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Sex, Drugs, and Beatings at Boston Jails

by Matthew T. Clarke

A pattern of sexual abuse, bru-tality, drug smuggling, improper guard/prisoner relationships, and other official malfeasance at the jails in Suffolk County, Massachusetts, has raised serious questions about the leadership abilities of Suffolk County Sheriff Richard J. Rouse.

Sex, Lies, But No Videotape at South Bay

Karen Passanisi, Marcia Smith, Lucy Diaz, Maria Perez, and Anna Marie Turavani, were among the former prisoners at Suffolk County House of Correction, South Bay, who described a lax environment of flirting between prisoners and guards which led to forcible rapes of prisoners by guards, "sanctioned" sex between male and female prisoners, illegal consensual sex between guards and prisoners, and prisoners "loaning" guards money in exchange for favors.

Passanisi, a former escort who had been imprisoned for a drug offense, described how initial flirtation with guard Robert Parise led to his invading her cell and digitally penetrating her while she slept. She awoke to him pulling his hands out-of her pants and immediately ordered him out of her cell. Passanisi, who is represented by attorney Anthony J. Antonellis, filed a lawsuit against the sheriff's department which also accuses Parise of "hogtying" her with earphone wires.

Passanisi also related how guards stood watch for supervisors while she and a male prisoner had sex and how Parise arranged for her to have oral sex with a male nurse, leading her to the infirmary and shutting her inside with the nurse who forced her to have oral sex. Massachusetts is one of thirty-nine states that defines sex between a guard and prisoner as felony rape since prisoners are considered incapable of giving consent to a person who has so much authority over them.

In 1998, during her eleven-months of incarceration at South Bay, Passanisi said that she ate home-fried chicken provided by a guard, bought heroin from a prisoner, and had multiple sexual encounters with a prisoner named "Johnny" while guards stood lookout, flicking the lights as a warning should supervisors appear.

In a deposition, Deputy Superintendent Marie Lockhart admitted the existence of a commonly-known signal used by guards to warn each other that supervisors are coming: They blow into their radios.

Rouse insists that the misconduct is an anomaly. However, sources within the department assert that it lacks the basics in guard training and discipline necessary to properly run a prison. After extensive investigation of Rouse's nearly five-year stewardship the Boston Globe concluded that "he presides over an insular hierarchy that tolerates low standards and systemic abuses" with Rouse taking "a decidedly lackadaisical approach to his position."

Rouse refuses to take any personal responsibility for the problems in the department. When referring to three deputy sheriffs accused of beatings and a cover-up, he said, "I don't vouch for them personally." Rouse continues to claim that the problems are the result of a few bad apples within the department.

Jamie Suarez-Potts, Criminal Justice Program Coordinator for the American Friends' Service Committeea prisoner advocate group, summed it up thusly: "There is a culture inside of the institution that's allowing this to take place. It's more than a few bad apples. You have to think of it more as a bad apple tree."

Ironically, South Bay opened on December 26, 1991, as a $115 million 21st-century showcase prison. It replaced the ancient Deer Island facility. Unlike Deer Island (the location of the Suffolk County incarceration facilities since the Colonial era), South Bay has locks on solid cell doors instead of bars, uses computerized cards rather than keys, and houses both male and female prisoners. Yet, within nine months of its opening, allegations emerged of guards in the model facility abusing their authority by acting as sexual predators. The response from officials was to cover up, to do nothing, or in the case of guard Deyanira Feliz (who reported that guard Richard Powers was treating prisoner Lucy Diaz to early-morning coffee, extra food, and t-shirts) to harass the person making the report. In 1991, Feliz's reports were a part of a discrimination suit Diaz filed with the Massachusetts Committee Against Discrimination accusing Powers of retaliating against her after she spoke out and claiming the Sheriff's department condoned the retaliation. Feliz suffered a retaliatory transfer and marginalization as a snitch. She still works in an environment of isolation from her fellow workers.

"It says, `Keep your mouth shut and just look the other way,'" said Feliz commenting on the department's reaction to her report. She sadly noted that she doesn't know if she would report the misconduct if she had to do it over.

