One man ran a prison system in Utah where a 29-year-old schizophrenic died after he was stripped naked and strapped to a restraining chair for 16 hours.
Another man ran the system in Arizona where 14 women were raped, sodomized or assaulted by prison guards.
Another ran Connecticut’s prison system where at least two people died after being severely beaten.
All of the men who ran these prison systems were forced out by lawsuits or political controversy. But rather than being sent to prison themselves, these men were sent to Iraq by the US government to set up the prisons there. Actually, one prison–Abu Ghraib. [includes rush transcript]
In the weeks since the torture scandal at Abu Ghraib grabbed national headlines here in the US and around the world, the Bush administration and the Pentagon have attempted to put forth a consistent story: that the abuses were the work of individual soldiers, acting on their own and that there was no systematic program of abuse at the prison.
But over the past few weeks, this version of events has been shot down by veteran correspondent Seymour Hersh of The New Yorker. Contrary to the Administration’s claims, Hersh revealed that the torture at Abu Ghraib was part of a Pentagon-approved Black Ops program authorized by Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld.
Today, on Democracy Now!, we are going to look extensively at the four-man team of correctional advisers dispatched by the US government to Iraq shortly after the occupation began. Their job was to get the notorious Abu Ghraib prison up and running for the US occupation forces.
For people or governments concerned with human rights, their resumes and records read like warning labels for who not to have running a prison—especially in a country where the US claims to be building democracy.
The four men are:
Lane McCotter: A former warden of the U.S. military prison at Ft. Leavenworth, Kansas, former cabinet secretary for the New Mexico Corrections Department and the former director for the Texas Department of Corrections. He now runs the private prison-company: Management and Training Corporation.
- Read 36-page Justice Department report documenting inhumane conditions at Santa Fe County Adult Detention Center in New Mexico under McCotter: [Download pdf]
John Armstrong: the former director of the Connecticut Department of Corrections. Terrry Stewart, former director of the Arizona Department of Corrections and his top deputy Chuck Ryan.
- Dan Frosch, is an independent journalist based in New York City. His most recent articles, published in The Nation magazine and on Alternet, look at the role of a number of former officials at US prisons who were sent to Iraq to set-up Abu Ghraib prison once the US occupation began. His piece in The Nation this month is called “Exporting America’s Prison Problems.”
- * Mayor Rocky Anderson*, mayor of Salt Lake City. He was the lead counsel in a 1997 lawsuit brought by Angie Armstrong who successfully sued the State of Utah after her son, Michael Valent, died while in custody.
- Mark Donatelli, Santa Fe, New Mexico-based attorney who specializes in criminal justice issues. Following one of the worst prison riots in US history in New Mexico in 1980, he was appointed by a federal judge to the prison oversight board. He is involved with a number of lawsuits involving New Mexico’s prisons during the tenure of Lane McCotter.
- Antonio Ponvert, Connecticut-based attorney who represents a number of families suing Connecticut’s Department of Corrections and dozens of female correction officers who claim they worked in a persistent atmosphere of sexual harassment under the tenure of former Commissioner John Armstrong.
- Donna Brorby, lead counsel from 1991-2002 in a class action suit brought by prisoners in Texas raising a broad range of constitutional issues related to prison conditions. Lane McCotter was the director of the prison system in Texas from 1985-1987.
AMY GOODMAN: Today we’ll speak with people in a number of these different states. We begin with Dan Frosch, an independent reporter based in New York City. His most recent articles published in “The Nation” magazine and on AlterNet, look at the role of a number of the former officials at the US prisons who were sent to Iraq to set up the Abu Ghraib prison. “The Nation” piece this month is called, “Exporting America’s Prison Problems.” Dan, welcome to Democracy Now!.
DAN FROSCH: It’s good to be here, Amy.
AMY GOODMAN: Can you start off by giving us an overview of this group of advisers that were sent to set up Abu Ghraib?
