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HRDC/PLN Newsletter – After Year and a Half, Charges Filed in Deadly Cushing Prison Fight

 
April 18, 2017

Prison Legal News, a monthly print publication that covers criminal justice issues, is a project of the Human Rights Defense Center, a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization.
Oklahoma: After Year and a Half, Charges Filed in Deadly Cushing Prison Fight
A year and a half after the deadliest prison fight in Oklahoma history, Payne County prosecutors brought charges Monday against seven people in connection with the incident.
None of the seven, however, was charged with murder in the prison-gang fight that saw four inmates stabbed to death at Cimarron Correctional Facility in Cushing on Sept. 12, 2015. Rather each was charged with one count of participating in a riot, a felony whose punishment in this case is the same as second-degree murder – from 10 years to life in prison. The type of charges filed reflects the difficulty authorities have had in  identifying who exactly committed the fatal stabbings.
Those charged were all incarcerated at Cimarron at the time of the riot. Some have since been transferred to other prisons and one has been released.
Those charged are:
The disturbance at the private run facility involved a fight between members of the United Aryan Brotherhood and Irish Mob over control of the prison drug trade, according to news reports. During a two-minute period, inmates stabbed each other with knives made from light fixtures from their cells, court files show. The Oklahoma Department of Corrections and prosecutors have refused to release certain documents in the case, including incident reports and security camera footage, citing law enforcement investigation exemptions from the Open Records Act.
Thousands of drug cases tainted by disgraced former state chemist Annie Dookhan are expected to be marked for dismissal today after more than four years of litigation and a high court decision that forced the hands of prosecutors across the commonwealth.


Attorneys with the American Civil Liberties Union expect that roughly 20,000 cases will be set for dismissal today by prosecutors. The ACLU, the state public defender’s office and private attorneys have urged mass dismissal for years.


“It’s great for the people who were convicted by this evidence because they can finally get out from underneath the crippling collateral consequences of a drug conviction,” said Matthew Segal, legal director of the ACLU of Massachusetts. “Hopefully this will help those people get housing and jobs and get on with their lives.”


The SJC in January gave prosecutors until today to list all of the convictions they want to dismiss. For the rest, district attorneys are required to certify in a letter that they can and will produce evidence – not handled by Dookhan – that could secure a guilty verdict if they are forced to go to trial again.


When the SJC issued its decision, there were estimates that 24,000 cases may have been corrupted by Dookhan.
Louisiana: Innocents have gone to jail, say NOLA public defenders
Past and current attorneys of the New Orleans Public Defenders Office tell Anderson Cooper they believe innocent clients have gone to jail because they lacked the time and resources to defend them properly. The system is so overburdened that in 2016 New Orleans Chief Public Defender Derwyn Bunton began ordering his staff to refuse to take on clients facing the most serious felonies. Cooper’s report on the New Orleans justice system will be broadcast on 60 Minutes Sunday, April 16 at 7 p.m. ET/PT.
All nine of the attorneys agreed when asked by Cooper if they believed an innocent client went to jail because they didn’t have enough time to spend on their case.

When 52 attorneys are responsible for 20,000 criminal cases a year, as in New Orleans, they do their best says Bunton.  But often, indigent defendants will not get the quality defense they are entitled to. “You can’t provide the kind of representation that the Constitution, our code of ethics and professional standards would have you provide,” says Bunton.   Asked if it’s not better to have a busy lawyer than no lawyer, Bunton does not hesitate, “No. A lawyer poorly resourced can cause irreparable harm to a client.”

Cooper follows one case of a man arrested in New Orleans who sat in jail for more than a year before an attorney presented evidence to the court showing he did not even match the suspect’s description.  He also speaks to the man’s original public defender who got so fed up with not having the time to provide quality defense, she quit.

At the time, Lindsay Samuel represented nearly a hundred clients facing a life in prison. She felt she was “Always coming up short.  The first thousand clients you feel terrible. The second thousand clients, you feel awful,” she recalls.  “Every day my clients are going away for a decade and I just move along to the next client,” says Samuel.

Idaho’s terrifying prisons; inmates sue
 
In yet another indictment of the barbaric U.S. prison system, Idaho inmates are suing the Idaho Department of Correction in a federal court after prison officials repeatedly violated a settlement  plan to improve the inhumane conditions at the state’s oldest prison.
Since 1981, inmates at the Idaho State Correctional Institution (ISCI) south of Boise have brought forward thousands of complaints about the dismal conditions they face, from overcrowding and excessive violence to falsification of records and egregious lapses of medical care.
The sheer number of these claims became the basis for a three-decade-old class action lawsuit. After three decades of non-compliance by ISCI with court orders, the latest settlement plan reached a few years ago agreed that the state would finally make improvements to ISCI’s abysmal medical care, and that these changes would be overseen by the court.
Since then, inmates have identified over 100 violations of the agreement and are now suing the state for being in contempt of court.


