Tag Archives: jail

Wisconsin prison officials begin force feedings, solitary confinement protest continues

The Wisconsin Department of Corrections is force feeding at least three inmates as a hunger strike aimed at ending a form of solitary confinement that can go on for years — even decades — continues for a third week.

Although the state DOC has detailed the medical conditions of the hunger strikers in publicly available petitions, the agency refuses to confirm that it has obtained court orders to force feed inmates, citing medical privacy issues. Spokesman Tristan Cook did not immediately respond to questions about how often and on whom the department has used force feeding.

Court records show the agency is now force feeding Waupun Correctional Institution inmates Cesar DeLeon and LaRon McKinley Bey and Columbia Correctional Institution inmate Norman C. Green, who also goes by the name of Prince Aturn-Ra Uhuru Mutawakki.

The food refusal campaign, dubbed “Dying to Live,” which about half a dozen inmates began as early as June 5, is aimed at pressuring the state to end the practice of holding inmates for lengthy periods of time in administrative confinement, which is intended for prisoners deemed a danger to the institution.

McKinley Bey, who escaped during a jail transfer in 1987 after shooting a sheriff’s deputy, has been held in this status for at least 25 years, according to a federal lawsuit he filed in Milwaukee. He alleges such unending isolation — at least 23 hours a day alone in a cell — violates the constitutional prohibition against cruel and unusual punishment.

Roughly 100 Wisconsin inmates are being held in this type of long-term solitary confinement.

A top United Nations official has declared that such isolation beyond 15 days is tantamount to torture.

On Tuesday, 30 activists gathered in front of the Department of Corrections headquarters in Madison to protest the state’s continued use of administrative confinement, chanting “solitary is torture.”

Protester Chance Zombor said he had spent many months in solitary confinement at Waupun and Oshkosh correctional institutions. Zombor said such isolation causes inmates to become “psychologically deranged.”

The protesters presented Cook with a letter demanding an end to the “overuse and abuse” of administrative confinement, improved mental health services for inmates in solitary confinement and other steps, including allowing inmates in this “non-punitive” status to have the same access to property, such as canteen items and TVs, that general population inmates have.

“As the public becomes aware of the torturous effect of any kind of solitary confinement longer than 15 days, you can imagine the outrage and bewilderment when they learned that we have inmates who have been in solitary for decades,” according to the letter addressed to Corrections Secretary Jon Litscher.

Waupun Correctional Institution inmate LaRon McKinley Bey says he has been held in administrative confinement for more than 25 years. McKinley Bey is among half a dozen Wisconsin inmates participating in a hunger strike to end administrative confinement, a form of solitary confinement that can go on for years. The state got a court order to began force-feeding him on June 17.
Waupun Correctional Institution inmate LaRon McKinley Bey says he has been held in administrative confinement for more than 25 years. McKinley Bey is among half a dozen Wisconsin inmates participating in a hunger strike to end administrative confinement, a form of solitary confinement that can go on for years. The state got a court order to began force-feeding him on June 17.

Cook accepted the letter and told the group that corrections officials are working on possible changes to solitary confinement, which the department calls restrictive housing. But he did not respond to requests by the activists to participate in that process.

In an email, Cook said the agency is studying several changes including moving mentally ill inmates out of solitary and examining ways to increase out-of-cell time and increase programming and services for inmates in restrictive housing and administrative confinement.

In June 2015, the state reduced the maximum stint in solitary confinement for violating prison rules from 360 days to 90 days, with longer stints possible under certain circumstances.

But those limits do not apply to inmates deemed to be violent or hard to manage who are in administrative confinement. The status of each inmate in administrative confinement is reviewed every six months. McKinley Bey, however, charges in his lawsuit that those reviews are a “sham.”

McKinley Bey said force feeding entails being strapped into a “restraint chair” and having a tube placed in his nose to deliver liquid nutrition while an officer films the process, according to a letter he wrote to advocates dated June 19. He wrote that he, DeLeon, Green and another inmate, Joshua Scolman, “are strong, and are in it for as long as it take to make something happen.”