DAN FROSCH: Sure. There were actually two teams of advisers, as far as I know. The first team being sent last May containing Mr. McCotter, and also a guy by the name of Gary Deland, who was McCotter’s predecessor in Utah and Terry Stewart, who, as you mentioned, was the head of the Department of Corrections in Arizona. They were charged with the mission of reconstructing the Iraqi prison system, which, of course, including working at Abu Ghraib. Also, they were charged with the mission of training an Iraqi corrections force. It is not precisely clear what exactly they were doing while they were over there In large part because the Justice Department has been pretty much tight-lipped since news reports have surfaced containing their collective resumes and records, which, of course, are fairly disturbing. Once McCotter and Stewart left, after about four months in Iraq, another team was sent. This team contained John Armstrong, who, of course, was the head of the DOC in Connecticut, and also Terry Stewart’s top deputy, Chuck Ryan. Presumably, again, we don’t know because the Justice Department didn’t really comment on this, presumably, Ryan and Armstrong have been charged with the same mission, continuing the work of McCotter and Stewart, to quote, unquote, “reconstruct the Iraqi prison system.” I think what’s particularly disturbing about this whole situation is that the track records of McCotter, Stewart, and Armstrong are well publicized, well known, well reported. The records are not big secrets and that lead one to believe that neither A) The justice department hired them in what was really horrendous oversight, B) They couldn’t find anybody else to go, or C) and — and this is really the most ominous option, is that the Justice Department actually sought out people who they perceived as tough and hard-nosed correction types who they thought could get the job done inside Iraq, which was presumably a very difficult environment to work in terms of corrections.
AMY GOODMAN: Let’s start off by looking at Lane McCotter.
DAN FROSCH: Sure.
AMY GOODMAN: Lane McCotter, who began in the 1980’s running the Ft. Leavenworth Prison, which is next to the Leavenworth Prison, at the same time that Colin Powell was Deputy Commander of Ft. Leavenworth. He then went to Utah. Can you talk to — I mean, he did some other things in between but can you talk about his time in Utah?
DAN FROSCH: Yes. Certainly, he was at best controversial in Utah. He was the subject of a number of different lawsuits regarding the abuse of inmates in the Utah Department of Corrections. The most well known was the case in 1997 of a schizophrenic inmate named Michael Valent, who was restrained in a device called “the chair” after refusing to take a pillowcase off his head. He was restrained in the chair for about 16 hours. Upon being released from the chair, he died after a blood clot formed in his leg and moved up his body. McCotter and his administration, according to the sources that I have in Utah, defended the use of the chair and initially, actually tried to say that he was banging his head against the wall and later on retracted that statement when it came out that there was a videotape of the entire incident. The guy simply had a pillowcase on his head and wouldn’t take it off. That was the most well known case in Utah. The ACLU has been gathering evidence and deposing inmates regarding the use of boards on which —
AMY GOODMAN: We’re talking to Dan Frosch. I just wanted to clarify for the guest who is about to come on. Again, Frosch describing what is taking place. Go ahead, Dan Frosch, in Utah.
DAN FROSCH: Yes. I was saying that the ACLU had also been working on legal action regarding the use of another device called “the board” in which inmates were strapped to a stainless steel board and left there. One inmate in particular was left there for weeks on end and actually successfully sued McCotter and the DOC for use of the board. This was a guy who has certainly racked up a controversial reputation in Utah, a disturbing reputation. These were widely known controversies all over the newspapers. Eventually, after the incident regarding Michael Valent, McCotter was forced to step down.
AMY GOODMAN: We’re talking to Dan Frosch, who has written a number of reports on the group of advisers that the Justice Department sent to set up the Abu Ghraib prison. When we come back, we’re going to speak with the Mayor of Salt Lake City in Utah. Stay with us.
AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now!, Democracynow.org. I’m Amy Goodman. As we take a look at the group of advisers who were sent by the justice department to Iraq to set up the Abu Ghraib prison. We’re looking at one who headed the Utah prison system, and where a 29-year-old schizophrenic man died after he was strapped naked to a restraining chair for 16 hours. Another of the men running the system in Arizona where 14 women were raped sodomized or assaulted by prison guards. Another was running Connecticut’s prison system where two people died after being severely beaten. We turn now to Mayor Rocky Anderson, mayor of Salt Lake City. He was lead counsel in a 1997 lawsuit brought by Angie Armstrong, the mother of Michael Valent. She sued the state of Utah after her son died in custody. Can you tell bugs this case and about Lane McCotter who headed the Utah system and was recently sent to Iraq.
