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Suit Seeks to Expose BOP 'Suicide' Cover-up

A former U.S. Congressman and his organization are offering a $10,000 reward in the death of Kenneth Michael Trentadue. Congressman George Hansen says the U.S. Citizens Human Rights Commission is offering the money for the identification, indictment and conviction of the people responsible for Trentadue's death.

One fact is not in dispute. Kenneth Michael Trentadue died at the Federal Transfer Center (FTC), operated by the Federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP), in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, during the evening of August 20, or the early morning hours of August 21, 1995. How he died is the question that won't go away. Perhaps the BOP and Department of Justice hoped Kenneth's death wouldn't arouse any suspicion or garner much scrutiny. Maybe they thought the incident would fade away and be forgotten. If that's what they believed, they were wrong. Dead wrong.

Kenneth's family didn't believe the BOP's claim that Kenneth committed suicide. They refused the BOP's repeated offers to cremate the body. They contacted the media, hired investigators, got Amnesty International involved, wrote letters to politicians, filed Freedom of Information Act requests. They demanded justice. They didn't give up. And on May 22, 1997, they filed suit in federal court.

It took a year of struggle on the family's part before the story broke nationally in the September 1996 issue of GQ Magazine. A federal grand jury was convened [which, as we go to press has not released its findings]. On April 11, 1997, Dateline NBC aired a critical examination into the suspicious nature of Kenneth's death.

Two and a half weeks later, Janet Reno sat before the Senate Judiciary Committee. Senator Orrin Hatch grilled Reno, citing a litany of suspicious actions by the BOP and DOJ. Hatch said he was afraid Reno was not taking the case seriously and the FBI, BOP, and DOJ -- all under Reno's supervision were not diligently pursuing the investigation.

"I think this matter deserves to be brought to a fruitful conclusion," Hatch told Reno. "And it's apparent to me that -that not only are these facts suspicious, but it looks as though somebody in the Bureau of Prisons or somebody having relationships with the Bureau of Prisons murdered the man."

Reno wouldn't comment on the facts of the case but assured Hatch the DOJ would "do everything we can to see that the matter is vigorously pursued."

But who are the pursuers and the pursued? It would appear that the only ones "vigorously pursuing" the investigation are Kenneth's family and their supporters. In this instance, Reno and those under her in the federal justice bureaucracy are the ones on the run.

"They can't do a good investigation," Kenneth's brother, Jesse Trentadue, told PLN after the Hatch hearings. "I don't see how they can get out of it. Personally, I think they're afraid now -- the higher ups are."

The suit filed by the family names as defendants: "The United States of America, U.S. Dept. of Justice, Federal Bureau of Prisons, FBI, Kathleen M. Hawk, Wallace H. Cheney, Charles Turnbo, Michael D. Hood, Robert Guzik, Thomas R. Kindt, Marie J. Carter, Kenneth Freeman, Stuart Lee, Rodney De Champlain, Bryan Donnelly, Carlos Mier, John Does 1-10 and Jane Does 1-4.

Freeman, Lee, De Champlain, and Donnelly are BOP guards who worked at the FTC, and Mier was an FTC physician's assistant there the night Kenneth Trentadue died. "We think we know who most of the John [and Jane] Does are," Jesse Trentadue told PLN. "I've heard from enough prisoners who were there [at the FTC] to know which guards are the 'cowboy' types. So far, though, we haven't been able to force the BOP to release the names of the guards who worked the shift when my brother was killed."

A number of factual allegations are raised in the suit, including:

On the morning of August 21, 1995, an investigator from the Oklahoma State Medical Examiner's Office arrived at the FTC and demanded to inspect the cell in which Kenneth Trentadue died. That investigator, however, was turned away by BOP agents.

On the afternoon of August 21, 1995, the defendants cleaned and "sanitized" the cell where Kenneth Trentadue died, in direct contravention of both BOP policy requiring that evidence at the scene of a suspected prisoner suicide be preserved "with the same level of protection as any crime scene..." and Oklahoma state law that the scene of a death "shall not be disturbed until authorized by the Chief Medical Examiner..."

On the morning of August 21, 1995, the FBI took possession of Kenneth Trentadue s clothing and other evidence which was supposed to undergo DNA analysis. An FBI agent, however, threw that evidence in the trunk of an automobile where it remained for approximately three weeks until its value for DNA analysis was lost or destroyed.

Numerous photographs and a videotape were made of Kenneth Trentadue's body and the cell in which he supposedly died on the morning of August 21, 1995. This photographic evidence, however, was thereafter destroyed by the individual defendants.

The FTC has surveillance cameras showing the entrance to the SHU where Kenneth Trentadue supposedly died. The tapes from these surveillance cameras taken on the morning of August 21, 1995 were destroyed.

Witnesses of Trentadue's death, including BOP guards, were ordered by the individual defendants to be dispersed and sent to other institutions. Likewise, prisoners with information about the death of Kenneth Trentadue have been and still are being threatened, harassed, and intimidated into silence by orders from the individual defendants.

The plaintiffs contend that "within the South Central Region of the BOP, the U.S. Dept. of Justice, BOP, and/or FBI has an invidious and discriminatory custom, practice or policy of protecting employees and/or guards who have intentionally beaten and/or otherwise violated the civil rights of inmates."

PLN readers who can provide information about a pattern of BOP brutality in the South Central Region (federal prisons in Oklahoma and Texas) are encouraged to contact the plaintiffs' attorney: Charles P. Sampson, Esq.; Suitter Axland, 175 South West Temple, Suite 700; Salt Lake City, UT 84101-1480.

PLN will keep our readers posted on the progress and outcome of this suit.

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