In the June 17 petition for a court order to force feed DeLeon, corrections officials said the inmate began refusing food on June 7 and had also begun refusing water and that he has a “history of serious hunger strikes.” The petition states that he is suffering from “moderate” malnutrition and dehydration.

“He appears weak, gaunt and has an unsteady gait,” according to the petition. “Mucous membranes are very dry.”

However, in a letter written after the order was issued, DeLeon said that “clearly the doctor exaggerated his medical report with the intent to force feed me, to dissuade me and other(s) to stop our strike.”

Columbia Correctional Institution inmate Norman C. Green, who also goes by the name Prince Aturn-Ra Uhuru Mutawakki, says he has been in a version of solitary confinement in Wisconsin for 18 years. In a 2012 blog post he said long-term isolation, known as administrative confinement, "incinerates the mind and spoils the soul." On  June 22, the Wisconsin Department of Corrections obtained a court order to begin force-feeding Green, who has been refusing food to protest the use of such long-term solitary confinement.
Columbia Correctional Institution inmate Norman C. Green, who also goes by the name Prince Aturn-Ra Uhuru Mutawakki, says he has been in a version of solitary confinement in Wisconsin for 18 years. In a 2012 blog post he said long-term isolation, known as administrative confinement, “incinerates the mind and spoils the soul.” On June 22, the Wisconsin Department of Corrections obtained a court order to begin force-feeding Green, who has been refusing food to protest the use of such long-term solitary confinement.

Inmate advocate Peg Swan said she is distressed that it took a hunger strike to highlight the problems with administrative confinement in Wisconsin’s prisons. Two states — Colorado and California — have discontinued such indefinite confinement in solitary.

“I will be rooting for the them to stop,” Swan said. “They succeeded in getting the public to think about long-term solitary, and we are pledged out here to keep the campaign going, but we don’t need them to get sick.”

The Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism’s reporting on criminal justice issues is supported by a grant from the Vital Projects Fund. The nonprofit Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism (www.WisconsinWatch.org) collaborates with Wisconsin Public Radio, Wisconsin Public Television, other news media and the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Journalism and Mass Communication.

Drug use led to jailing of Dustin Diamond for parole violation

Wisconsin Department of Corrections records show former Saved by the Bell star Dustin Diamond violated his probation last month by using a painkiller without permission.

Diamond was arrested on May 25 and placed in jail in Ozaukee County for what corrections officials described as a probation violation. Records the agency released Friday show that Diamond took a urine test in his probation agent’s office that day and it came back positive for oxycodone. The actor told his agent he took a pill for a toothache.

The 39-year-old actor was convicted in Wisconsin last year on charges stemming from a 2014 Port Washington bar room brawl. Diamond faced a felony charge of second-degree recklessly endangering safety and two misdemeanors — carrying a concealed weapon and disorderly conduct. The jury found him innocent of the felony charge, which could have carried a sentence of up to 11 years.

In January, Diamond began serving a four-month sentence. He was released in April.

Diamond’s case draw attention from the tabloids and internet gossip sites.

During his trial, Diamond told the jury that he didn’t intentionally stab a man, as prosecutors alleged.

According to Diamond’s testimony, he and his girlfriend Amanda Schutz created a stir when they went to a bar in Port Washington on Christmas Day. Some people wanted to shake his hand and pose for photos. But other bar patrons badgered him and Schutz.

“I felt like we were being set up for antagonistic purposes,” said Diamond.

Defense attorneys said no one saw Diamond stab the man and video footage of the altercation is murky.

Diamond said the brawl started after Schutz got in a fight with another female bar patron. Bethany Ward said Shutz started the conflict but acknowledged punching her in the face. Diamond said he got involved to protect Schutz when he saw her nose “pouring blood.” Diamond said he took out his pocketknife to deter the group from hurting her more.

“I figured it would take the fight out of the people,” he said.

Diamond said he yelled out that he wanted Ward and others to let his girlfriend go, and he scuffled with a man before Schutz was released and both of them left the bar.

The man who was stabbed, 25-year-old Casey Smet, testified that he didn’t know he’d been stabbed until he left the bar and was talking to police.

Diamond said he thought Smet hurt himself when he grabbed at Diamond.

