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What good is a jury?

November 22, 2009

Come to the aid of a young jailhouse lawyer under life-threatening attack

by Andre Jacobs

Andre Jacobs
Andre Jacobs
In November 2008 I acted as my own attorney in a civil action against the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections (DOC), which involved the unlawful seizure and destruction of my legal materials by prison officials in retaliation for exercising my First Amendment right under the United States Constitution to seek redress of my grievances. On Nov. 24, 2008, an eight-member jury exonerated 10 DOC employees after three days of deliberation and entered verdicts in my favor against Carol A. Scire, Gregory Giddens and Thomas McConnell on claims of conspiracy, retaliation, obstruction of access to courts and defamation of my character. I was awarded $185,000 in compensatory and punitive damages, property damage and harm to my reputation.

On Sept. 21. 2009, on a post-verdict motion filed by attorney Scott A. Bradley, Federal District Court Judge Joy Flowers Conti ran afoul of my Seventh Amendment right under the U.S. Constitution to a trial by jury and overrode the jury’s conclusion that defendants Scire, McConnell and Giddens conspired to violate my federal rights and that, despite clear evidence that defendants seized and destroyed my legal property and fabricated official state documents in an attempt to conceal it, no violation of my right to access the courts occurred. This resulted in a $70,000 reduction in the jury’s award, stripping me of my due process rights and a verdict won fair and square.

Although I am the first prisoner to win a verdict this big in the history of litigation against the Pennsylvania DOC, none of the newspapers are reporting to the public these silent and catastrophic attacks on this verdict for all concerned with prisoners’ rights and the jury’s right to not have their factual determinations re-examined by any court. What good is a jury if a dissatisfied judge can alter their decision and replace it with her own?

Within days of the verdict spreading like wildfire, prison guards began a campaign of harassment against me and buried me in solitary confinement with their false disciplinary reports against me. Then, by order of the Commissioner of Corrections himself, Jeffrey A. Beard, I was officially placed on “restricted release,” which means I’ll remain in solitary confinement until I’m released from prison or I die.

This decision was made with full awareness of the known adverse side-effects of solitary confinement, my diagnoses of dysthymia and post traumatic stress disorder and the Aug. 24, 2009, suicide of Matthew Bullock in SCI Dallas’ Solitary Confinement unit, where I am also housed. Mr. Bullock was mentally ill and was being subjected to psychological torture by corrupt prison guards who are serial offenders but are never punished. These same guards routinely starve me of food, have twice assaulted me on video and have threatened me with more attacks and eventual death.

Although I am the first prisoner to win a verdict this big in the history of litigation against the Pennsylvania DOC, none of the newspapers are reporting to the public these silent and catastrophic attacks on this verdict for all concerned with prisoners’ rights and the jury’s right to not have their factual determinations re-examined by any court.

As recently as Oct. 1, 2009, the same attorney I defeated at trial, Scott A. Bradley, of the Pennsylvania Attorney General’s Office, has ridden on the momentum of sabotaging my victory by asking that the court to reduce the remaining $115,000 to as little as $500. If this perversion of justice and the jury’s verdict is to continue, I call on every organization, attorney and member of society to assist me in educating the world in what goes on behind the jury’s back in America.

“Though the heavens fall, let justice be done.”*

*According to Wikipedia, this is a legal phrase from the Latin, “Fiat justitia ruat caelum,” signifying that justice must be realized regardless of the consequences.

Send our brother some love and light: Andre Jacobs, DQ5437, SCI Dallas, 1000 Follies Rd., Dallas, PA 18612. Thanks to Millie Barnet for alerting the Bay View to Andre’s situation and typing his story.

Urgent action alert: Andre Jacobs assaulted and starved after visit from human rights investigator

by HRC/Fed UP! Emergency Response Network

Andre Jacobs, a 27-year-old jailhouse lawyer who has been held in retaliatory solitary confinement for over eight years, is being targeted for repression again. Take action. This affects all prisoners and those who love them and fight for their human rights.

On Saturday, Oct. 10, Andre Jacobs received a visit from a human rights activist. In a letter received later in the week he reported that five minutes after returning from the visit, guards orchestrated a shakedown of his cell, his legal documents were destroyed, he was issued false misconducts and placed on “restrictions” that prohibit him yard, shower, running water and food. He has been placed on “food loaf,” an inedible food substitute that is used as a tool of coercion.

