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Killing time: Lawsuit reveals officials killed prisoner, framed cellmate and lied to media

December 30, 2016

Retaliatory guards massively gassed Rashid while handcuffed, plus his bedding and cell walls and refuse to decontaminate; sign the RootsAction petition now and read all about it at http://rashidmod.com/?tag=december-2016-assault

by Kevin ‘Rashid’ Johnson

Within a year, three federal lawsuits have been brought behind the tortured deaths of men imprisoned at the William P. Clements Unit in remote Amarillo, Texas.

Alton Rodgers, 31, 6 foot 7, a tall, healthy young man, wasted away for months probably of TB, repeatedly asking for medical help and being ignored to the point of dying of starvation, covered in bedsores and weighing only 148 pounds.

The latest suit was filed on Oct. 11, 2016, in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Texas, against 33 security and medical staff, concerning their roles in the Jan. 19, 2016, death of Alton Rodgers – a death for which Texas officials have tried to frame Rodgers’ prior cellmate, Joe Greggs.[i]

On Jan. 18, Rodgers was discovered unresponsive by guards in his close custody cell, which he shared with Greggs. He was taken to Northwest Texas Hospital, where he died the next day. At the hospital, Rodgers was found to have a fractured skull, bleeding on his brain and was severely malnourished. At 6 feet 7 inches tall, he weighed only 148 pounds and had a body mass index of 16.7 when he died.

Officials claimed Greggs beat him to death, inflicting his head injuries from which it is believed he died. No explanation was given for his wasted state, however, until it was reported that autopsies described him being in a state of starvation, with bedsores on his body, and pneumonia in his lungs[ii] – conditions for which only prison officials could have been responsible.

The Texas Department of Criminal Justice (sic!) was quick to respond through a public relations agent that Rodgers wasn’t starved, but rather had starved himself. No explanation was offered for his bedsores or pneumonia however.[iii]

A wall of official lies

Contrary to officials’ story, medical records uncovered by Jesse Quackenbush, the Amarillo attorney pursuing the lawsuit on behalf of Rodgers’ mother and estate, reveal the actual cause of Rodgers’ death was very likely prolonged and untreated tuberculosis – one of several highly contagious viruses that officials have been allowing to spread and fester at the prison – a situation the lawsuit aptly describes as a “crime against humanity.”[iv]

Rashid is, next to Mumia, perhaps the country’s leading imprisoned intellectual. He has become a leader like the ones he depicts so well, and he deserves strong support and protection. For writing this and other exposés, he is in constant danger of retaliatory abuse, which is rougher and more common in Texas than in other prison systems. – Art: Kevin “Rashid” Johnson

It turns out that not only did officials extensively document yet ignore a wide range of symptoms of Rodgers’ body being ravaged by untreated TB, but they went further to falsify security records to cover up their failure to perform basic security checks and searches that would have allowed Rodgers to have been discovered in his distressed condition before it became fatal. They then lied to hospital caregivers and the media about the cause of his condition, his mental health history and his supposedly having starved himself.

They went further to conceal his prison medical records from the hospital that tried to treat him and pathologists who performed his autopsies – hiding his medical history, which was needed to inform the appropriate courses of care to offer and through which his condition and cause(s) of death could be fully and correctly investigated and determined, including what role TB played.

Worse still, after his medical files were discovered, the local judge and prosecutor’s office refused Rodgers’ family’s request to have his autopsy specimens tested for TB, even at their own expense! This request was made because the records showed that, leading up to his death, Rodgers suffered some 25 symptoms of active and untreated TB, including the brain hemorrhaging that was his believed cause of death. (See attached letter from their attorney to said officials requesting these tests.)

It was because of the concealment of the records and official lies that Rodgers’ death was blamed on his cellmate in the media. But as the Lubbock County chief pathologist who reviewed Rodgers’ autopsy report for the media stated, Rodgers’ pneumonia, malnourishment and bedsores were not explained in the autopsies but needed to be.[v] But of course, without his records, they couldn’t have been.