“Casey didn’t even know he was injured, so how would I?” Diamond told the jury.

Ozaukee County District Attorney Adam Gerol argued that Diamond lied about what happened and that the actor had scripted his testimony.

Gerol showed body-camera footage of Diamond’s testimony to a Port Washington police officer the night of the fight. In the video Diamond first said he might have struck Smet with a pen. In a video of testimony later that night, Diamond said he had a knife at the bar, but hadn’t used it to stab anyone.

Defense attorneys said no one saw Diamond stab the man, and video footage of the altercation was murky.

 

 

Wisconsin hunger strikers to take aim at long-term solitary confinement

About a dozen Wisconsin prisoners plan to launch a hunger strike aimed at ending a form of indefinite solitary confinement that officials use to keep order in the institutions, according to an inmate advocacy group.

One Wisconsin prisoner, LaRon McKinley Bey, says he has been held in this “non-punitive” administrative confinement status for at least 25 years. McKinley Bey sued the state Department of Corrections in April, alleging that the long-term isolation has created or exacerbated mental illness among prisoners, including himself.

Ben Turk, with the Industrial Workers of the World in Milwaukee, said the effort is set to begin June 10 and is based at Waupun Correctional Institution but could spread to other prisons. The push will include rallies in Madison and Milwaukee, an online petition and a letter writing campaign, according to IWW, a worker advocacy group whose activities including supporting the rights of prisoners.

“The overarching demand is to end administrative confinement — to not allow long-term solitary confinement,” Turk said.

In addition, the prisoners are asking for a one-year limit on stints in solitary, also known as restrictive housing; increased oversight of the state’s use of isolation; improved mental health treatment for inmates in solitary; and a federal investigation into what some prisoners describe as a “mind control program.”

— PHOTO: Wisconsin Department of Corrections
— PHOTO: Wisconsin Department of Corrections

As of late April, 116 Wisconsin prisoners were held in administrative confinement, DOC spokesman Tristan Cook said. Such confinement is used for inmates who pose a threat to staff, self or other inmates or the “security or orderly running of the institution.”

Cook said the agency is aware of the planned hunger strike and “will continue to evaluate and monitor the situation to ensure the health and safety of inmates.”

In June 2015, the state Department of Corrections reduced the maximum stint in solitary confinement for violating prison rules from 360 days to 90 days, with longer stints possible under certain circumstances.

But those limits do not apply to inmates deemed to be violent or hard to manage who are in administrative confinement — a form of isolation that can go on for years, even decades. The status of each inmate in administrative confinement is reviewed every six months, but McKinley Bey charges in his lawsuit that those reviews are a “sham.”

Colorado has banned the use of such indefinite solitary confinement, as has California, which agreed to end it after a legal challenge and a large hunger strike.

In his handwritten lawsuit, McKinley Bey said he is held in a small cell at Waupun for four days a week, 23 hours a day. The other three days a week, McKinley Bey stays in the cell, alone, with meal trays slid through a slot in the door.

Contact with other people consists mostly of correctional officers who take him shackled to and from the shower and recreation in an indoor caged area or occasional sessions with mental health staff. Visits are done remotely by video screen.

LaRon McKinley Bey has sued the Wisconsin Department of Corrections, alleging his 25 years in a form of solitary confinement constitutes cruel and unusual punishment. — PHOTO: Wisconsin Department of Corrections
LaRon McKinley Bey has sued the Wisconsin Department of Corrections, alleging his 25 years in a form of solitary confinement constitutes cruel and unusual punishment. — PHOTO: Wisconsin Department of Corrections

McKinley Bey’s description of conditions in administrative confinement matches that of Cesar DeLeon, another Waupun prisoner who plans to participate in the hunger strike. Both say they are never allowed to go outside.

Constitutional challenge

In his lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court in Milwaukee, McKinley Bey charges long-term solitary confinement violates the U.S. Constitution’s Eighth Amendment prohibition against cruel or unusual punishment. He cited a lack of “meaningful human contact” and “severe environmental and social isolation” and no “bright-line” criteria for how to get back to the general prison population.

