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VA Guards Indicted in Beatings

In September of 1993 Charles Coates, a prisoner in the Greensville Correctional Center at Jarratt, VA, was handcuffed and shackled when a prison guard lifted him up and slammed him to the floor face first. Coastes says he blacked out and when he awoke another guard was kneeling on his back while the first guard kicked him in the face, neck and ribs.

Douglas Brown, another Greensville prisoner who was also handcuffed and shackled at the time, says that when he saw the guards beating Coates he cursed at them. He was then also beaten while handcuffed, knocked to the floor and sustained head injuries requiring five stitches. Brown suffered neck injuries and required eleven stitches to close a laceration above one eye. Brown says the beatings were racially motivated because he and Coates are white and the officers, who are black, used racial slurs while beating them. PLN readers at the Greensville prison have reported that incidents of black guards verbally abusing white prisoners with racial slurs are common events.

Coates and Brown said they have been beaten on numerous other occasions. Brown had one of his front teeth knocked out in October of 1993 when a guard, with a pair of handcuffs wrapped around his knuckles, punched him in the face.

Partly as a result of the September, 1993 incident, attention was focused on a pattern of guard brutality at the Greensville prison, which opened in 1990. State investigators turned over evidence of 32 beating incidents at Greensville dating back to January of 1993 to the Greensville county prosecutor's office. Some of the incidents involve instances where guards have employed "goon squads" of prisoners to inflict beatings on other prisoners.

In October of 1994 Greensville guards Alphonso Smith, Larry Bynum, and Sgt. Benjamin Williams were indicted in connection with the September 1993 beatings of Coates and Brown. Another guard, Dennis Price, was charged with one count of malicious wounding stemming from an incident where he threw scalding water on a prisoner, resulting in third-degree burns on the prisoner's face, chest and stomach. The four guards were suspended without pay. Price later pleaded no contest and received a sentence of six months in jail, all but 30 days suspended. His employment was terminated.

In December of 1994, nine other Greensville guards and four prisoners were indicted on a total of 19 charges, including malicious wounding, conspiracy to commit malicious wounding and attempting to intimidate a witness. The prisoners were indicted on charges stemming from allegations that they participated in "goon squad" attacks on other prisoners at the direction of Greensville guards. The guards were all suspended without pay.

In February of 1995, Greensville county prosecutor, Neely Owen, dropped the charges against Sgt. Williams, involved in the September 1993 beating of Coates and Brown. Owen said that Sgt. Williams must "fully cooperate" in the prosecution of the other guards or face being re-indicted. Charges against two other guards were dropped in January, 1995. The remaining cases are scheduled for trial later this year.

Despite the fact that Virginia prison guards are under indictment for malicious wounding, VA DOC Director, Ron Angelone, is proposing to arm guards within prison security perimeters. Only two states, California and Nevada, currently allow prison guards within the security perimeter to carry firearms. Angelone instituted the policy while he was the director of the Nevada DOC. The Nevada DOC has been challenged for its "shoot to wound" policy, shooting at prisoners for infractions as minimal as "stepping out of line" on the way to the dining room. (See: PLN, Vol.5, No.7, July 1994). The California Dept of Corrections is currently under investigation by the FBI for its shooting policy. (See: PLN, Vol.6, No. 3 and Vol.6, No. 4, March and April 1995).

Richmond Times-Dispatch and letters from VA prisoners.

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