As the lawsuit also revealed, prison officials told hospital staff that Greggs broke his hands assaulting Rodgers. Yet, three x-rays taken of Greggs’ hands on Jan. 19 “revealed no fractures.”

Clearly, officials have been bent on framing Greggs and preserving their manufactured narrative that he caused Rodgers’ death from a fight that no one witnessed. Why else would the prosecutor’s office refuse to allow tests, or even pursue them itself, that could show whether in fact Rodgers died from an untreated illness or a physical assault?

Because it would expose the litany of lies told by officials at all levels and their cover-ups, and it would implicate officials as his true killers. Which is exactly what they don’t want to happen. Better to frame a powerless Black prisoner.

It’s all documented

As was the case in the two prior lawsuits concerning men killed by officials at Clements Unit,[vi] Rodgers’ medical records, which are extensively cited in the lawsuit, document prison medical staff’s own deliberate and systemic disregard of his obvious and acknowledged medical needs and declining health leading up to his death.

The records show that from early 2014 through September 2015, Rodgers repeatedly sought care for a wide range of ailments, all of which reflect progressive and steady deterioration from untreated TB. He also repeatedly informed medical staff that he believed he had TB.

Rashid’s 2013 self-portrait

Moreover, they and security staff were trained to recognize symptoms indicative of active TB and to have any prisoner suspected of TB infection promptly quarantined and tested. Rodgers also requested to be tested for TB. Despite all this, he went untested, undiagnosed and untreated for TB.

It was even recorded in the medical file that complaints were made by a state representative, at Rodgers’ mother’s behest, that he was not receiving obviously needed care. Furthermore, a radiologist found that he was suffering “significant brain atrophy probably caused by a systemic infection” – a likely cause of his brain bleeding – and ordered a brain MRI. All of this went ignored as well.

In fact, instead of providing him needed medical care, from September 2015 until his death in January 2016, the file reflects repeated uses of force where, the suit states, “Alton was physically assaulted.” That’s a likely answer to the cause of his skull fracture, especially considering that guards had to bodily remove him from his bunk and transport him through the prison when they discovered him in his vegetated state on Jan. 18, a period during which they had more than ample opportunity to “drop” him on his head and cause him to strike hard surfaces in a similar manner.

Prisoners at the Clements Unit [prisons are called units in Texas] know all too well the prevalence of violent abuse and outright beatings that attend almost every use of force by guards. Indeed, Clements Unit is well documented as having the highest rate, in number and severity, of uses of force by guards of all Texas prisons.[vii] And the federal courts have long found TDCJ officials to abuse force, again, more often and with greater severity than in any other prison system in the U.S.[viii]

A peek behind the Iron Curtain

This recent series of lawsuits has opened a small crack in the iron curtain of razor wire and reinforced concrete that hides the inhumane conditions, abuses and cover-ups that permeate U.S. prisons, including, often especially, at the hands of medical professionals on whom the imprisoned must rely for basic, often life-sustaining health care.

But these lawsuits are a rare occurrence. This is because the system has set up numerous obstacles that discourage litigation by the very class of people that the courts have created and rendered powerless and complete dependents, namely prisoners.

For example, few prisoners can access the research information or have the resources needed to navigate the intricate procedures of U.S. courts. And they are subject to an array of penalties for any mistakes they might make in filing and pursuing lawsuits, from fines to being banned from being able to file any suits at all unless they pay the entire filing fees up front, which are $400 to file a suit and $505 to file any appeal from an unfavorable decision in the suit.

“It Should Never Be Easy for Them to Destroy Us” – Art: Kevin “Rashid” Johnson

And whether a prisoner has money or not, s/he will be required in every case to pay fees, either up front or the fees will be deducted from any money deposited to their prison account until they are fully paid off. Other classes of indigents are not treated in this manner, which is even worse, especially in states like Texas, where all prisoners are forced to work without any pay.