“Many mentally ill prisoners cry and act out because they’ve been broken by the effects of isolation,” the complaint states.

McKinley Bey also alleges in the suit that officer Joseph Beahm — whom he and two dozen other inmates at Waupun have accused of physical and psychological abuse — repeatedly subjected him and the other prisoners in administrative confinement to cold showers in November 2015. In 2014, a federal jury rejected an earlier lawsuit by McKinley Bey alleging that Waupun correctional officers, including Beahm, had mistreated him.

In his latest complaint, McKinley Bey argues he and other inmates in administrative confinement are suffering from a syndrome caused by prolonged solitary confinement.

Former Harvard Medical School psychiatrist Dr. Stuart Grassian, in a 2006 Washington University Journal of Law and Policy paper, “Psychiatric Effects of Solitary Confinement,” wrote that prisoners held in long-term isolation can develop a “delirium” that includes decreased alertness, fearfulness, paranoia and agitation and random, impulsive and self-destructive behavior.

The Department of Corrections has not yet responded to McKinley Bey’s latest suit. A message seeking comment on the suit was not returned.

History of violence

Self-described as “one of the most dangerous people in prison,” McKinley Bey is serving a 262-year sentence for crimes including robbing and tying up two elderly Madison women in their homes in 1984, and a 1987 escape in which he shot a sheriff’s deputy and another was injured.

McKinley Bey, who added the name “Bey” after he was imprisoned, continues to be held in isolation because he is considered a threat to the institution after several violent encounters with staff and inmates, according to records from his unsuccessful 2013 lawsuit against the department. Most recently, he was convicted in Dodge County Circuit Court in 2014 with a felony for throwing feces on a Waupun correctional officer.

One clinician who examined McKinley Bey in connection with that case concluded he is a sociopath — a condition known as antisocial personality disorder which is difficult to treat.

Psychologist Brooke Lundbohm of Behavioral Consultants Inc., said McKinley Bey has demonstrated a “long pervasive history of antisocial behaviors and attitudes for which he has been imprisoned throughout much of his adult life.” However, Lundbohm concluded McKinley Bey understood the wrongfulness of his actions when he threw waste on the officer.

McKinley Bey’s long stint in administrative confinement began after a 1987 incident in which he convinced a female Milwaukee County sheriff’s deputy to smuggle a gun to him in jail that he used to escape during a transfer to Dane County. According to news reports, he shot a Milwaukee County sheriff’s deputy; a second deputy was injured when he jumped out of the squad car in which all three were riding.

Milwaukee County was ordered to pay $5.3 million to the two injured deputies. The deputy who smuggled the gun was sent to prison.

McKinley Bey is not the only prisoner claiming long-term administrative confinement is cruel.

Waupun inmate Norman C. Green, who also calls himself Prince Aturn-Ra Uhuru Mutawakkil, said he has been in solitary in Wisconsin for about 18 years. He described his long-term isolation in a 2012 blog post as “a holocaust” that “leaves the body static but alive” but “incinerates the mind and spoils the soul.”

Prisoner advocate Peg Swan of Blue River said she has found it difficult to generate sympathy for inmates in administrative confinement, some of whom are suffering from severe mental illness.

“I think it’s the ‘worst of the worst’ myth,” Swan said. “I have not been able to get anyone to look at them — to look at these guys.”

The Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism’s reporting on criminal justice issues is supported by a grant from the Vital Projects Fund. The nonprofit Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism (www.WisconsinWatch.org) collaborates with Wisconsin Public Radio, Wisconsin Public Television, other news media and the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Journalism and Mass Communication.

Grant to help reduce Milwaukee County jail population, reform system

The John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation awarded a $2 million grant to Milwaukee County to implement reforms aimed at reducing the jail population and addressing racial and ethnic disparities in the justice system.

Eleven jurisdictions in the United States are receiving foundation money and technical assistance over the next two years.

The Milwaukee County grant is part of the Safety and Justice Challenge, a national initiative to reduce over-incarceration.

