Judge to hear claims in Central Prison inmate beating case

Judge to hear claims in Central Prison inmate beating case

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RALEIGH, N.C. -

A federal judge decided not to dismiss claims in the case of alleged inmate beatings at the state's Central Prison in Raleigh.

U.S. District Judge Terrence Boyle heard arguments Thursday about dismissing a lawsuit that accuses guards at North Carolina's maximum security prison of sadistically beating inmates, resulting in broken bones and wheelchair confinement.

After hearing testimony from inmate Jerome Peters, 48, Judge Boyle decided to move forward with the lawsuit on behalf of Peters and seven other inmates at Central Prison.

The inmates are seeking compensation for their injuries, more video camera surveillance to eliminate so-called blind spots and a broader video retention policy.

Thursday, the judge ruled in favor of the inmates and ordered the NC Department of Corrections, which oversees Central Prison, to certify within 10 days that the prison has added video surveillance to eliminate "blind spots" and developed a broader video retention policy.

If the state fulfills Judge Boyle's order, Boyle says it will satisfy the needs of the injunction and the case will then move on to address allegations that guards used "excessive force."

The inmates accuse 19 correctional officers of taking handcuffed and shackled inmates from solitary confinement cells where they were placed for disciplinary reasons to blind spots out of view of security cameras, then severely beating them. Former prison administrators Gerald Branker and Kenneth Lassister are accused in the lawsuit of failing in their duties for not developing policies on investigating inmate abuse complaints and to preserve video tapes that might contain evidence from being erased.

"For years, the inmates of Unit One have pursued every avenue available to them to put an end to the violence that is routinely inflicted upon them. They have filed grievances, engaged in letter writing campaigns to public officials, gone on hunger strikes, and exhausted all of the administrative remedies available to them. The violence has not stopped," wrote Elizabeth Simpson, an attorney for North Carolina Prisoner Legal Services representing the inmates.

State attorneys say there is no merit to the allegations. Corrections officers use force with inmates relatively rarely, but have to have the option with the nearly 200 inmates who can be housed in the prison's solitary confinement block, called Unit One, state attorneys wrote in one court filing.

"The inmates housed on Unit One are violent, unpredictable and exhibit little impulse control, so that they are extremely difficult to control," state attorneys wrote. Seven of the eight inmates alleging beatings have collected a total of 583 disciplinary infractions, state attorneys said.

That can't justify systematic beatings that violate the U.S. Constitution's prohibitions against cruel and unusual punishment, the inmates' lawyers contend. Medical records document that inmates who were segregated from other prisoners suffered blunt-force injuries, including broken bones, and concussions, attorneys said.

One violent beating on Dec. 3 left Peters in a wheelchair, according to the lawsuit. Peters, was handcuffed and escorted by two correctional officers from his cell to an outdoor recreation area when the lawsuit said one of the guards punched him in the face while the other grabbed a leg and pulled him the ground. The lawsuit said a third correctional officer then helped the other two kick, stomp and punch Peters.

Peters suffered a broken right hip and fractured bones in his hand and face. He underwent surgery, but remained unable to walk months later. Thursday, Peters entered the courtroom using a walker.

Lassiter was promoted in May to director of 12 prisons in the state's central region. Branker retired in 2011 after The Associated Press obtained a copy of a scathing internal review that found inmates with serious mental disorders were often kept in isolation for weeks, sometimes nude, in roach-infested cells smeared with human waste.

 

Charlotte Huffman

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