Unnecessary Roughness

Inmate Mark Knox claims Texas prison guards brutalized him. The ACLU fears that in an expanding and unwieldy TDCJ system Knox is far from alone.

Additionally officials found in the car 36 Polaroid photographs showing Williams engaged in various forms of questionable conduct. Among them there is a shot of Williams at the warden's desk with his feet up, and another shot of Williams making rabbit ears behind an unidentified inmate passed out in a wheelchair. Yet another Polaroid shows an inmate crammed into an overhead cabinet. Perhaps the most disturbing items of the lot are a photograph of inmate James Mazy, who appears to have just taken a severe beating to the head and face, a clump of Mazy's hair in a plastic bag and a photograph of a blood-splattered cell.

Nineteen days after the discovery of the contraband in his vehicle, Williams submitted a written statement to the warden. In it Williams acknowledges that all the photos of himself had been taken by officer Van Buren at Williams's request. All the others were taken by Williams. He kept them because he "fell into the mind-set that all "hard or real officers' had their own collections of memories with the state."

As for Mazy's hair, Williams claims he came into possession of the clump -- "strands," as he calls them -- when the inmate's mane got tangled in the guard's wristwatch during a justified altercation. The identification cards, he states, were confiscated from the five prisoners for infractions that he later considered too minor to pursue. He says he inadvertently took the cards home.

James Mazy lost some of his hair in a fight with Williams, who kept the hair as a "souvenir."
James Mazy lost some of his hair in a fight with Williams, who kept the hair as a "souvenir."

"I did not return them," he says, "because I did not know if I would have to face consequences for taking them home. I also did not want to appear "weak' by other officers for bringing the cards back."

"I think it's very odd," says Torres, about Williams's collection of personal items. While questioning Williams during his deposition in connection with the Knox lawsuit, Torres asked the former guard if he had ever taken souvenirs from his previous job working in the mail room or in his current occupation as a telephone solicitor. In both cases, Williams said he had not.

The Houston Press filed a Texas Open Records Act request to determine if any of the five inmates whose identification cards were discovered in Williams's possession -- or any other inmates, for that matter -- had filed complaints against Williams or any of the officers involved in the Knox incident. In a letter to the Press, Leonard Peck, TDCJ assistant general counsel, who himself was at one time a defendant in the Knox lawsuit, informed the Press that TDCJ had appealed the paper's request to the state attorney general's office. Peck did provide the Press with a list of use-of-force complaints filed against the guards. Since 1998, eight complaints have been filed against Williams. Twenty-three complaints have been filed against Jenkins since 1988. From 1998 to 1999, six were filed against Cox. Since 1997, 12 have been filed against Van Buren. Out of all the cases, two complaints were sustained against Jenkins, and one against Van Buren. However, in his deposition Williams acknowledges that in addition to the Knox incident, prisoners filed up to ten abuse complaints against him during his brief career as a prison guard. At least a couple of them also have resulted in lawsuits.

Jenkins, Williams and Cox did not respond to phone calls from the Press. The paper was unable to contact Van Buren. The Press also attempted to interview Knox, but TDCJ refused to grant permission, citing Knox's history of mental problems. Apparently TDCJ believes Knox is too crazy to talk with the media but sane enough to stand trial on assault charges.

(The attorney general's office also has yet to respond to an Open Records request by the Press that seeks the amount of money the state has spent on the Knox case, as well as how much it has cost the state to defend TDCJ employees in other such lawsuits during the past five years.)

In June 1999, approximately two months after the Knox incident, and at the same Estelle High Security Unit, James Mazy allegedly got his own taste of prison justice at the hands of Christopher Williams. He received an old-fashioned ass-whipping and lost a chunk of hair.

According to his federal lawsuit, at approximately 7 p.m. on June 30, Mazy, who is white, was ordered by Williams to pack up his belongings in preparation for relocation to a different cell. A short time later Williams and a fellow African-American guard, Patrick King, removed Mazy from his cell. The guards then escorted Mazy and another inmate already with them, who is black, through the cell block. All the while, Mazy claims, numerous black inmates were shouting profanities at him and saying things like "Call him a nigger now." Mazy screamed out racial slurs and profanities in return.

As they made their way down the prison corridor, Mazy claims, King told him he was "going to have to ease up off that nigger word." Mazy says King then grabbed him and threw him to the floor face first. While King held him down, Mazy alleges, Williams came up from behind, grabbed him by the hair and began punching him in the head and face.

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