“The way we misuse and over-use jails in this country takes an enormous toll on our social fabric and undermines the credibility of government action, with particularly dire consequences for communities of color,” Julia Stasch, MacArthur Foundation president, said in a news release. “The thoughtful plans and demonstrable political will give us confidence that these jurisdictions will show that change is possible in even the most intractable justice-related challenges in cities, counties, and states across the country.”

The foundation said the county will address the main drivers of its jail population — which include people with mental health and substance abuse, and others accused of non-violent misdemeanor offenses — with the goal of reducing the average daily jail population by 18 percent over two years.

The county plan focuses on expanding the book and release program for low-level non-violent misdemeanor offenses and diverting individuals with mental health or substance abuse issues to alternatives to jail that will help prevent them from cycling in and out of the system.

The county also will institute a new post-booking stabilization program for individuals suffering from mental health or substance abuse issues that will remove them from jail within 48 hours and connect them with appropriate services.

Additionally, the county will provide additional resources and training for law enforcement.

“We are extremely grateful and honored to have received this award and opportunity from the MacArthur Foundation,” Chief Judge Maxine White said in a news release. “With their help and our efforts, we can better protect public safety by smart use of our jails and working with issues of mental illness and substance abuse in a more systematic and effective way. This opportunity allows Milwaukee County to continue as a leader in criminal justice reform.”

In the United States, jail populations have more than tripled since the 1980s, as have the cumulative costs of building and running them.

Nationwide misuse of jails most harshly impacts low-income communities and communities of color.

And today, one in three Americans believes his or her local justice system is unfair, according to a poll conducted by Zogby Analytics and supported by the Foundation.

On the Web

More information about the Safety and Justice Challenge is at www.safetyandjusticechallenge.org.

Superintendent of troubled Wisconsin youth prison resigns

The head of the state’s troubled youth prison is resigning after just a few months on the job, the Wisconsin Department of Corrections said earlier this week.

Lincoln Hills/Copper Lake superintendent Wayne Olson is stepping down for family reasons after being appointed in January, department spokesman Tristan Cook said.

The youth facilities for boys and girls, which share a campus in northern Wisconsin, are being investigated over allegations of abuse and claims that range from sexual assault to misconduct in public office. The inquiry became public in December when state officials raided the campus.

The FBI has taken over the investigation and has said it can’t comment. The state Justice Department also has said it’s unable to comment because of an ongoing John Doe investigation, which allows prosecutors to order testimony, obtain search warrants and collect evidence in secret. That inquiry was launched in October.

The investigations have led to an administrative shake-up and several staffers being placed on administrative leave. Former Corrections Secretary Ed Wall resigned in February. He didn’t mention the probe in his resignation statement, but said it was time to “step aside to allow a new person with fresh perspectives to lead the agency forward.”

Newly appointed Department of Corrections Secretary Jon Litscher said in a statement that under Olson’s guidance Lincoln Hills and Copper Lake have “implemented a number of substantial reforms that further DOC’s commitment to the safety and security of youth in DOC custody.”

Lincoln Hills/Copper Lake Deputy Superintendent Wendy Peterson will take over for Olson, Litscher’s statement said.

Olson, who will become superintendent at Thompson Correctional Center, wasn’t available for comment, Cook said.

Congressional conservatives threaten criminal justice reform

A handful of Senate Republicans have dealt a severe blow to prospects for overhauling the criminal justice system in Congress this year, with one lawmaker calling the bipartisan legislation championed by President Barack Obama and some prominent conservatives “a massive social experiment in criminal leniency.” 

The opposition from Sen. Tom Cotton, R-Arkansas, and others will make it difficult for proponents to push the bill as Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., assesses GOP support. Backed by the White House and a coalition of conservatives and liberals, supporters had hoped it would be a rare legislative accomplishment in a fiercely partisan election year and a final piece of Obama’s legacy.

At an event for congressional staff, Cotton and Sen. Jeff Sessions, R-Ala., joined a group of federal prosecutors and argued against the bill, which would allow judges to reduce prison time for some drug offenders. The two senators — along with Sens. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah and David Perdue, R-Ga. — also issued statements of opposition.

Cotton later stood on the Senate floor, warning his colleagues that they would be held accountable if criminals were released and committed more crimes.

