learned their stories. During that time I memorialized the Ghosts of Jan Brewer - state prisoners under her regime who were lost to neglect, suicide or violence - across the city's sidewalks in large chalk murals. Some of that art is here.

In November 2014 I left Phoenix abruptly to care for my family. By early 2015 I was no longer keeping up this blog site, save occasional posts about a young prisoner in solitary confinement in Arpaio's jail, Jessie B.

I'm deeply grateful to the prisoners who educated, confided in, and encouraged me throughout the years I did this work. My life has been made all the more rich and meaningful by their engagement.

I've linked to some posts about advocating for state prisoner health and safety to the right, as well as other resources for families and friends. If you are in need of additional assistance fighting the prison industrial complex in Arizona - or if you care to offer some aid to the cause - please contact the Phoenix Anarchist Black Cross at PO Box 7241 / Tempe, AZ 85281.

until all are free -

MARGARET J PLEWS (June 1, 2015)


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Thursday, October 8, 2009

Chilling Appelate decison limits protection for whistleblowing

Couple's retaliation claims fail to gain traction with 2nd Circuit

By David L. Hudson Jr.
First Amendment scholar

A former New York prison guard, who alleged retaliation for reporting abuse of inmates by guards to his superiors, has lost his First Amendment case in the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

On Oct. 2, an appeals panel also affirmed the dismissal of a claim brought by the officer’s wife, who had alleged she was not hired for a clerk position because of his report.

Paul Wesolowski made a report of inmate abuse in October 2004 while he was a guard at the Ulster County Jail. Wesolowski gave his report to his immediate supervising sergeant. His sergeant told Wesolowski to take the report to another sergeant, who then told him to deliver it to a lieutenant. Wesolowski did so.

In December 2004, Wesolowski was accused of leaving his post on an unspecified matter without obtaining a replacement and for insubordination. He was suspended for 30 days without pay. Wesolowski contended that the charges were a form of retaliation for his protected speech in making the report. Wesolowski admitted that the report was part of his job duties but claimed that he went outside the chain of command in that he eventually delivered the report to someone other than his direct supervisor.

Meanwhile, his wife, Laura Wesolowski, had applied for a position as stock clerk with the county sheriff’s department. Even though she attained a high score on the civil service exam, she was not hired; the person who was hired scored 10 points lower than Laura Wesolowski. She alleged that the failure to hire her was in retaliation for her husband’s report and for her association with her husband. 

The Wesolowskis sued in federal court in March 2005. In August 2007, U.S. District Judge Lawrence E. Kahn dismissed the plaintiffs’ lawsuit because of the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in Garcetti v. Ceballos (2006). In Garcetti, the Court ruled that public employees do not have First Amendment rights for speech made in accordance with their “official job duties.”

“Plaintiff’s own description of the chain of events makes clear that he was acting at the direction of his superior when he reported the inmate complaint to the other officers,” Kahn wrote. “Because this speech is not protected under the first amendment, Plaintiff’s employer is not prohibited by the first amendment from disciplining him because of the report.”

Kahn reasoned that Laura Wesolowski’s claim based on her husband’s report must fail for the same reason: “Since it has been determined that the speech at issue, her husband’s report of the inmate complaint, was not protected and there was no constitutional violation, no claims derived from that alleged violation can succeed,” Kahn wrote.

Regarding her intimate-association claim, Kahn found that she had “not pointed to any evidence of a nexus” between the failure to hire and her association with her husband.

The Wesolowskis appealed to the 2nd Circuit, and on Oct. 2, a three-judge panel unanimously affirmed the lower court in a summary order in Wesolowski v. Bockelmann, rejecting the Wesolowskis’ claims. 

On appeal, Paul Wesolowski argued again that what he characterized as ultimately going outside his chain of command was protected private speech — rather than unprotected employee speech under Garcetti — because the lieutenant asked him why he had written a report that was not expected of him. However, the 2nd Circuit was not persuaded by this contention, and called the report “job-related” speech.

“Since he was following the orders of his direct superiors in bringing the report to [the lieutenant’s] attention and the lieutenant himself pursued the complaint, his actions were consistent with the duties these superiors expected him to perform, even if various statements they made at the time showed they were displeased by the report itself,” the 2nd Circuit wrote.

The 2nd Circuit also upheld the dismissal of Laura Wesolowski’s claim, finding that she failed to show that she was not hired because of her marriage to her husband. 

Last year the 5th Circuit in Williams v. Riley reinstated several Mississippi jailers’ First Amendment retaliation claims on the basis of similar reporting of inmate abuse.


5th Circuit reinstates Miss. jailers' job-retaliation lawsuit

By David L. Hudson Jr. Decision could affect other cases involving when employee speech is made as part of official job duties, how such determinations are made. 05.14.08

Garcetti & its aftermath: case analyses

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