Fifty lawsuits have now been filed over Riverside County jail toilets. One prisoner started it all.
Six years ago, a convicted sex offender, Thomas Bodnar, took Riverside County to court. Bodnar said in a lawsuit that he had spent three years locked in a county jail cell with a gurgling toilet that splashed coin-sized bits of sewage on the cell floor.
These jail conditions, Bodnar argued, amounted to cruel and unusual punishment – a violation of his constitutional rights. Riverside County fought the lawsuit at first, but as the case drew close to trial, the county caved. Bodnar was paid $25,000 in a settlement. His lawsuit was dismissed in 2014.
It appeared the debate over county jail toilets was over. Not even close.
As of mid-April, 49 other prisoners have filed copycat lawsuits over Riverside County jail toilets, each citing Bodnar’s case as precedent as to why they should get a payout of their own. Every suit makes the same claim: In the Riverside and Murrieta jails, if an inmate flushes in one cell, the toilets in the neighboring cells will splatter or overflow, spilling sewage onto the floor. Jail staff won’t provide any cleaning supplies to sanitize the cell, so inmates must use their own bar soap and towel to clean the floor.
Now county attorneys say Bodnar is secretly responsible for all the lawsuits. In a recent court motion, they allege Bodnar is “ghostwriting” suits on behalf of other inmates in return for a cut of their settlement. In short, Bodnar never really stopped suing Riverside County, bringing the same case over and over.

 
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From the PLN in Print Archives
Innocence Project Blasts Lack of Consequences from Prosecutorial Misconduct
The Innocence Project has published a report that examines the lack of consequences for prosecutors who engage in misconduct resulting in the conviction and imprisonment of innocent defendants. The non-profit organization examined court records in Arizona, California, Texas, New York and Pennsylvania for the years 2004 to 2008.
The report, released in March 2016, identified “660 instances of prosecutorial error or misconduct,” but in 527 of those cases “judges upheld the conviction, finding that the prosecutorial lapse did not impact the fairness of the defendant’s original trial.” However, in the other 133 cases the convictions were overturned.
In only one case, the Innocence Project report said, was a prosecutor disciplined. Given such statistics, it is no wonder that prosecutors feel little or no pressure to follow the rules, such as their obligation to disclose exculpatory evidence to defense attorneys.
The sole case where a prosecutor was disciplined occurred in Brooklyn, New York – a city that has had an epidemic of wrongful convictions costing millions in settlements. That prosecutor, Claude N. Stuart, was involved in three wrongful prosecutions and his law license was suspended in 2005 due to his serial misconduct; New York’s appellate division court denied his request to reinstate his license in 2010. Stuart’s boss, Brooklyn DA Charles J. Hynes, also paid a price, losing his reelection campaign largely due to the spate of well-publicized wrongful convictions.
Unfortunately, the appellate courts that reviewed the cases in which prosecutorial misconduct occurred made virtually no referrals to attorney licensing authorities. In the handful of incidents where an investigation was launched, prosecutors who committed misconduct were almost never disciplined.
The report also addressed the case of Connick v. Thompson, 131 S.Ct. 1350 (2011), in which the U.S. Supreme Court reversed a jury award of $14 million for a wrongful conviction that resulted from prosecutorial misconduct by the New Orleans District Attorney’s Office. [See: PLN, Nov. 2014, p.1; Aug. 2011, p.30]. The Court’s reasoning was that the District Attorney’s office and the legal profession itself provided sufficient oversight of prosecutors – a decision that continues to puzzle most legal analysts given the well-documented scope of prosecutorial misconduct.

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Rape survivors will go to jail if they refuse to testify in Louisiana: District attorney
Survivors of sexual assault are often in shock or suffering from trauma, but one Louisiana District Attorney couldn’t possibly care less if it leads to a conviction.
Democrat Leon Cannizzaro explained to WWL radio that sometimes a crime victim needs to be put in jail so that he can get the criminal.
“If I have to put a victim of a crime in jail for eight days in order to keep the rapist off of the street for a period years, and prevent him from raping or harming someone else, I’m going to do that,” he said. Though he didn’t explain how he’ll get the survivor to testify against the accused.
Cannizzaro isn’t the only one. District Attorney Devon Anderson in Houston did the same thing last year. The girl ran from the courtroom and stood in traffic in an apparent suicide attempt.
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Ohio: Endowment dollars traced to tobacco, oil and private prison companies
 
In 2015, Ohio University banned the use of tobacco products on its Athens campus. Despite that, money invested in one of the world’s largest tobacco companies can be traced to the university’s endowment fund.
A close look at the Ohio University Foundation’s long-term investment portfolio reveals many similar investments – ones that members of the university community have pushed back against in the past. Most notably, because of the way endowment money is managed, OU has investments in both private prison corporations and oil companies.
And right now, it would be difficult – but not impossible – for the university to prevent those kinds of investments.
“Within our current investment practices, we’re not in a position to effectively filter that out,” Candice Casto, chief finance and investment officer for foundation operations, said, specifically referring to tobacco companies.

Tennessee: Why federal judge Kevin Sharp left the bench in Nashville
 
Kevin H. Sharp sent Chris Young to prison for life and he thought it was wrong.
“Each defendant is supposed to be treated as an individual,” Sharp said at the sentencing hearing in 2014. “I don’t think that’s happening here.”
But there are duties that come with a black robe and gavel, chief among them following the laws of the United States no matter your personal opinion. And as a federal judge, Sharp had to impose mandatory minimum terms. That meant Young, a repeat drug offender, would never go home to Clarksville.
Young, now 28, is at a federal prison in Lexington, Kentucky.
Sharp, now 54, is starting a new job and still thinking of Young.
The former chief U.S. District judge in Middle Tennessee resigned his post Friday, ending a lifetime appointment after six years. On Monday, he’ll begin work at Sanford Heisler, expanding the respected civil rights and employment law firm into Music City while also expanding its title: Sanford Heisler Sharp.
In an exclusive interview on Saturday, Sharp talked about his tenure on the bench and his decision to leave it. No longer bound by ethics rules that keep judges silent, he denounced mandatory minimum sentences and previewed the topics he’ll attack at the civil rights firm.

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