See also Lauren Kern's companion article, "Job Insecurity."
At five feet nine inches and 125 pounds, 23-year-old Mark Knox is slender, fair and redheaded, with a somewhat effeminate look about him, one that belies a history of violence and mental trouble. But by most accounts, Knox is one twisted little dude.
At the age of 14, he was shot in the stomach by his girlfriend. Two years later Knox was certified as an adult and was sentenced to 55 years in prison for raping a woman at fork-point in Wise County, northwest of Fort Worth. Prior to his conviction, Knox's family had committed him to mental hospitals at least a half dozen times.
In prison Knox exhibited aberrant sexual behavior; apparently he has a thing for tormenting prison nurses by masturbating in front of them. According to a memo in a Texas Department of Criminal Justice Internal Affairs Division file on the inmate, Knox seemed to get special pleasure from tormenting one particular nurse, Melissa Franks, by jerking off when she walked past his cell on medical rounds at the Estelle High Security Unit near Huntsville. By May 1999 three TDCJ guards may have had enough of Knox's routine when they allegedly decided to take matters into their own hands, so to speak, and mete out some jailhouse justice.
Gridiron Glory: The Best of Pro Football HOF -- 3PM-8PM
TicketsMon., Feb. 27, 3:00pm
Rice Owls Men's Baseball vs. Pepperdine Waves Men's Baseball
TicketsFri., Mar. 3, 6:30pm
Rice Owls Women's Basketball Single Game Tickets
TicketsSat., Mar. 4, 2:00pm
U Of H Men's Basketball Chart
TicketsSun., Mar. 5, 3:00pm
That month two guards escorted Knox from his solitary confinement cell at the Estelle High Security Unit to a secure medical holding area no bigger than a closet. Knox ostensibly was taken there to have an injured finger examined. But following the examination, Knox claims, guards shoved him to the floor, and three of them then struck him repeatedly in the face with their closed fists. One of the three also hit him with a nightstick, and a fourth kicked him in the face. Knox filed complaints against his keepers with prison officials, but neither Knox nor two of the guards was ever interviewed by TDCJ Internal Affairs. However, assault charges eventually were filed against Knox, not the guards.
While the prison brass obviously doesn't officially condone excessive use of force by guards, critics say they tolerate it and, worse, help cover it up by conducting investigations designed to clear their officers of wrongdoing. It is, prison reformers claim, a scenario that's played out over and over again in TDCJ: Inmates, some of whom admittedly are sorry excuses for human beings, are assaulted by guards -- some of whom are just as thuggish as the inmates they are hired to watch over. The state's Special Prosecutor's Office then files charges against the inmates, who are represented by an understaffed and outgunned State Counsel for Offenders Office, a public defenders office for prisoners whose budget is controlled by TDCJ. The result is that in most cases prisoners are found guilty and end up with more time added to their sentences.
In early 1999 the Houston office of the American Civil Liberties Union reported to the organization's state office that it had recently received a larger-than-ordinary number of complaints from prisoners about guard brutality -- particularly at the Estelle High Security Unit. One of TDCJ's "super seg" units, the Estelle High Security Unit was designed in response to escalating prison violence. Inmates there are housed behind solid steel doors 23 hours a day in solitary confinement, with an hour in a caged recreation yard as their only break. Estelle High Security is home to the system's most violent offenders as well as inmates who purposely became discipline problems in hopes of being placed in solitary confinement to avoid becoming another inmate's bitch.
In his ruling in the landmark lawsuit Ruiz v. Estelle, U.S. District Judge William Wayne Justice addressed the systematic constitutional shortcomings of Texas prisons. In his most recent decree, issued March 1, 1999, Justice noted that the reported incidences of use of force by guards in TDCJ had declined. In 1992 there were 122.2 incidents per 1,000 inmates. By 1998 that ratio had dropped to 56.3 incidents per 1,000 inmates. However, those numbers are based on TDCJ's general population; at administrative segregation units like Estelle High Security, the numbers are more alarming: 93 incidents per 1,000 inmates in 1998, or almost double the general population ratio.
Inmate letters to the ACLU seemed to bear out those numbers. After reviewing several of the prisoner complaints, state ACLU officials contacted the organization's Dallas chapter about recruiting private-sector lawyers to go to Estelle and investigate the charges. Attorneys Bruce Anton and Yolanda Torres agreed to take the assignment. On May 27, Torres, an attorney three years out of Southern Methodist University's law school, drove from Dallas to the Estelle High Security Unit and began interviewing prisoners who had written to the ACLU. Most, she recalls, had interesting stories, but most were secondhand accounts. Toward the end of the day, one prisoner finally told Torres that he knew of an inmate -- Knox -- who had just been beaten a couple of days earlier, and that he looked really bad. A few minutes later Knox was brought into the interview area. Torres was shocked by what she saw.
