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.

"As he was punching me," writes Mazy, "he said, "Your gonna start keeping that nigger word out of your mouth!' He then spit in my face and pulled a handful of hair out of my scalp."

It's noteworthy that Mazy's lawsuit against Williams and King was filed before the inmate learned of Williams's souvenir collection -- including the clump of his own hair. Mazy's suit is making its way through the federal court system in the Southern District of Texas, as is another inmate suit against Williams. In October 1999, with the help of Torres and the ACLU, TDCJ prisoner Eric Shaw filed a lawsuit that seeks $625,000 from Williams and another guard, Jeffrey M. Slaughter, for a beating they allegedly gave Shaw while he was working as a porter at the Estelle High Security Unit.

The suit claims that on June 22, 1999, just eight days before Williams's alleged attack on Mazy, Shaw -- who was classified as a Level 1, Line Class 1 prisoner; in other words, a well-behaved inmate who did not pose a threat to himself, other prisoners or guards -- had received his work assignment when he was ordered by Sergeant Robert Jenkins (the same Jenkins from the Knox lawsuit) to retrieve two food trays from the prison kitchen. In Jenkins's presence, officer Williams, who had less rank than Jenkins, ordered Shaw to fetch a mop and bucket and take them to a triage room on the prison's G-wing. According to the lawsuit, the prisoner informed Williams that he had to carry out his assignment from Jenkins first, but would take the mop and bucket to the triage room as soon as he was finished. At that point Williams allegedly became enraged and told the inmate that unless he carried out his order immediately, he would "slam" him -- prison slang for throwing a prisoner to the floor and assaulting him. The lawsuit claims this "is an everyday occurrence at the Estelle High Security, and indeed throughout the Texas Department of Criminal Justice."

Following Williams's threat, Jenkins apparently decided to aggravate the situation by instructing Shaw once again to retrieve the food trays from the kitchen. Instead, Shaw proceeded to get a mop and bucket and head to the triage room. There, he found officers Williams and Slaughter and a floor covered with some sort of liquid. As he began mopping the floor, Shaw claims, the two officers approached him, one from the front and one from behind. Both, he says, began punching him with their fists. As the inmate fell to the floor, the guards then began kicking him. The beating, Shaw says, went on for approximately five minutes. After that, the guards allegedly placed leg irons on the inmate's ankles, then hog-tied him by chaining his ankles to his wrists behind his back. The beating promptly resumed, causing Shaw to lose consciousness for a brief time. Shaw claims he suffered a broken and bloodied nose, a damaged knee, and cuts and bruises on his face, head and the inside of his mouth. He says he was unable to walk without assistance.

The unprovoked assault ended, the inmate says, when the two guards summoned supervisors and the requisite video camera to the scene. Two captains, Darryl Maurice Luker and Frankie L. Reescano, answered the call. When they asked the two guards why they had beaten Shaw, the supervisors were told that Shaw had taken a swing at Slaughter.

Shaw was untied and taken to the prison emergency room, where, he says, he was cleaned up by a nurse but never examined by a doctor. He was then placed in a holding cell where Reescano questioned him about the incident. After explaining to the captain that he had been attacked for no reason, Shaw says, Reescano told him that if he would "forget about it," the captain would do the same. But when Shaw informed the captain that he had no intention of forgetting, Reescano apparently forgot about the inmate anyway, leaving him in the holding cell for four and a half hours without additional medical treatment. Later that day Shaw finally received stitches around both eyes and to the inside of his mouth. He was then placed in solitary confinement for 13 or 14 days. During that time, Shaw says, he was in severe pain because of the beating, but his repeated requests for additional medical attention were ignored.

Eventually Shaw -- not the guards -- was charged with assault. He says that on June 27, 1999, while in solitary confinement, he was visited by Estelle Unit assistant warden Robert Chance, who asked the inmate what had happened during the altercation. Shaw told Chance the guards attacked him without provocation. The assistant warden, says Shaw, told him that he didn't believe him but that he would refer the matter to Internal Affairs. The case was assigned to investigator Tommy Collier, the same guy who had conducted the half-assed investigation of the Knox incident. According to Shaw's lawsuit, it's not surprising, Collier exonerated the two guards. Shaw's federal lawsuit is still pending against Williams and Slaughter.

Williams, however, is not the only guard from the Knox case who is being sued by other TDCJ prisoners. Inmates Ezra T. West and Dwayne K. Chapman have filed separate actions against Derick Van Buren. Additionally, inmate David Allen Kerr has filed a lawsuit against officer Casey Sherman (who, according to the ACLU's Torres, made the videotape of the aftermath of Knox's altercation) and officer Thomas Gil (who Torres says was working a guard station near the site of the Knox incident at the time it occurred). Like the other officers involved in the Knox case, Gil and Sherman were supervised by Jenkins at the Estelle High Security Unit. All three lawsuits allege the use of excessive force by the officers, just like the Knox, Mazy and Shaw lawsuits against TDCJ. While all of those suits are still making their way through the federal court pipeline, at least two inmates within the past year have seen federal court juries side with them in their accusations against the Texas Department of Criminal Justice.

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