Thanks to Paul Rubin for his incredible investigative article about Shannon's life and death at the Phoenix New Times this week, including his interview with suspect Jasper Rushing. Please check it out for the most comprehensive and current report of the treatment of the mentally ill in the custody of the Arizona Department of Corrections under Chuck Ryan. The ACLU is already investigating Ryan's abuse of isolation in place of treatment for our mentally ill prisoners. This is right up their alley.
Arizona Prison Watch
September 15, 2010
Chalk Art by Peggy Plews Photo by Robert Haasch
It's clear to me from my conversations with people this week and letters from prison that we need to really mobilize on behalf of these prisoners with mental illness, regardless of how they got criminalized. They're getting killed or left to die without adequate treatment in there. I keep hearing that they're being taken off their meds and put into environments where they're more likely to suicide and acutely vulnerable to predators. We have to insist that they get better psychiatric care as well as protection, or they'll keep dying as they have been.
What I saw when I worked with the homeless in Ann Arbor - and what I think I'm seeing in the prisons now - is that people with serious mental illness make attractive victims to people, especially those doing killings for status. The mentally ill don't tend to be gang members so other prisoners won't intervene or retaliate, their aggravated symptoms provide abusers with the excuse of provocation for hurting them, and the state is less likely to seek the death penalty if the victim can be readily dehumanized like Shannon was.
At worst, guys like Rushing may lose their TV and phone privileges, get sentenced to life where they've already made their home, and end up assigned to a one-man cell - in addition to gaining the esteem of their twisted friends. In other words, for killing someone like Shannon, they stand to gain more than they lose - especially if they're already in prison for murder. I'm not advocating the death penalty here - I'm advocating prevention.
This is fairly urgent now, since gang members and random sadists will feel they have to top this last murder with something even more grisly. Prisoners and their families are rightfully terrified that they aren't safe from them - and the ADC seems to be quick to confirm that they won't assure anyone's safety in their custody. That, frankly, should be one of the primary things they try to guarantee - especially for the most vulnerable and disabled of their prisoners. The environment, after all, is supposed to be under their control.
I'll post more soon on how and where we might connect to take more collective action. In the meantime, if you're interested in this issue for any reason - especially if you have a loved one in prison - contact me. My number is 480-580-6807.
That said, much of what follows I originally posted as comments in response to the Phoenix New Times article touching on Shannon's murder; what a disappointment, considering that they're the most progressive paper the Valley has. I'm pretty much taking what I left there and pasting it here verbatim, or I'd never get this stuff up, so keep in mind that I'm either addressing the author of the PNT article and the editors of the paper, or responding to one of the other readers who left a remark. Thank you to those folks who spoke up there on behalf of victimized prisoners, far too many of whom have psychiatric or developmental disabilities.
This didn't just happen to Shannon Palmer, either - just about every prisoner and their family will feel the reverberations of stigma and shame your remarks have left and invited others to join in. I doubt anyone would be joking if this man wasn't already discounted as nothing more than a criminal who probably got what was coming to him.
Palmer was in prison because of behavior secondary to his mental illness, which was most likely not being properly treated there. He was so impaired that it took three competency exams and extensive psychiatric treatment to get him to where the judge could accept his guilty plea and sentence him.
According to family members of other prisoners at Lewis, Palmer and his cellmate were in a space built for only one man and his property; the less-dominant prisoner would have been relegated to the floor and had his property removed. What should have been only a 24-hour "transitional" housing assignment turned into nearly a month of them being crammed together.
Take a look at Palmer's in-prison infractions - gambling and disobeying orders. Now look at his cellie's record. No comparison. Talk about being set up to be murdered. I just got a letter from another ADC mentally ill prisoner who is terrified that the same thing will happen to him - and I can't assure him that it won't.
This murder was brutal, senseless, tragic, and in no way imaginable was it deserved. It was also avoidable, once again, if the ADC had been following their own policies. I could use your help doing real research into what's happening with the ADC to prevent more of these vulnerable prisoners from being murdered. At the very least, don't help cultivate a climate in our community which dehumanizes this man further and joins his killer in laughing about his death. Support his family in their grief, instead, and help the rest of us retain our own humanity by protecting the most vulnerable, most disenfranchised among us from the very real evil of our ignorance and indifference."
Also added to the Phoenix New Times website on September 14 (with a few extra remarks). I found the Republic article on his "criminal damage" after speaking with his family.
The real perpetrators of "criminal damage" to a human life were the Mesa police, for booking him on criminal charges instead of taking him to a hospital; the judge, Connie Contes for imposing the sentence of prison as if she was doing him a favor; the prosecutor, Clint Heiner for offering such a sweet plea deal in the first place, and the rest of us for being oblivious or indifferent to the fact that this kind of thing happens to the mentally ill in our community all the time..."
His defense attorney must have been pretty lousy, too.
Shannon's prior prison sentences, by the way - making him one of those "repeat offenders" that the ADC and the AZ Prosecuting Attorney lobbyists insist should be incarcerated for the sake of public safety - were also for the crime of having a mental illness. I think we actually sent him off to prison this last time for the delusion that, if he tried, he could get closer to God. That's a pretty sad commentary on this community and state.
August 25, 2008. Arizona Republic:
"Police on Tuesday identified a man who climbed nearly 100 feet up a high-tension electrical tower during a thunderstorm Monday night. Police persuaded Shannon Palmer, 38, to climbed safely back to the ground after they were called about 6:20 p.m.
The Mesa Fire Department responded to reports of a man climbing the tower near 1800 East Covina Street as a storm was rolling through, Chief Mike Dunn said.
When they arrived Palmer appeared agitated, but after shutting off the power to the unit, a Technical Rescue Team, which specializes in high-angle rescue, coaxed him to a ladder truck bucket and he was brought down.
The man was returned without injury to the ground shortly after 8 p.m. with no explanation for why he had climbed the tower in the first place. The man was released to the custody of the Mesa Police Department. He was booked on suspicion of trespassing, criminal damage and disorderly conduct."
Here's Shannon's sentencing record: http://www.courtminutes.maricopa.gov/docs/Criminal/092009/m3875287.pdf
I read it and wept.
Finally, an excerpt from an email that Shannon's sister, Dawn, sent to me yesterday, with her permission...
"...Last Friday, September 10, my mother received a call at 2:00 p.m. notifying her of my brother’s death and was told no details were available at this time. She was informed she would be contacted at a later date with more information once the investigation was complete, but confirmed it was a homicide. That call never came.
To add further insult to injury, my mother had to hear about the details of my brother’s death from the news media, Channel 5. On Saturday, September 11, unable to sleep, she turned on the TV, and there on the news was my brother’s pictures with the horrific news of how he died and the details of his cellmate who committed the crime along with details of his violent past.