“If supporters of this bill and President Obama are wrong, if this grand experiment in criminal leniency goes awry, how many lives will be ruined?” Cotton asked. “How many dead? How much of the anti-crime progress of the last generation will be wiped away for the next?”

The bipartisan legislation, passed by the Senate Judiciary Committee in November, would give judges discretion to give lesser sentences than federal mandatory minimums, eliminating mandatory life sentences for three-time, nonviolent drug offenders. It also would create programs to help prisoners successfully re-enter society. The idea is to make the sentencing system fairer, reduce recidivism and contain rising prison costs.

Disparate voices — from Obama and the American Civil Liberties Union to the conservative Koch Industries — have said the system is broken and have backed the Senate bill.

In 1980, the federal prison population was less than 25,000. Today, it is more than 200,000.

Supporters of the bill are considering some changes to win over opponents, even though they sharply dispute the charge that the legislation would let violent criminals out of prison. Under the Senate bill, each case would be reviewed by a judge before the prison sentence was reduced.

Possible changes include revising or eliminating parts of the bill that would allow judges to consider reduced mandatory minimum sentences for violent offenders or criminals who had possessed a firearm.

“How those changes will look is still being determined, but we’re moving ahead to get a bill ready to be considered on the Senate floor,” Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, said in a statement early this week with Democratic Sen. Dick Durbin of Illinois, another supporter.

Cotton said he has been talking to staff as they look at changes, but still believes the legislation is based on a “false premise” that those who would be released are low-level, nonviolent offenders. Cotton and others have been more supportive of the prison reform piece of the bill that helps prisoners re-enter society.

The Arkansas senator is talking to Senate colleagues individually as advocates rally McConnell to move the bill this year. Cotton’s lobbying pits him against Texas Sen. John Cornyn, the No. 2 Republican in the Senate. Cornyn has been pressing his colleagues to support it, saying that opposition from Cotton and other conservatives like Republican presidential candidate Ted Cruz, who has similar concerns, is misplaced.

As conservative opposition has grown, Cornyn and House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., have said the legislation doesn’t have to move this year. Unlike McConnell, House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., has said the legislation is a priority, but hasn’t committed to a timeline.

The House Judiciary Committee has approved several separate criminal justice bills, with the eventual goal of moving them separately or together on the House floor. 

Sandra Bland’s mother: Trooper perjury charge ‘not justice’

The mother of a black woman found dead in a Texas jail cell after a traffic stop in July expressed outrage this week that the white state trooper who pulled her over was only charged with nothing more than perjury. And even on that misdemeanor, Sandra Bland’s anguished mother said she had little confidence in the prospect of a conviction.

Geneva Reed-Veal told reporters in Chicago the trooper should have been charged with assault, battery and false arrest.

“To charge this guy with a misdemeanor, are you kidding me?” she said of the perjury charge, which carries a maximum of one year in jail and a $4,000 fine. “I’m angry, absolutely. … That’s not justice for me.”

Bland, a 28-year-old former resident of Naperville, Illinois, was stopped in July for an improper lane change. The stop quickly escalated into a shouting match and a physical confrontation in which the trooper threatened to use a stun gun. Bland was arrested on suspicion of assaulting the trooper. Authorities say Bland hanged herself in her jail cell three days later.

Trooper Brian Encinia was indicted Wednesday by a grand jury in Texas on allegations that he lied when he claimed in an affidavit that Bland was “combative and uncooperative” after he pulled her over during the traffic stop and ordered her out of her car.

Hours after the indictment, the Texas Department of Public Safety said it would “begin termination proceedings” against Encinia, who has been on paid desk duty since Bland was found dead in her cell.

Reed-Veal said the trooper should not be out on the street “to infect anyone else’s life.”

The family has filed a civil rights lawsuit that it hopes will shed more light on what happened to Bland and compel authorities to release documents, including a Texas Rangers investigation into the case. Authorities had withheld the Rangers report, citing the grand jury process that has now finished.

Reed-Veal said the separate criminal proceedings in the trooper’s case would not bring “true justice.”

