I think the inmates needed to direct this letter to the US Department of Justice, though, to request a Civil Rights for Institutionalized Persons Act (CRIPA) investigation, given the evidence of a pattern of abusive behavior by guards. So, I'll print this up and send it in myself - Department of Justice, consider yourselves served with notice that you're responsible for following up on this.
It's that easy to do, folks - anyone can trigger a CRIPA investigation. You may just have to be persistent about it before they finally respond - and in the meantime, keep in touch with the prisoners involved to assure that they're still able to communicate if there are any problems, and remind them to send copies of all their grievances and other documentation of abuse home so it isn't confiscated and destroyed by the prison.
The inmates 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.
They specifically asked Biden and Danberg to shield them from retaliation from the guards, who remain assigned to the tier.
The 42 inmates 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.”
Their grievance states the guards, “violently punched and kicked inmate Dickerson to the body and about the head and face.”
Dickerson’s statement of the events provides more detail. Both complaints allege that the guards verbally provoked the assault, which began with an exchange of words.
In his statement, Dickerson said a guard sergeant “grabbed me by the head and pushed me into the chow hall. Then he quickly tried to slam me to the ground, but I ended up falling on top of him. At that point, I knew he was trying to hurt me, so I held him on the ground with one arm close to his body, so that he couldn’t do nothing to me.
“Seconds later, one officer who I cannot identify because he came from behind me, put me in a choke hold an began choking me while the other officer began punching me in the face. That’s when I let Sgt. [name withheld by CRI] go, closed my eyes and they continued to punch and choke me until I was either knocked out by a punch or until I passed out from lack of oxygen, because I was choked so long. I cannot say which it was, because I was being choked and punched at the same time.
“When I finally regained consciousness, I was being pepper-sprayed and punched in the face, but I was not being choked. I don’t know how it happened, but around a minute later, I was being escorted out of the building in handcuffs by an officer not involved in the assault.”
He strongly denies fighting back during the assault.
Several days prior to the attack, Dickerson said the guard sergeant told him, “I’ll beat you like your daddy should have.”
Dickerson filed grievances about the assault, sick call requests for medical aid, and asked to have his battered face photographed. He claims to suffer from constant headaches and broken blood vessels in his eyes.
Acquaintances of the inmates who reported the assault say staff has started to retaliate against the 42 whistleblowers.
The retaliation ranges in severity from the minor – making an inmate dump his food tray before he has had a chance to eat – to the serious.
One inmate, CRI was told, was watching a football game Sunday. He did not hear the guards announce a head count, and remained behind. The guards threatened to charge him with attempted escape, which could add years to his sentence.
Throughout the tier, the guards are asking all of the signatories “why did you sign?”
Dover attorney Hampton said, “The mere mention of the petition by staff to the inmates who signed it is itself intimidation.”
The DOC is also trying to suppress more information about the assault from leaking out of the prison.
The Caesar Rodney Institute has learned that a Delaware news reporter requested to interview three of the 42 inmates who witnessed the assault.
Tuesday evening, CRI has learned, the DOC’s internal affairs investigators pulled the three inmates whom the reporter sought to interview from their cells and interrogated them about Dickerson’s assault.
Department of Correction Commissioner Carl Danberg did not return calls seeking comment for this story.
Danberg has said the investigation into Dickerson’s assault will take months.
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