Furthermore, few to no attorneys are willing to take on a state or the federal government, because of their vast resources and power and inclinations to ruin the careers of troublesome lawyers. And the costs of hiring lawyers are out of reach for most prisoners and their families. Not to mention that laws like the Prison Litigation Reform Act of 1995 set substantial limitations and disadvantages on litigating prison-related cases for both attorneys and plaintiffs.

These recent lawsuits came about because a rare breed of attorneys was able to connect and work directly with one or a few prisoners who, with nothing personal to gain, knew law well enough and were willing to help the lawyers marshal evidence and locate witnesses needed to help build their cases, and were not discouraged from doing so by the very real lethal danger of retaliation.[ix]

What must be understood is despite all this, the courts cannot be looked to as institutions that will afford prisoners and their families – nor any other poor or working class people – anything resembling “justice.” At best, in cases like these, where there is strong evidence of official wrongdoing, the courts will induce the parties to “settle” the cases, which means the plaintiffs will be offered a hefty sum of money to resolve the case without a trial or any binding legal findings by the court that any wrongs were committed by the defendants.

The money paid over to the plaintiffs and their attorneys will come not from the defendants but from deep government and/or corporate coffers at taxpayers’ expense. And besides a little token personnel shuffling, the wrongdoers will basically get off scot free, at most a few folks may lose their jobs, things will proceed as if nothing occurred and the capitalist-imperialist police state will continue with business as usual.

I therefore look to these proceedings as avenues through which to gather and expose evidence of the true nature and workings of these oppressive institutions to the broader public and those inclined to struggle for fundamental change and true justice, by taking down these illegitimate institutions and ending this foul social arrangement of rule by a wealthy minority.

Dare to Struggle Dare to Win! All Power to the People!

Send our brother some love and light: Kevin “Rashid” Johnson, 1859887, Clements Unit, 9601 Spur 591, Amarillo TX 79107.

Formal complaint to prison authorities condemning attack on Rashid

Read statements by Rashid and several witnesses to the attack at http://rashidmod.com/?tag=december-2016-assault.

To: Ombudsman, Texas Department of Criminal Justice (TDCJ), P.O. Box 99, Hunstville, TX 77342-0099

With this letter, I am making a most serious complaint against the assault on Mr. Kevin Johnson, TDCJ No. 1859887, and the taking of his personal property by personnel at the Clements Unit in Amarillo.

I am attaching Mr. Johnson’s own sworn report. I have also received several other statements from witnesses, and I have received a sample of the gas-contaminated bed sheet as well as bits of orange, gas-stained paint chips from Mr. Johnson’s cell. When I opened the envelope with these reports and samples, I experienced a reaction in my throat. This was also experienced by the person who made copies of the material.

Not only was Mr. Johnson gassed, but much of his personal property, including legal materials and commissary items, was taken from him and/or destroyed. His requests to be decontaminated and have his cell de-contaminated after the gas attack were denied for at least several days.

As an editor in frequent correspondence with Mr. Johnson, I am the recipient of several articles that Mr. Johnson has written about similar attacks on other inmates, which in at least two cases resulted in deaths.

The conduct of prison staff runs counter to any values in the dignity of human life. These incidents in the Texas criminal justice system are clear violations of human rights that are reaffirmed in the U.S. Constitution, the Texas Constitution and by many international bodies.

The cruel and horrifying treatment of Mr. Johnson appears to be part of a consistent sadistic pattern among prison staff. I think that you must know this because it has been exposed in several publications and several media outlets that I am aware of.

This emergency situation requires that Kevin Johnson’s cell should be immediately decontaminated; his personal property, legal materials and other papers returned to him; his commissary items replaced; and that he receive any necessary medical treatment. I sincerely hope that you will assure that the Clements staff member, Britta Townsend, who had the integrity to say what she had witnessed, is protected from any possible retaliatory measures that may be taken against her by her colleagues or her administrative supervisors.

The main issue is stopping the sadistic behavior of prison staff – guards and their supervisors. Until it is accomplished, it will continue to be a major concern to all who cherish human rights and the dignity of human beings. I would appreciate a response from you about this important matter.