"He looked horrible," recalls Torres. "I've never seen anyone beaten so badly. The right side of his face, his eye area and his cheek were just all black. It was blacker than any black I've ever seen before, much less on a face. He had red marks on his forehead, and the other side of his face was discolored. It was horrifying."
Separated from Torres by a glass partition, Knox picked up the telephone headset in the small room and told the attorney the warts-and-all version of his beating and the events leading up to it.
During his previous five years in TDCJ, Knox had been transferred around the state from one prison to another. In May 1999, while housed at the Estelle High Security Unit, he injured his left middle finger on a metal shard. Prison medical staff treated the finger, and Knox says he didn't give it much more thought. But Knox told Torres that two officers came to his cell on May 24 and escorted him back to a small holding cell for a follow-up examination.
The exam was conducted by nurse Franks. In the weeks prior to the examination, Knox and Franks had engaged in some not-so-good-natured verbal sparring. Most recently, Knox had upped the stakes with some extremely lewd acts, comments and communiqués. According to a TDCJ Internal Affairs Division report, Franks observed Knox masturbating and ejaculating as she passed his cell on May 17. The nurse also claimed that Knox asked her if there was one or two s's in "Melissa" because he "was attempting to write her first name in semen on the inside of his cell door window with his penis." Franks tried to ignore Knox, but as she walked away, the inmate reportedly yelled, "That's all right, you fat bitch. I'm sending you an outline of my dick in the mail. It will have a surprise on it." The next day, Franks received an envelope. Inside it was a piece of paper with the outline of a penis. Yellow stains also allegedly covered the paper, which contained this message: "I fantasized about fucking you anally. Did you feel me? See you alone, soon."
According to the Internal Affairs Division report, Knox admitted making the crude remarks and sending the letter, but his attorney says Knox denies any knowledge of yellow stains on the paper. In a deposition, Knox made no apology for his actions; such arrogance may not have sat well with the guards. According to Knox, after nurse Franks completed her follow-up inspection of his finger, three guards -- officers Christopher Williams, Derick Van Buren and Lee Cox -- returned to the holding cell. Knox thought he was about to be taken back to his regular cell, so he turned his back to the cell door, got into a squatting position and stuck his hands through an opening in the door, the usual procedure before being handcuffed. But instead of handcuffing him, Knox says, the guards swung the door open and shoved him to the concrete floor.
First into the cell, says Knox, was Van Buren, who punched him in the face. Next came Williams, who, Knox says, also struck him about the face and head with his fists. Knox tried to protect himself by placing his head beneath a stool affixed to the cell floor, but the beating continued. Van Buren and Williams were joined by Cox, who began striking Knox in the back with his hands and a set of keys. Van Buren, says the prisoner, hit him in the head with a riot baton. Sergeant Robert Jenkins joined in by kicking Knox in the face. The inmate estimates the beating went on for four minutes. The guards then called for a videotape crew -- standard in any TDCJ use-of-force incident -- and took Knox back to the sick bay to be inspected again by the object of his perverted penmanship, nurse Franks.
The videotape shows Knox receiving a cursory examination by Franks and a couple of guards. On the tape, Knox is a mess. The right knee of his prison uniform is ripped open, there are bruises and welts across his forehead, and his right eye is beginning to swell shut. The camera stays on Knox as he is returned to his cell. As he walks down the prison hallway, Knox, bloodied but unbowed, just shakes his head and says to the guards, "You fucked up, black boys, you fucked up."
And they may well have. Three days after the alleged beating, Torres arrived at the prison looking for just such a case. Four months later Knox filed a $600,000 federal lawsuit against the four guards, the nurse and several other TDCJ officials, claiming that his civil rights had been violated. The Knox case, say ACLU officials, is an example of institutional guard brutality against inmates that the organization intends to magnify for public scrutiny through the Knox lawsuit and others.
"Once we prove this case in court, our contention [of guard brutality] will have a stamp of legitimacy," says Will Harrell, the new executive director of the Texas ACLU. "And then we can really educate the public about what happens in the prison system, and that, in turn, will hopefully affect the policy makers."
