Perdido 03

Perdido 03

Sunday, September 13, 2015

Cuomo Downplays Prisoner Abuse, Beating Death Of Fishkill Inmate

The news media has been largely ignoring the allegations of prisoner abuse in the state prison system that the NY Times reported this summer.

There have been 60+ allegations of prisoners being beaten, choked, and threatened with waterboarding by guards at Clinton Correction after the June escape of two convicted murderers, both of whom were later caught (with one killed in the process.)

There is also the allegation that a prisoner at Fishkill was beaten to death by guards known as the "Beat Up Squad," then the homicide covered up with the story that the prisoner died as a result of synthetic marijuana use.

Matthews Chayes of Newsday got Cuomo on the record about these allegations and predictably, "criminal justice reform leader Cuomo" downplayed the allegations.

Here is the Newsday story, in full (it's behind a paywall so I want to put the whole story up for readers):

Gov. Andrew Cuomo, addressing allegations of medieval beatings in the state prison system, said Friday that correction officers, who work a tough job, "have to make sure they get a certain amount of respect in the job, otherwise they get hurt."

Investigators are probing claims by inmates in at least two state prisons that officers exacted unnecessary beatings, including one by a "Beat Up Squad" that left a prisoner dead and is being scrutinized by federal prosecutors.  
Asked whether the state prison system has a brutality problem, Cuomo said, at an unrelated event at Ground Zero, "Well, state prisons have brutal people in them. So, unless you call that a brutality problem, no. State prisons are very difficult to manage, state prisons are filled with very dangerous people.
"They are policed by a relatively small number of correction officials -- who are unarmed, I might add. It is a very, very difficult job. They have to make sure they get a certain amount of respect in the job, otherwise they get hurt. So, I think they're doing a good job.
"To the extent there is an incident that has to be looked into, then we look into that incident. But you're managing dozens of facilities with tens of thousands of people, don't take one or two alleged incidents -- and they're only alleged -- ...and then take a broad brush and make a general statement."
Inmates at the Clinton Correctional Facility charge that after two murderers staged a daring escape earlier this year, guards exacted days of retribution by brutalizing other prisoners and violently interrogating them about what they knew, or didn't know.
The U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York, Preet Bharara, is involved in a separate probe at the Fishkill Correctional Facility of the death of a bipolar prisoner, allegedly at the hands of as many as 20 guards who were said to have punched, kicked, and threw or dragged a black inmate down the stairs while shouting racial slurs. 
The labor union representing the officers has urged against a rush to judgement, "rather than simply relying on allegations made by a handful of violent convicted felons," according to The New York Times.

One or two alleged incidents?

Try 60+ beating/choking/threatened with waterboarding incidents and one homicide.

That's not one or two incidents.

And according to the NY Times, one of the prisoners who was beaten, choked and threatened with waterboarding had it happen to him just hours after Cuomo himself "stared" him down:

Night had fallen at the Clinton Correctional Facility in far northern New York when the prison guards came for Patrick Alexander. They handcuffed him and took him into a broom closet for questioning. Then, Mr. Alexander said in an interview last week, the beatings began.

As the three guards, who wore no name badges, punched him and slammed his head against the wall, he said they shouted questions: “Where are they going? What did you hear? How much are they paying you to keep your mouth shut?” One of the guards put a plastic bag over his head, Mr. Alexander said, and threatened to waterboard him.

Hours earlier, Richard W. Matt and David Sweat had made their daring escape from the unit — called the “honor block” — where they were housed. Now it appeared that Mr. Alexander, a fellow convicted murderer who lived in an adjoining cell, was being made to suffer the consequences.


Mr. Alexander got the news at Shawangunk Correctional Facility in Ulster County, where he had been transferred. He said he had earned his place on the Clinton honor block because he had not been written up for any serious infractions since entering the prison system in 2004. He occupied the cell next to Mr. Matt, who was in prison for murdering his boss and then cutting up the body. (Long before he cut his way out of prison, Mr. Matt was known around Clinton by the nickname Hacksaw.)
For Mr. Alexander, his cell’s location apparently made him a target for investigators.

The night of the escape, Mr. Alexander said, he worked late at the tailor shop, and when he returned to his cell around 9:45 p.m., Mr. Matt gave him bowls of salad and fried chicken that had been bought at the commissary. “He told me: ‘Don’t worry about it. I’ll get the bowls from you in the morning,’ ” Mr. Alexander recalled.