Andre was told by Sgt. Buck and Lt. Bleich, two of the more notorious serial abusers at SCI Dallas, that he was being targeted for his affiliation with HRC/Fed Up! claiming he brought us to the prison. At the time of writing Andre had been without water in his cell for three days and had not eaten for four days.

Twice in the past three weeks, Andre has been physically assaulted and abused by Correctional Officer (CO) Wilkes and had his hand slammed in the tray slot of his cell door by COs Kovac and Harrison. Andre, along with Eric Rambert, David Sierra and others have reported receiving death threats in recent days and weeks due to their efforts to resist and expose control unit torture.

To make matters worse, we continue to receive reports on a weekly basis that guards working the Restricted Housing Unit (RHU) at SCI Dallas continue to come to work drunk. CO Wilkes in particular has been identified by over a dozen prisoners in over 10 months as being drunk on a daily basis.

It is because of Andre’s success as a jailhouse lawyer that he is punished, and this is why the officials orchestrate and approve of this treatment.

Mumia Abu-Jamal, ‘Jailhouse Lawyers’ and Andre Jacobs

Andre Jacobs has been incarcerated virtually every day since he was 15 years old. His lawyer had him tried as an adult without his consent or understanding. Prior to his initial conviction, Andre’s childhood involved considerable trauma, exposure to violence and alcoholism in the family, along with his being institutionalized and prescribed medications for mental health needs as young as age 6.

Since Andre’s first run in with the system until today – 12 long years – he has been subjected to numerous false charges and brutalized, beaten, starved and tortured in solitary confinement units.

Andre has been set up and convicted on outrageous charges of assaulting prison guards and U.S. Marshals in separate incidents, both in which he was in fact the one assaulted.

Indeed, after losing the first of four civil actions he has brought against Pennsylvania DOC defendants for violations of his constitutional rights, U.S. Marshals beat him in the federal courthouse in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, dragging him screaming onto an elevator in front of his grandmother while they pummeled him.

Andre was beaten unconscious before the elevator traveled five flights and the door opened. Despite being handcuffed, shackled and having both arms full of legal documents, Andre was tried and convicted for assault of federal marshals and sentenced to 17 years after a trial in which he was denied effective counsel and state witnesses perjured themselves.

Despite all of the horror that Andre has faced, he has survived with his “aura of resistance intact,” as renowned journalist, political prisoner and fellow survivor within the Pennsylvania DOC Mumia Abu-Jamal would say.

Andre has become something of a prodigious young jailhouse lawyer, successfully bringing four claims to jury trials against Pennsylvania DOC defendants. Last November he was awarded $185,000 in a case in the Western District of Pennsylvania. This was recently reduced to $115,000.

He has three ongoing civil actions, including the one he won in November, a case against the U.S. Marshals who assaulted him and another against psych staff at SCI Fayette for negligent and malicious treatment. He is also attempting to overturn his wrongful conviction and has recently filed a habeas corpus petition in that case.

By emphasizing the struggles of Andre Jacobs, HRC/Fed Up! aims to create greater awareness and action around the crucial struggles for human rights in the prison system in particular and the entire criminal legal and political systems more generally. Along these lines, we recommend to all supporters and allies that you pick up a copy of Mumia Abu-Jamal’s important, crucial new book, “Jailhouse Lawyers: Prisoners Defending Prisoners v. the U.S.A.

When guards at SCI Dallas destroy his property, threaten his life, assault his person, all while ranking officials look on approvingly, it is not simply Andre who is under attack, but the rights and lives of prisoners everywhere. By targeting jailhouse lawyers, those who stand on their constitutional rights and insist on being treated as human beings, the agents of repression in charge of the Pennsylvania DOC and the prison-industrial complex aim to silence their cries for justice.

We have a responsibility to ensure that all efforts to silence Andre, Mumia and countless others fail.

How you can help

Call SCI Dallas, at (570) 675-1101, today, tomorrow, later in the week and early next week. Do not relent. We need to push back together! Ask to speak to Acting Superintendent Walsh or Superintendent’s Assistant Robin Lucas. Also call Secretary Beard (717) 975-4918 and Office of Professional Responsibility Director James Barnacle (717) 214-8473.