MAYOR ROCKY ANDERSON: Yes. Actually, Lane McCotter followed Gary Deland as Executive Director and they’re now partners. Both of them were sent over as advisers to the United States government to help set up the prison in Iraq. Lane, when he was the executive director oversaw prison that I think was — had very, very serious human rights abuses taking place, and without any real effort to resolve them. In Michael Valent’s case, he was a young schizophrenic young man. By the way, many of these — many of the worst human rights abuses I think took place with regard to mentally ill inmates. Michael had had been doing very well when he was held at the Utah state hospital, when he was medicated properly. When he had good psychiatric treatment, but once the — he entered the Utah state prison, he started deteriorating rapidly. He went a number of days without having any medications. They didn’t force medicate him as they could have done, and the guards when they came up to his cell, he — he was unresponsive to them. He had been unresponsive for a number of days, but this time he had a pillowcase over his head, probably trying to keep out the voices. Voices that he heard. When Michael would not remove the pillowcase, continued to be unresponsive to prison personnel instead of providing some treatment, instead of providing any sort of compassionate professional help for Michael, instead, they called in the S.W.A.T. team who came in forcibly threw Michael to the floor, took him outside of his cell.
By that time, he had wrapped himself up into blankets. They cut the blankets and his clothing off with scissors leaving him stark naked, had him shackled, handcuffed, and marched him down to a restrain chair where they tied his wrists down and tied his ankles back. This is all videotaped; by the way, this is not just somebody’s account of this. It’s all on videotape. His — you could see them on the video pull the strap on his ankles back as far as they could and he was held there for 16 hours without ever being examined by the psychiatrist that ordered him into the chair. After he was finally released, after the 16 hours, he was taken down to the shower where he collapsed, and he ultimately having suffered from blood clotting during the 16 hours he was in the chair, and he threw a pulmonary embolus. This turns out not to have been a rare instance at all. We obtained affidavits of a number of inmates, many of them suffering from mental illness who were subjected to restraint in the chair, some of them for a number of days, and also other inmates who were strapped down on a metal board, they call it the board. It’s four-pointed. They had their wrists and ankles tied down. Some of them were tied for a number of days also. In some of the instances, it was reported to us that the inmates were held completely naked and left either sitting or lying in their own feces and urine.
AMY GOODMAN: We’re talking to Mayor Rocky Anderson. What knowledge did Lane McCotter have of this, head of the Utah Department of Corrections?
MAYOR ROCKY ANDERSON: He not only knew of the use of the restraint chair and board but he defended their use. I’m getting a lot of distortion. You can hear me okay.
AMY GOODMAN: I can hear you fine. You’re very clear.
MAYOR ROCKY ANDERSON: All right.
AMY GOODMAN: So what happened next? You brought a lawsuit against Lane McCotter. Were there other lawsuits?
MAYOR ROCKY ANDERSON: Yes. I brought a lawsuit on behalf of Eric Edwards, who experienced some horrendous treatment at the hands of prison personnel. In fact, Eric called me one evening. He didn’t have anybody at the prison apparently that he did confide in or that showed any sort of compassionate treatment at all. He would slash his arms or his eyelids, his tongue with a razor blade, obviously suffering from mental illness. He would be taken to the hospital, treated there and then brought back to the prison instead of seeing medical personnel. He would be strapped onto the board and left there to suffer further, again lying there naked. Lane McCotter’s response in the chair case was that the chair was a useful device to restrain inmates when they were going to hurt themselves or hurt others, and i think it really became clear that they were using the restraint chair simply as a substitute for any kind of appropriate medical or psychiatric treatment. Michael Valent was putting his pillowcase over his head was not hurting anybody. There were certainly other means of handling the problem, and the only contact with any medical personnel before he was taken to the restraint chair was when they called the psychiatrist at home, and he very casually ordered that they just go ahead and restrain Michael, and it wasn’t until 16 hours that the psychiatrist, again without ever having seen Michael, ordered that he be taken out of the restrain chair.
AMY GOODMAN: We’re talking to Mayor Rocky Anderson, mayor of Salt Lake City. Ultimately, Lane McCotter was forced out as head of the Utah Department of Corrections.