Outside the TDCJ prison ironically known as the Holliday Unit -- one of several prison units located in and around Huntsville -- is a large plastic sign that passing motorists can easily see as they cruise by the facility on Interstate 45. The advertisement encourages readers to "Be a Correctional Officer" by calling 1-800-WORK-4-TX.
Ever since the early 1990s, when the state of Texas embarked on an aggressive program of prison expansion, TDCJ has been unable to hire guards fast enough. During that period Christopher C. Williams, one of the defendants in the Knox lawsuit, landed a job watching over convicted felons for the Texas prison system.
As is often the case with TDCJ guards, when Williams hired on with the prison system in April 1995, he was following in the footsteps of his father and brother. But prior to taking a job for which he would be required to control the worst the state penal system has to offer, Williams had most recently worked in the mail room of a student loan services group in Huntsville. This medium-sized man with a shaved head had no law enforcement experience.
After working at several facilities during his first four years with the prison system, Williams found himself in 1999 assigned to the Estelle High Security Unit, where, in the opinion of the ACLU's Torres, he and some cohorts embarked on "a state-sanctioned crime spree" by dispensing their own brand of justice.
"I think it's one of these things where the guards know they can do it," says Torres. "They know they can cover it up."
But perhaps not this time, says Torres, who maintains the TDCJ use-of-force videotape will prove to be the officers' downfall. The attorney points out that Williams says in his deposition that at the conclusion of the medical examination he used his own handcuffs to secure Knox, and that the confrontation with Knox began when the inmate suddenly "came out of his handcuffs" and began kicking the officers. Torres contends that the videotape shows a pair of handcuffs in a pouch on Williams's hip. She charges that the videotape shows a pair of "throwdown" cuffs, an extra pair brought to the cell by the guards to make it appear that Knox had somehow gotten free of his restraints.
"It was complete pretext," says Torres.
TDCJ investigators disagree. Although state prison officials did not respond to the Houston Press's request for an interview about the Knox case, a TDCJ review of the altercation cleared the guards of wrongdoing, at least according to deposition testimony by Tommy Collier, a TDCJ Internal Affairs Division investigator. However, during his deposition this past August, under questioning by Torres, Collier admitted that his investigation did not include interviews with either Williams or Van Buren; nor did he bother to review the use-of-force video.
Torres: Do you understand -- from the investigation that you conducted, do you understand that Mr. Knox is claiming that he was in a holding cell uncuffed and that Williams and Van Buren and Cox rushed in and started assaulting him?
Collier: No, I do not.
Torres: That is in fact, what Mr. Knox claims. Now you told me last deposition that you didn't -- the only two people involved in -- the only two people that you haven't interviewed are Mr. Williams and Mr. Van Buren. Do you remember that?
Collier: Yes, I do.
Torres: Is that still accurate?
Collier: That is accurate.
Torres: Are you still attempting to interview them?
Collier: No, I'm not.
Torres: And why not?
Collier: My case has been finalized and turned in.
Torres: Without ever having interviewed them?
Later during the deposition, Collier also admitted not only that he had not talked to Knox or two of the four guards involved in the alleged assault, but also that he had initiated his investigation with a mind-set of proving Knox, not the guards, was guilty. Additionally Collier testified that he was unaware of the theory of the throwdown cuffs, although the investigator indicated that if there were such an allegation, he would consider it noteworthy.
"If [Williams] said he only had one pair of handcuffs and they were on the floor in the cell and he was found with a set of handcuffs on his hip, yeah, I'd find it curious, yes," Collier testified. Despite being informed of that allegation, Collier expressed no interest in reopening his investigation and went so far as to describe officers Van Buren and Williams, both of whom have left TDCJ, as fine employees.
"The TDC needs all the good officers they can get," stated Collier. "They did their job. They did a good job. They were good officers."
Other TDCJ officials apparently do not concur with Collier's assessment. Since the Knox incident in May 1999, three officers accused of assaulting the inmate have left the prison system. Cox quit to become an officer with the Mexia Police Department in Central Texas, and Van Buren resigned while still under investigation. Jenkins remains at Estelle High Security but now works the early shift, during which more supervisors are present. Williams, however, according to TDCJ records, resigned after prison officials recommended he be terminated -- not for his involvement in the Knox case, but in connection with several questionable items, or "souvenirs," as Williams calls them, that were discovered inside his car during a surprise inspection of vehicles at the Estelle High Security Unit.