“Who is going to prosecute this guy? Is it the same group of folks who selected the grand jury?” she said, chuckling in apparent disbelief. “… I don’t trust the process.”

Encinia was not immediately taken into custody, and an arraignment date has not yet been announced. Encinia could not be reached for comment; a cellphone number for him was no longer working.

Bland’s arrest and death provoked national outrage and drew the attention of the Black Lives Matter movement. Protesters questioned officials’ assertion that Bland killed herself and linked her to other blacks killed in confrontations with police or who died in police custody, including Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, and Freddie Gray in Baltimore.

Encinia pulled Bland over on July 10 for making an improper lane change near Prairie View A&M University, her alma mater, where she had just interviewed for and accepted a job.

Dashcam video from Encinia’s patrol car shows Encinia drawing his stun gun and telling Bland, “I will light you up!” Bland eventually steps out of the vehicle, and Encinia orders her to the side of the road. She can later be heard off-camera screaming that he’s about to break her wrists and complaining that he knocked her head into the ground.

Encinia wrote in his affidavit that he had Bland exit the vehicle and handcuffed her after she became combative, and that she swung her elbows at him and kicked him in his right shin. Encinia said he then used force “to subdue Bland to the ground” and she continued to fight back. He arrested her, alleging assault on a public servant.

Bland was taken to the Waller County jail in Hempstead, Texas, about 50 miles northwest of Houston. Three days later, she was found hanging from a jail cell partition with a plastic garbage bag around her neck. The grand jury has already declined to charge any sheriff’s officials or jailers in her death.

Grand jury indicts Texas trooper for perjury in traffic stop that led to Sandra Bland’s death

A Texas state trooper was charged with perjury yesterday in connection with the contentious traffic stop last summer of Sandra Bland, a black woman who wound up arrested for assault and then died three days later in jail.

A grand jury indicted Trooper Brian Encinia on the misdemeanor count, alleging he lied about how he removed 28-year-old Bland from her vehicle during the July stop. The same Waller County grand jury decided last month not to indict any sheriff’s officials or jailers in Bland’s death, which was ruled a suicide.

Bland remained jailed following her arrest because she couldn’t raise about $500 for bail. Encinia, who has been on paid desk duty since Bland was found dead in her jail cell, also faces a wrongful death lawsuit filed by Bland’s family.

The misdemeanor charge carries a maximum penalty of a year in jail and a $4,000 fine.

Encinia, who is white, pulled Bland over on July 10 for making an improper lane change near Prairie View A&M University, her alma mater, where she had just interviewed and accepted a job. Dashcam video from Encinia’s patrol car shows that the traffic stop quickly became confrontational.

The video shows the trooper holding a stun gun and yelling, “I will light you up!” after Bland refuses to get out of her car. Bland eventually steps out of the vehicle, and Encinia orders her to the side of the road. The confrontation continues off-camera but is still audible.

Encinia’s affidavit stated he “removed her from her vehicle to further conduct a safer traffic investigation,” but grand jurors “found that statement to be false,” said Shawn McDonald, one of five special prosecutors appointed to investigate.

McDonald declined to say whether the grand jury considered any other charges.

Neither Bland’s attorneys nor the Texas Department of Public Safety immediately returned messages seeking comment about the indictment. Department Director Steve McCraw said after the incident that Encinia violated internal agency policies of professionalism and courtesy.

About two dozen protesters attended Wednesday’s press conference where the indictment was announced. Speaking afterward, one protester, Jinaki Muhammad, called the misdemeanor charge “a slap in the face to the Bland family.”

Encinia wrote in his affidavit that he had Bland exit the vehicle and handcuffed her after she became combative, and that she swung her elbows at him and kicked him in his right shin. Encinia said he then used force “to subdue Bland to the ground,” and she continued to fight back. He arrested her for assault on a public servant.

Bland’s sister, Shante Needham, has said Bland called her from jail the day after her arrest, saying she’d been arrested but didn’t know why, and that an officer had placed his knee in her back and injured her arm.

After the traffic stop, Bland was taken in handcuffs by another officer to the county jail in nearby Hempstead, about 50 miles northwest of Houston. She was found dead in her jail cell three days later, on July 13, hanging from a jail cell partition with a plastic garbage bag around her neck.