MAYOR ROCKY ANDERSON: Well, denies that. He says, the timing, I guess was coincidental, but he left the Utah Department of Corrections shortly after the resolution of the lawsuit, but like his predecessor, Gary Deland, who has a record of real disdain toward inmates and their rights, and by the way, none of this is difficult to find. The state department is saying that they didn’t know this about these people, all one has to do is do the most casual of legal research to find, for instance be the case of Littlefield versus Deland, a case out of the United States Court of Appeals for the tenth circuit where the court describes what I think could be characterized as absolutely medieval treatment of a mentally ill inmate at the Salt Lake county jail while Gary Deland was commander of the jail. An inmate held naked without any bedding, without even a blanket left lying naked on the concrete floor in his cell for 56 days without ever a hearing, and without any medical treatment. So, these things are fairly easy to find out about the record of these men, but instead of residing and going into some other field after this record of civil liberties’ abuses, human rights abuses, they went into the lucrative field of prison consulting in this country.
AMY GOODMAN: Mayor Anderson, when you heard that Lane McCotter had been sent to Iraq, what was your response?
MAYOR ROCKY ANDERSON: I actually ran into McCotter in the airport in Salt Lake City. He told me he was going over to do that. I guess my response was no different than when I had heard that Mr. Deland and Mr. McCotter had gone into the private business of consulting with other prisons. Frankly, my personal view has always been that it’s hard for me to understand when people have the record of such disdain toward basic human civil rights of inmates how it is that they’re out making a living, and I understand they — they fared well financially consulting in the prison, unfortunately, it’s taken the abuse of the Iraqi prisoners for much of our nation’s media to focus on the abuse of American inmates, and especially the mentally ill.
AMY GOODMAN: We’re talking to Salt Lake City mayor, Rocky Anderson. Before he was mayor, he brought a lawsuit on behalf of Angie Armstrong, the mother of Michael Valent, to sue the state of Utah after her son died while in custody. So, Deland leaves public corrections. So does McCotter, and they move on to management and training, a private Utah based corrections company, which is hired by Santa Fe, New Mexico system. McCotter is M.T.C. — that’s management in training, Corporate Director of Business Development. In August, 2001, McCotter once head of corrections in New Mexico, that’s to Santa Fe get as three-year contract to operate the Santa Fe county detention sent person I’m reading from Dan Frosch’s piece. “Less than a year later, a number of experts were in the jail investigating civil rights violations. In March, 2003, the report concludes that certain conditions violated inmates’ constitutional rights and that inmates suffered harm or the risk of serious harm from, among other things, woeful deficiencies in health care and basic living conditions. The report documented numerous and horrifying examples and threatened a lawsuit if things did not get better. Amid the fallout, the justice department pulled its approximately 100 federal prisoners out of Santa Fe and MTC fired the warden and pressured the contractor to axe one of the medical administrators this is the justice department that did this report.” This is John Ashcroft’s Justice Department, that then went on to announce that Mr. McCotter, among three other corrections experts, were headed to Iraq. We turn now to Mark Donatelli, Santa Fe, New Mexico’s based attorney who specializes in criminal justice issues. You can talk about what happened in the Santa Fe detention facility at the time that M.T.C. The Utah-based corrections company, management in training corporation, was in charge?
MARK DONATELLI: There’s been a public report released by the justice department that documents long-standing abuse. I must say that it was in existence before his company took over, but continued pretty much in the same manner it had before. Reckless disregard for serious medical and mental health needs of prisoners in some cases resulting in death, suicide, incredible neglect of mental health prisoners once again, and ironically, just a couple of weeks ago, the justice department team was back in town re-evaluating the prison while these revelations were coming out about McCotter having started this operation in Iraq. So, as Dan pointed out in his article, McCotter was no strange torte justice department. I don’t want to fault the justice department people out here, because they’re not — it’s not the wing of justice department that was involved in setting up the Iraq operations. These are people in the civil rights division who were investigating the allegations of civil rights violations who had documented the involvement of McCotter’s company here. But remember this is not New Mexico’s first exposure to McCotter. He is no stranger. He had come here in the mid 1908’s in the wake of our riot, and had acquired quite a reputation here even back then. It was surprising to many of us in Santa Fe that the county would consider doing business with McCotter’s company, given the reputation he had in New Mexico from the mid 1980’s that we knew he had problems in our jail. We knew things needed to be turned around. One would have thought that they would understand that McCotter’s company would be the last place to turn to reform jail operations.