He said he was awakened around 5:15 a.m. for the morning count. “The officer comes banging on the bars,” he said. “He goes to Matt’s cell and bangs on the bars, and then he leaves and he bangs on Dave’s bars.” When there was no response, he said, a sergeant and several guards rushed up and down the cellblock shouting to one another that two inmates were gone.

“The sergeant comes over to me: ‘You hear something? You had to hear something,’ ” Mr. Alexander recalled.

It would be several hours before the first details of the escape were made public. Around 11 a.m., Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo toured the honor block and inspected the holes the inmates had cut in the backs of their cells with hacksaw blades.

Governor’s Stare

The governor then stopped to question Mr. Alexander.

“Must have kept you awake with all that cutting, huh?” Mr. Cuomo asked, according to video of the exchange. Then, Mr. Alexander said, the governor “gave me his best tough-guy stare and walked off.”

Later, the governor said he would be “shocked” if any corrections officers had been involved.
Twice during the day of the escape, Mr. Alexander said he was questioned by investigators from the State Police and the corrections department inspector general’s office.

Then, around 8 p.m., he was handcuffed and taken to a broom closet where, he said, three corrections officers whom he had never seen before interrogated him. An officer wearing a jacket with the initials C.I.U. — Crisis Intervention Unit — sat down and asked him, “Do you know the difference between this interview and those other interviews?” Mr. Alexander recalled.

This time, the officer warned, there were only uniformed guards in the room, Mr. Alexander said.

“The officer jumps up and grabs me by my throat, lifts me out of the chair, slams my head into the pipe along the wall,” he said. “Then he starts punching me in the face. The other two get up and start hitting me also in the ribs and stomach.”

With each punch, Mr. Alexander said, the officers shouted another question.

“The whole time he’s holding me up by my throat,” he added.

When Mr. Alexander repeatedly insisted that he had no information, one officer pointed to a plastic bag hanging on some pipes, asked if he knew what it was for and said, “You know what waterboarding is?” Mr. Alexander recalled.

The officer then put the bag over his head and started beating him again, Mr. Alexander said.
He said the interrogation lasted about 20 minutes, and he was then taken, bleeding, back to his cell.

Later, Mr. Alexander said, the same officer “began quietly taunting and threatening me, telling me, ‘Don’t worry, Fat Boy, we’ll be seeing you really soon.’ ”

That's one of the allegations, one with a direct connection to Cuomo himself.

There are at least 59 others at Clinton Correctional.

So, "one or two alleged incidents" that need to be looked into?

Try 60+.

As for the Fishkill incident, here's how the Times reported that:

On the evening of April 21 in Building 21 at the Fishkill Correctional Facility, Samuel Harrell, an inmate with a history of erratic behavior linked to bipolar disorder, packed his bags and announced he was going home, though he still had several years left to serve on his drug sentence.

Not long after, he got into a confrontation with corrections officers, was thrown to the floor and was handcuffed. As many as 20 officers — including members of a group known around the prison as the Beat Up Squad — repeatedly kicked and punched Mr. Harrell, who is black, with some of them shouting racial slurs, according to more than a dozen inmate witnesses. “Like he was a trampoline, they were jumping on him,” said Edwin Pearson, an inmate who watched from a nearby bathroom.
Mr. Harrell was then thrown or dragged down a staircase, according to the inmates’ accounts. One inmate reported seeing him lying on the landing, “bent in an impossible position.”

“His eyes were open,” the inmate wrote, “but they weren’t looking at anything.”

Corrections officers called for an ambulance, but according to medical records, the officers mentioned nothing about a physical encounter. Rather, the records showed, they told the ambulance crew that Mr. Harrell probably had an overdose of K2, a synthetic marijuana.

He was taken to St. Luke’s Cornwall Hospital and at 10:19 p.m. was pronounced dead.

In the four months since, state corrections officials have provided only the barest details about what happened at Fishkill, a medium-security prison in Beacon, N.Y., about 60 miles north of New York City. Citing a continuing investigation by the State Police, officials for weeks had declined to comment on the inmates’ accounts of a beating.

An autopsy report by the Orange County medical examiner, obtained by The New York Times, concluded that Mr. Harrell, 30, had cuts and bruises to the head and extremities and had no illicit drugs in his system, only an antidepressant and tobacco. He died of cardiac arrhythmia, the autopsy report said, “following physical altercation with corrections officers.”

The manner of death: Homicide.