Sincerely,

Carole Seligman

Note on being gassed

Carole wrote on Dec. 31 in an email to fellow supporters of Rashid: “I was visiting Kevin Cooper today and told him about Rashid’s being gassed while handcuffed and not de-contaminated for several days. (Kevin had just received the wonderful portrait by Rashid which we have made into cards and he’s been sending them out to people.)

“Kevin told me that while he had never been gassed, he had seen others on death row gassed in their cells. He said that even if someone on the first tier was gassed, the gas could be smelled all the way up on the fifth floor. Not just smelled, but making one choke.

“He said immediately after being gassed, the prisoner was taken to a shower right outside the cell and de-contaminated from the gas. Prison conditions at San Quentin are horrible. Right now we’re having some cold weather here and the cells are not getting heat. But, the idea of someone being gassed and not allowed to clean it off for several days was a new low – a particularly brutal kind of cruelty Texas Department of Criminal Justice is famous for.”

Carole Seligman, co-editor, Socialist Viewpoint, 60 29th St., Ste. 429, San Francisco, CA 94110, can also be reached at caroleseligman@sbcglobal.net.

[i] The first two suits are discussed in my prior article, “Who’s Lying Now? Official Records Show Texas Officials Are Murdering Prisoners” (2016), http://rashidmod.com/?p=2128. The most recent suit is styled Gwendolyn Delores Rogers Patrick v. Barry Martin, et al., Case No. 2:16-cv-00216-J.

[ii] See Aaron Davis, “Autopsy: Inmate Was Starving When He Died,” Amarillo Globe-News, April 1, 2016.

[iii] See Aaron Davis, “TDCJ: Clements Inmate Wasn’t Starved,” Amarillo Globe-News, April 5, 2016.

[iv] Seventy years ago, U.S. and other Western governments prosecuted German Nazi leaders for atrocities committed during World War II, including for crimes categorized as “genocide” and “crimes against humanity.” One act that fell into the “crimes against humanity” category was the Nazis’ imprisoning minority groups and others under conditions where contagious diseases were allowed to fester and spread untreated – the exact thing Texas officials are doing at Clements Unit and elsewhere, with TB, hepatitis and other highly infectious diseases. In a purely rhetorical pronouncement, U.S. prosecutors assured the world that its own officials would accept being judged by the same standards as they were judging the Nazis.

[v] Op cit., note 2. The medical examiner’s remarks prompted the TDCJ to respond in the April 5 article that Rodgers hadn’t been starved and to claim falsely that he’d starved himself, although as the lawsuit points out, “Nowhere in Alton’s medical records are ‘self starvation’ or suicide noted.” The PR man’s claim that Rodgers starved himself was a complete invention.

[vi] Op. cit., note 1.

[vii] See Brandi Grissom, “A Tie to Mental Illness in the Violence Behind Bars” New York Times, Sept. 21, 2013; Brandi Grissom, “Violence Behind Bars: A Tie to Mental Illness,” Texas Tribune, Sept. 22, 2013; “Force Against Texas Inmates on Rise,” Texas Tribune, April 3, 2014; “Clements Unit Placed on Dubious List,” Sept. 26, 2013; “Texas Lockdown: Solitary Confinement in the Lone Star State,” Solitary Watch, July 6, 2011, etc.

[viii] I discuss, cite and quote at length these cases in “U.S. Prisons Would Disgrace a Nation of Savages: Texas – A Case on Record,” (2013), http://rashidmod.com/?p=1007.

[ix] Ibid. In past litigation against abuses in Texas prisons, prison officials persistently retaliated against the prisoner plaintiffs and witnesses in a multitude of forms, including having witnesses’ throats cut by inmate lackeys. These abuses persisted despite repeated orders from the court that they desist. Ultimately, 80 prisoners had to be ordered transferred from Texas prisons to federal custody to protect them by the court. See Ruiz v. Estelle, 503 F. Supp. 1265, 1372-73, 1276 n 4 (S.D. Tex. 1980).

 

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