AMY GOODMAN: Well, can you talk about the specific record in Santa Fe, why ultimately the Ashcroft Justice Department pulled out 100 federal prisoners from Santa Fe?
MARK DONATELLI: Well, I can tell you about both. His reputation from when he ran our entire statewide prison system and when he ran the jail, but in reverse order when he ran the jail, we had numerous lawsuits filed, particularly by female prisoners who had been abused both by staff and other prisoners, male prisoners were allowed to go into female living units and sexually assault female prisoners. On the male side, we had a number of well documented cases involving inadequate medical care and failure to treat seriously mentally ill prisoners. That’s why the justice department ended up formally filing a lawsuit against Santa Fe County. The reports documents long-standing abuses especially in the area of medical and mental health care, plus the problems of physical abuse. We also had experience with him in the mid 1980’s. He was in charge of our entire state corrections system. Many people may not remember that Mexico had the worst prison riot in United States history. 33 prisoners were killed in 1980. That came at the heels of years of physical abuse, overcrowding, and just abhorrent treatment of mentally ill patients. Not on McCotter’s watch, but he came in the aftermath a few years after the riot, after a federal lawsuit was filed against the state to reform the entire corrections system in New Mexico. Although we had made progress for a few years in correcting conditions, as soon as McCotter came in, he took the position that despite the horrendous history we had in New Mexico, physical abuse, and murders, it was nobody’s business to come into his prison system and monitor conditions. The federal court was without jurisdiction. There was no reason that the state couldn’t be trusted and allowed to run its own prison system. He filed a countersuit essentially challenging the long-standing federal court order that had been in place. We spent three years ago to the United States Supreme Court.
We ultimately prevailed, but during those three years, McCotter set us back to almost pre-riot conditions. We had once again this atmosphere that he brought from Texas. His reputation was well-known in Texas before he came here. He was no reformer when he was in Texas. He came here no New Mexico, and just once again instilled this atmosphere of oppressive abusive conditions and attitude that spread through the ranks that starts — guards were not accountable. It didn’t matter what happened to prisoners who were in their custody, and the system quickly reverted to conditions that produced our riot in 1908. In one well document the incident, on McCotter’s watch, they had a massive shakedown and extraction of a prison here in Santa Fe, and they happened to be videotaping all of this. During one of the cell room rolls the guards were caught beating a handcuffed prisoner up against a wall. The man fell to the ground and the federal court monitor asked for the tape of the extraction, and lo and behold, the portion of the tape where the prisoner was beaten while handcuffed in front of supervisors at the prison, that portion of the tape was erased. Now, no one could ever put McCotter near the videotape machine where this happened on his watch, and it was just unheard of at that time in our post riot period that people would use these sort of — what had been known as Texas tactics in running a prison and covering up violations of civil rights. So, this was the pattern that we had dealt with in the mid 1980’s when McCotter was here, and then the Santa Fe County Sheriff’s department and commission had brought him back in 20 run our jail. That’s the history in New Mexico.
AMY GOODMAN: Mark Donatelli, Santa Fe, New Mexico, based attorney. Specializes in criminal justice issues. Following one of the worst prison riots in New Mexico in 1980, he was appointed by a federal judge to the prison oversight board, involved with a number of lawsuits involving New Mexico’s prisons during the tenure of Lane McCotter. We are going to go to a break. We’ll hear about Mr. McCotter’s tenure in Texas. Then we’ll go to Connecticut to find out about another of the advisers who was sent to the Iraq with Lane McCotter and Deland. He is the head — the former head of the Department of Corrections in Connecticut. This is Democracy Now!. Stay with us.
AMY GOODMAN: Democracy Now! The war and peace report. I’m Amy Goodman. As we turn now to Donna Brorby, lead counsel from 1991 to 2002, over a decade, in a class action suit brought by prisoners in Texas raising a broad range of constitutional issues around prison conditions. Lane McCotter was the director of the prison system in Texas from 1985 to 1987. He then went on to head up the department of corrections in New Mexico, then went on to Utah, and went back to New Mexico, running the Santa Fe detention facility as a private contractor. Donna Brorby, can you take us back to Texas?