Does that sound like an incident that can be downplayed as just an "allegation" by "violent prisoners"?

That's what Cuomo's doing in his comments.

Fortunately Preet Bharara and the local D.A. are looking into the matter:

ALBANY — U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara is investigating the death of an inmate at the state's Fishkill prison.

The Manhattan-based federal prosecutor said in a statement that a joint probe with Dutchess County District Attorney William Grady is investigating the death of Samuel Harrell, who died after several prison guards beat him, according to affidavits from more than a dozen other prisoners first reported by The New York Times.

State officials announced Tuesday that Fishkill was getting a new superintendent whose mandate would include reviewing “all safety concerns” in the building where Harrell died. The Correctional Association, an advocacy group with a legislative mandate to inspect state prisons, had called on the U.S. Department of Justice to launch a probe of conditions in the state's prison system, citing a “pervasive culture of violence and abuse.”

A pervasive culture of violence and abuse in the state prison system, but Cuomo says it's just a couple of allegations, no big deal.

Congressman Hakeem Jeffries, a criminal justice reform advocate when it comes to the city jails, gave Cuomo an Urban League award for being a "leader" in "criminal justice reform" just days before these allegations of beatings, choking, threats of waterboarding and the Fishkill homicide were reported by the Times.

Jeffries hasn't said a word since about the “pervasive culture of violence and abuse" in the state prison system or the reports of beatings, chokings and at least one homicide that were reported by the NY Times.

The Urban League hasn't taken back its award from Cuomo yet either.

They continue to carry water for Governor Cuomo and his "leadership" in criminal justice reforms even as he runs a state prison system that is described as "medieval" in the beatings handed out by the guards.

But at least one member of the news media got Cuomo on the record about the allegations.

Now we know that Cuomo, the criminal justice reform leader, doesn't think much about any of this since he downplays 60+ allegations of prisoner abuse and one homicide to "one or two alleged incidents."


  1. Whats shocking to me here, after, of course, the horrors of what goes on in our prisons in this state which is truly what many would consider third world, is that Cuomo has no problem vigorously defending a unionized group of state workers when he doesn't have an agenda to do away with them. In fact he is willing to deploy some very ugly, gnarly defenses for them. He's willing to play dirty to stand up for some unionized folk it seems!

    We as teachers should take note of this. I'm sure there is lots of money out there he could have courted to privatize the prison system here in NY. Why did he choose to pick a fight with the teachers instead and go after the school privatizing money? I'd argue that the school privatizing money is larger (which says something), and allows him to play the "reform-minded democrat who cares about kids" angle. Also, and I don't think this is insignificant...he picked a fight with us because he thinks he can win. The corrections officers union, if you notice, never look for seats at the table. They always vigorously defend (same with the police unions). I mean to a deeply troubling extent, these unions never give any ground. And then there are the teachers. I bet part of Cuomo's calculus was that he figured the teachers unions would work to get a "seat at the table" and "be part of the solutions" and that our membership was not ready for any hard fights. In short, he figured mostly right and has played us like a well-tuned fiddle. The angry parents were the only thing he didn't count on. Us organized teachers, he figured it right.

  2. The corrections officers have been dumped on for years. Cuomo has been closing prisons which has made a very dangerous work environment for officers. I am not defending what happened in Fishkill, but let's not pretend that Cuomo has not attacked other professions in the state. The CO union has been fighting for years for fair pay and safer working conditions. Cuomo has ignored the problems and only recently became visible with the Clinton escape. He actually did a great deal of harm when he delayed the search so he could have his photo op in the prison.

  3. Gov. Cuomo only supports what he thinks will benefit him. After reading his statement about the death and brutal beatings being "alleged" i have no respect for him. Those inmates are still human and have families. Their punishment begin when their sentence was given. They are paying for their crimes. Cuomo must feel his prison system has the right to determine if an inmate lives or dies. I am sure some of your voters have an incarcerated family member(s). Do you think your uncaring attitude is a good look? But really you probably don't care. There is evidence and witness of all your so called "alleged." Gov. Cuomo must can't read or is expert at turning his back in the truth. Correctional officers should be charged!!!!!! They are violent criminals hidding behind that fake badge!!!!!!

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  5. The beatings and corruption of our so called "legal system" is over the top corrupt. People close their eyes and the ruling parties know it. Shame on Cuomo... shame shame shame on him. The amount of prisoners beat, abused, and killed by C.O's happen over and over. Shame on USA for being so Barbaric