Her family has said they were working to get money for her bail when they learned of her death.

Bland’s arrest and death came amid heightened national scrutiny of police and their dealings with black suspects, especially individuals who were killed by officers or who died in police custody.

Starving the Wisconsin prison system

As the wife of a Wisconsin correctional officer, I’d like to thank all of the DOC employees who continue to show their professionalism by showing up for work, tirelessly, despite their dismal treatment by department Secretary Ed Wall.

Wall has built a house of cards, with 10,000-plus people relying on it for shelter. Under Wall, vacancies in the staff of state prisons have quintupled.

There were 88 vacancies when he accepted his appointment. Today, there are more than 500. Wall, who has never worked one day within the confines of a correctional facility, continues to shoot from the hip managing his staff. He continues to implement policies that are destined to fail, policies that he knows will create more vacancies because of his mistreatment of staff. There is zero accountability because nobody oversees the secretary.

Use common sense when asking yourself, what is the ultimate goal? The answer: privatization. The vacancies within the DOC are staggering enough to shut down activities in the prisons and create mandatory overtime, all at extra cost to taxpayers. Gov. Scott Walker has long lobbied for privatization and Wall is the tool he’s using to accomplish his goal.

As a career politician, Walker made it no secret that he supported private prisons. Corrections Corporation of America has been one of the major contributors to his political career. Walker was instrumental in the legislation that authorized sending prisoners out of state in the 1990s and early 2000s, when he headed the Committee on Corrections. He sent roughly 5,000 inmates to different states, at a cost of $45 million to Wisconsin taxpayers. When they returned to Wisconsin, they came back with PlayStations, Xboxes and — among other things — pornography. All of these were allowed by the corrections facilities. We no longer send inmates out to other states for a reason — it did not work.

Research has proven that private prisons are plagued with lack of security, falsifying records to cover up understaffing problems (much like we are experiencing now), prisoner abuse, staff assaults and riots. They ultimately cost the taxpayers more money than state-run prisons.

In 2010, three inmates escaped from a private prison in Arizona, kidnapped two tourists and burned their bodies in their own camper. State investigators found the perimeter of the prison was left unmonitored for 15 minutes at the beginning of every shift, with only one person responsible for monitoring the perimeter at the time of escape. So many false alarms went off that staff in the prisons ignored them and one-third of the security staff had less than three months on the job — with zero training.

Yet Walker lobbied for privatization anyhow. Even then Gov. Tommy Thompson did not approve of Walker’s plan and each time Walker introduced legislation to privatize prisons, it failed.

When giving thanks this season, please remember to thank your state employees who, in spite of dismal treatment, continue to show up for workday after day because they know your public safety falls squarely on their shoulders.

Christine Ewerdt is a resident of Waupun.

ACLU: Kentucky clerk Kim Davis failing to comply with judicial orders

The American Civil Liberties Union this week filed a motion in Kentucky District Court asserting that the Rowan County clerk’s office has failed to comply with orders that directed deputy clerks to issue marriage licenses without interference by Clerk Kim Davis.

The motion argues that the significant alteration of licenses at the direction of Davis — having a deputy sign them as a notary public rather than as a deputy clerk, removing any reference to the Rowan County clerk’s office, and stating that they are issued pursuant to court order — violates the court’s Sept. 3 order directing Davis and her deputies to issue licenses and its Sept. 8 order that released Davis from jail under the condition that she not interfere with the process.

“The clerk’s office needs to issue valid licenses that comply with the court’s orders,” said James Esseks, director of the ACLU’s Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Project. “It’s sad that Ms. Davis has continued to interfere with the basic constitutional right of all loving couples to marry and that the plaintiff couples have to ask the court to intervene once again.”

The filing asks the court to order the clerk’s office to issue the same licenses that were issued on or before Sept. 8, when Davis was released from jail.

The motion also asks the court to order the deputy clerks to disregard any contrary instructions from Davis and requests that she be ordered to immediately stop interfering or face civil contempt fines and the placement of the clerk’s office into a receivership for the purpose of issuing marriage licenses.