DONNA BRORBY: I haven’t been listening to your show, so I can’t follow smoothly, but Lane McCotter was Director in Texas for about 18 months. He wasn’t a particularly notable figure there. 18 months was a relatively small time within the 1980’s when the Texas prisons were going through some tremendous changes. At the time that he took the helm in Texas — violence, including homicidal violence was at an all-time high in the prison system, partly due to a lack of sufficient staff. That was a problem upon which he didn’t make much progress. In the middle of his tenure in 1986, we had a contempt motion raising that issue, and other major issues, including lack of medical and mental health care. The prisoners won that motion because of the evidence at the time, but then he had only been there about ten months or a year at the time that went to hearing.
AMY GOODMAN: Can you talk about Lane McCotter’s role, then, overall his tenure, and characterize it even though I realize it’s only a brief portion of what you dealt with.
DONNA BRORBY: He didn’t have much positive impact on the prison system. He didn’t lead it through changes. He was a conservative guy, and he had demonstrated some tendencies toward harshness, towards prisoners that may be a little bit notable now, but actually were very ordinary. For example, new prisons were being built, and there were going to be windows in the cells which were very common in prisons then and now. He made an attempt to take the windows out of the segregated cells. He feared they would be too comfortable. The segregation units are the units where prisoners who are in trouble with staff are placed, and the fear they could be too comfortable indicates a certain kind of attitude about punishment. There had been an agreement entered by the state about the construction of new prisons, and in order to deal with the crowding problem at the time, he tried to violate that agreement, which we thought showed poor judgment.
AMY GOODMAN: We’re talking to Donna Brorby, who was lead counsel for a decade in a class action suit brought by prisoners in Texas, raising a broad range of constitutional issues related to prison conditions in Texas. Lane McCotter, director in Texas from 1985 to 1987. It’s interesting, Senator Charles Schumer, the New York Senator, has written several letters to the Attorney General asking questions about Lane McCotter’s appointment moving from Texas, Utah and New Mexico with his record, to set up the prison outside Baghdad, Abu Ghraib. One of his press releases, says that he revealed that Attorney General John Ashcroft had appointed an individual with a checkered past involving cases of prisoner mistreatment as one of the four advisers who oversaw Iraq’s prison system. Schumer called on Ashcroft to explain why he appointed Lane McCotter, the former Director of Utah’s Correction System who was forced out of that position after 97 cases of prisoner mistreatment, to then help oversee the Iraqi correction system. He further asked Ashcroft to answer a series of questions regarding the selection process for civilian advisers and contractors and the potential investigation of these individuals’ roles in Iraq’s prisons. Schumer said, “Why Attorney General Ashcroft would send someone with a checkered record to rebuild Iraq’s corrections systems is beyond me. You just don’t send someone about whom so many questions have been raised to handle such a sensitive task. It defies logic and reason, and it demands answers.” We’re going to go now from Texas and from Lane McCotter, to another one of the advisers who were sent to Iraq, chosen by the Justice Department. And he is John Armstrong. Antonio Ponvert is with us, a Connecticut-based attorney, who represents a number of people who have dealt with this issue. Can you talk about the adviser coming from Connecticut?
ANTONIO PONVERT: He was the Commissioner of the Connecticut Department of Corrections from 1995 to 2003. He ended up leaving office and probably would dispute this characterization, but I think it’s fair to say that he left office and was forced out of office in the wake of a scandal having to do with the sexual harassment and retaliation against female guards in the prison system. It was the subject of considerable attention both in the Connecticut legislature and in some governmental agencies who were investigating the rights, the violation of women’s rights to equal protection in the prison system.
I have represented inmates and the families of inmates for a number of years here, and have sued him and his staff members concerning the death of mentally ill inmates in Connecticut, and probably the most notorious case during Mr. Armstrong’s tenure was the death of a young paranoid schizophrenic man named Timothy Perry who was sent from a state psychiatric hospital to a facility of the Connecticut Department of Corrections. He was pre-trial. He had not been convicted of any crime. He had only been in jail for about 12 days. He was killed by guards during a take-down and restraint sort of procedure. There’s a rule in Connecticut that requires the videotaping of any planned use of force. Portions of this videotape were late he erased, so the tape begins and Mr. Perry has already been killed. There’s about a half dozen guards placing him into a four-point restraint cell, which is a cell that has a bed with shackles for the inmates’ hands and feet. And the guards, notwithstanding the fact that Mr. Perry is already dead pretend that he’s alive or at least appear on the videotape to be pretending he’s alive. They are using pain compliance techniques against Mr. Perry. One officer says inmate Perry still resisting when his body is completely unresponsive and has been flaccid for many minutes. A nurse then comes into the cell and you can see clearly on the videotape that she injects Mr. Perry’s body with three different kinds of sedatives. The medical examiner in Connecticut, when he did the autopsy determined that the medication was pooled at the injection site, meaning that Mr. Perry at the time of the injection had no circulation and was dead.