1) Identify yourself as a Human Rights Coalition member or supporter, a concerned citizen, or in your professional or academic capacity. Report your knowledge of the retaliation against Andre Jacobs.

2) Demand that SCI Dallas immediately provide Andre with food and water. Strongly condemn the routine practice of using the deprivation of food and water as weapons of retaliation. Assert that such practices are torture and must be ended immediately.

3) Demand that CO Wilkes be given a breathalizer each day as he arrives at and leaves work. Insist that he, along with CO McCoy, Sgt. Buck and Lt. Bleich be immediately removed from the RHU.

4) Inform SCI Dallas and Central Office that these retaliatory actions are to be the subject of upcoming criminal complaints to be filed with the DA of Luzerne County, Pennsylvania, and Attorney General Corbett and a thoroughly documented report to the U.S. Department of Justice. Remind Dallas and the Pennsylvania DOC that media exposure of SCI Dallas has already paved the way for pending civil litigation and that Andre himself has brought four cases to jury trial against DOC defendants. Finally, let them know that you are aware that the actions against Andre and the pending criminal complaints will be the focus of a greater media campaign.

5) Request that Andre be given an emergency transfer to ensure his safety and his access to the law library and courts and to ensure that he is removed from the control of guards who are constantly identified as being racist, drunk and sadistic. Tell Dallas and Central Office that failure to remove Andre from their care will be understood as criminal conspiracy by the Pennsylvania DOC in order to sabotage the victory he won in a lawsuit against them last November.

6) Don’t let them minimize or deny the seriousness of the allegations. Don’t believe them if they say they take all these matters seriously and investigate them properly. HRC has overwhelming evidence that the grievance process is a sham. We know it and we refuse to tolerate business as usual. We will not stand by while they torture ours and other people’s friends, children, parents and lovers.

Below are links to two of five recent articles regarding conditions of confinement at SCI Dallas. This exposure is exactly what SCI Dallas and the Pennsylvania DOC are attempting to silence. Let them know it will not work and that we will not be quiet. Arm yourself with the evidence:

http://realcostofprisons.org/blog/archives/2009/09/dallas_pa_state.html

http://behavioralhealthcentral.com/index.php/2009092993037/Legislative-News/lawsuit-in-inmate-suicide-possible-amid-lawyers-probe-family-of-matthew-bullock-takes-step-needed-for-suit-the-times-leader-wilkes-barre-pa.html

Email hrcfedup@gmail.com for copies of our summary abuse logs for SCI Dallas, describing over 90 reports of human rights violations culled from hundreds upon hundreds of prisoner reports, civil actions, criminal complaints, declarations and affidavits and all supported with countless conversations with family and support people on the outside.

The Human Rights Coalition is a group of predominately prisoners’ families, ex-prisoners and some supporters. Our ultimate goal is to abolish prisons. The prison system is based on a foundation of exploitation, punishment and corruption. Most of the people in prisons are poor, brown, urban, functionally illiterate, unemployed or under-employed before they were locked down and are there for non-violent crimes. The prison system reflects all the other social inequalities in our system and it does not work in its current incarnation.

For more information, contact the Human Rights Coalition (HRC) at 4134 Lancaster Ave., Philadelphia, PA 19104, (215) 387-6155 or Info@hrcoalition.org. Contact an HRC investigator at (412) 654-9070 and visit http://hrcoalition.org and http://emergencyresponse.cc/.

3 thoughts on “What good is a jury?

  1. Millie Barnet

    I have not heard from Andre since I copied his article into an email for Bay View newspaper. Right after that (in October) I heard from HRC (Human Rights Council) that he was (again) attacked and beaten up by guards. I don’t think HRC has any power at all in the face of these guards. The response from that prison as from PA prison system in general is simply to ignore complaints. In fact, Andre was put in a known dangerous place by an official of the Dept. purposely because he would be attacked there. This is to punish him for winning a legal battle with a high financial reward, against the PA Dept. of Corrections. My friends, I am not familiar with how things work at other prisons, but I can tell you that Pennsylvania’s prison system is run by criminals. And I really don’t know what a citizen can do about that, esp. not even a citizen of PA. Check it out. I only hope that Andre is still alive. I have no way of knowing. HRC might find out but they are under heavy scrutiny & can easily be kept out.

    Reply

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