According to a TDCJ reprimand form, prison officials at Estelle conducted a "shakedown of all vehicles entering" the unit on October 10, 1999. During a search of Williams's car, inspectors found, among other things, a couple of TDCJ-issue cans of pepper spray, an inmate's wallet with several of the prisoner's personal papers, and five inmate ID cards.
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.
"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.
"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.
In December 1995 TDCJ inmate Robert D. Sikes filed a federal lawsuit against guard Juan F. Gaytan. A convicted robber, Sikes maintained that in August of that year his left shoulder was dislocated during an assault by Gaytan at the Connally Unit in Kenedy, southeast of San Antonio, after he accidentally spit on another officer. A jury agreed with Sikes and awarded him $250,000. The judge ruled that Sikes's court-appointed lawyer should receive $95,000 in legal fees, but the state hasn't ponied up yet.
"The attorney general's office, with all of its resources, puts you through all sort of a hell," says Per Ann Hardy, Sikes's attorney. "And then when you win, they walk away and say, "Oh, you sued the guards; [the state] has no liability. Collect it from the guards.' "
"It is a David and Goliath situation," says Hardy.
But even though the state refused to pay up, Hardy says sometimes the truth prevails. Other times the truth is stranger than fiction. At least that was the case in the other federal courtroom victory over TDCJ.
In 1995 San Antonio attorney Glen Magnum was appointed to represent inmate Timothy Bolk, who was serving time for aggravated robbery and burglary. During a period of two years or so, while working on a TDCJ field crew out of the Briscoe Unit near Dilley, Bolk was assigned the unenviable task of picking up rattlesnakes that other inmate field workers would pin to the ground with their hoes. Bolk eventually was bitten by one of the rattlers. Bolk survived, but Magnum says his client continued to have physical and emotional problems for three months afterward, but TDCJ officials denied any responsibility for the accident.
"Their story," says Magnum with a laugh, "was that not only did they not order him to pick up the rattlesnakes, they ordered him to stay away from rattlesnakes. That he had some kind of fascination with snakes that caused him to approach them and pick them up while they were still alive. My reaction was, "You've got to be kidding. You're actually going to go with this story at trial?' "
The state attorneys did, and they lost -- sort of. Although the jury ruled in Bolk's favor, it refused to award him any money.
"The problem," sympathizes Hardy, "is that these individual correctional officers have available to them the awesome resources of the attorney general's office of the state of Texas. These guys provide these services to the correctional officers like there's no tomorrow. But when a judgment is rendered against the individual, the state says it has no obligation to pay. There needs to be some overall changes in the law. You can't expect private attorneys to do this for nothing. But as long as TDCJ can get away with not having to pay, they won't have the motivation not to hire the type of guards that do what these guards have been doing."
The bottom line is that because of state law, it's much easier to prove that an individual guard or guards have violated an inmate's civil rights than it is to prove that the policies of a prison system are intentionally unconstitutional. That explains why, in the Knox case, U.S. District Judge Sim Lake recently dismissed the TDCJ's executive director, Gary Johnson, and several other top prison officials as defendants; the case is still pending in Lake's court. What's more, despite the reforms brought about by the Ruiz case, Judge Justice, in his most recent ruling, concedes that excessive use of force by TDCJ guards remains a serious problem.
"It is found that in numerous cases brought before the court," wrote Justice, "there was no justification for use of force by TDCJ officers. In some situations, use of force was appropriate, but the force was entirely disproportional to the circumstances in which it was imposed.In TDCJ penal institutions, the prevalence of excessive use of force constitutes cruel and unusual punishment." The judge added that "despite their pleas to prison officials, [prisoners] are refused protection." "Instead," he continued, "they pay for protection, in money, services, or sex. Correctional officers continue to rely on the physical control of excessive force to enforce order."
Watchdogs like the ACLU's Harrell agree, saying that abuse of inmates is a continuing problem, one exacerbated by massive prison expansion. But Harrell hopes that the lawsuits recently filed by his organization, like Knox's, and those to come, will serve as a warning to TDCJ and its employees.
"We are going to win this case," says Harrell, "and the individual officers are going to be taught a lesson. We want to take this case and educate actors in the system who are just like officers Williams and Van Buren who will know that there are people like the ACLU watching their steps, and there are consequences. We are stepping up our assault on the criminal justice system of Texas."
Get the ICYMI: Today's Top Stories Newsletter Our daily newsletter delivers quick clicks to keep you in the know
Catch up on the day's news and stay informed with our daily digest of the most popular news, music, food and arts stories in Houston, delivered to your inbox Monday through Friday.