One obviously significant thing about that case is that it’s just an absolutely horrific event that is almost too difficult to believe and were it not for the videotape, I think no one would believe it. But the reason I think that this is significant in terms of John Armstrong’s tenure here is not because he was involved in the incident, he wasn’t, he was the Commissioner. He was not at this facility at the time of the event took place. But he by his own admission and by state statute he is the person ultimately responsible for all command and control decisions at the department, and was specifically responsible for insuring that there be a meaningful investigation of all inmate deaths, and that appropriate discipline and remedial measures be taken against all staff members who commit misconduct at the department. His response to the Timothy Perry incident was the demotion of one Lieutenant involved in the incident. He was demoted from Lieutenant to Correctional Guard. Three or four of the staff members who were at the scene were given three-day or perhaps as long as a week leaves of absence. Several of the guards received no discipline of any kind and the nurse who injected a corpse was given a promotional transfer to another state agency. I am very critical of Mr. Armstrong for his failure to take that incident seriously and his failure to train his staff when it became crystal clear that they had no conception of how to properly discipline and how to deal with mentally ill inmates.
I think it’s a particularly disturbing case because seven months later, another paranoid schizophrenic young man in the custody of the Department of Correction was killed under extremely similar circumstances. His name was Bryant Weisman. He was killed in a restraint and takedown asphyxiation type incident again on videotape. The videotape, which is very disturbing to watch, actually shows him dying. It shows the Senior Supervisor on the scene savagely beating Mr. Weisman’s body with at least 11 round-house punches later described by that officer as a “nerve compression technique”. When that case was investigated, again, the same pattern that we saw in Tim Perry’s case: no discipline, no remedial measures, no retraining. No findings of misconduct or accountability.
AMY GOODMAN: John Armstrong, the Director of the Department of Corrections left and joined this private corrections company, Management in Training Corporation, and went to Iraq. Your response?
ANTONIO PONVERT: He actually wasn’t part of M.T.C. He did go to Iraq. He was appointed by the D.O.J. to go there: his title is Assistant Director of Operations in Iraq. I mean, it’s a very disturbing turn of events. It’s hard to imagine that people at the D.O.J. And John Ashcroft didn’t know about Mr. Armstrong’s background. I agree with the comments made earlier. I mean either they didn’t know and failed to do their homework, which is certainly plausible given how we have been running the postwar occupation there or they knew and thought this that correctional philosophy was consistent with the message that we went to send over there. In either case it’s very disturbing.
AMY GOODMAN: Dan Frosch, we are going to end with you, and we only have 30 seconds, but I do want to get in Arizona. Can you talk briefly about Terry Stewart, the former Director of the Arizona Department of Corrections who also went to Iraq?
DAN FROSCH: Sure. Mr. Stewart was a long-time Arizona D.O.C. Veteran, and I believe he was appointed as Director of the D.O.C. In 1995, That same year, the Department of Justice began an investigation into allegations of sexual misconduct, and abuse, and rape on the part of the guards, regarding a Arizona women’s prison, released their findings, concluding that indeed this misconduct was happening at a very disturbing level, and that the D.O.C. officials were not doing anything about it, and Stewart, much like Armstrong and McCotter, McCotter in his defense of the use of the chair, and Armstrong in his reaction to some of the abuses that we have just heard about, Stewart wrote a letter to then Attorney General Janet Reno saying this is essentially — this hasn’t happened.
AMY GOODMAN: On that note, we’re going to have to leave it there. I want to thank you, Dan Frosch, independent journalist from New York. That does it for the show. I’m Amy Goodman, thanks for joining us.