In 1999, after a former prisoner who uses the pseudonym of Marcia Smith became pregnant, Rouse fired four guards: David DiCenso, Parise, Powers, and David Mojica - the guard whom blood tests showed to be the father of Smith's baby girl. In a federal lawsuit against the sheriff's department, Smith alleged that Powers served as a lookout while Parise coerced her into having oral sex and sexual intercourse with him at least four times a week. The lawsuit also accuses DiCenso of kissing, fondling, and digitally penetrating her. According to Smith; once she started having sex with guards, she was rarely locked in her cell. However, she stated that Mojica forced her to have sex in her cell several times and that she collected semen from the first rape on a towel. It was later tested by a crime lab.

Sex is not the only currency for special treatment at South Bay. An East Boston district judge ordered guard Linda Medina to return $150 she borrowed from former prisoner Anna Marie Turavani. According to Turavani, the loan occurred after she yearned aloud for some Kentucky Fried Chicken. Medina offered to supply the chicken in exchange for the loan, an offer she reneged on after receiving the money.

James P. Brady, the attorney for Perez, who claims to have been forcibly raped by Mojica, criticized Suffolk County District Attorney Ralph C. Martin II's office for failing to pursue criminal charges for the rapes. Martin's spokesman said that the investigation into misconduct in the sheriff's department is ongoing. Meanwhile, the permissive climate at the department continues and additional charges are surfacing. In January, 2002, guard Jonathan Cross was suspended for logging 350 hours of phone sex line calls from work. A month later, Sergeant Mark Sutherland was suspended with pay for improper physical contact with a woman at Nashua Street Jail.

On April 11, 2002, guard Frank Sambolin was arrested and charged with possession of marijuana with intent to distribute it at South Bay. According to Rouse, Sambolin had been under investigation since a prisoner told authorities that Sambolin had supplied him with drugs.

Nashua Street Torture Club For Men

While women were being raped in South Bay, Nashua Street Jail guards were brutally beating male prisoners. In October 1999, Leonard Gibson, an 18-year-old prisoner was brutally beaten by guards William R. Benson and Lt. Eric J. Donnelly. Gibson suffers from a neurological disorder known as Tourette's syndrome which causes involuntary outbursts and movements. Gibson's symptoms enraged jail guards. While Gibson explained his disease and pleaded for the beatings to stop, guards continued their brutality, promising to "beat the Tourette's out of him." Donnelly and Benson were among eight guards indicted on brutality charges. Donnelly, Benson and a male nurse have been fired or banned from the Nashua Street Jail in connection with the beating.

Rene Rosario, a prisoner who witnessed the beating of Gibson, was attacked by guards when they realized that he could see the beatings from his cell across the hallway. Although the frightened Rosario refused to tell investigating officials what he had seen, he was labeled a "snitch" by guards and subsequently beaten again.

In another incident which occurred in 2001, guard Daniel Hickey was fired after a DNA test showed that he had beaten a prisoner inside a transport van. Deputy Sheriff Thomas M. Bethune Jr. and Lt. Randall R. Southerland were also indicted for filing false reports in an attempt to cover up their alleged involvement in slamming prisoner Reginald Roscoe's head-into a wall and subsequently taking Roscoe to a cell and beating him in the face. Roscoe was handcuffed behind the back at the time.

The pattern of beatings came into the open after 52 current and former prisoners filed a federal civil rights lawsuit against Rouse, his top administrators, and scores of guards. When one of the plaintiff's, Anthony Bova, testified, the judge was so stunned by Bova's bruises that he ordered a court officer to take photographs of them and ordered that Bova not be returned to South Bay. In April, 2001, a grand jury indicted Sutherland, Bethune, Donnelly, Benson, guards union president Deputy Sheriff Anthony Nuzzo, guard Brian Bailey, and Deputy Sheriff Melvin J. Massucco on charges related to beatings of prisoners. In July, 2001, a grand jury indicted Patrick J. Cook for the alleged beating of Nashua Street Jail prisoner William Doocey in 1999.

The most serious charge in the lawsuit involves the death in July 1999 of prisoner Alexander Cintron. The suit alleges that an unnamed guard gave Cintron narcotics laced with poison which caused his death.

Rouse, who was appointed by then governor William F. Weld, oversees a department with a $90 million annual budget, 1,100 employees and 2,250 prisoners. Yet Rouse has been criticized as being an absentee sheriff. A Boston Globe surveillance investigation revealed that from May 11 until May 18, 2001, he arrived at work late and left early. He also used his $26,000 government Ford Windstar minivan for personal purposes and exchanged the government vehicle license plates for confidential plates intended for undercover work when so using the van (a violation of state law). Asked why he kept such short hours and used his official van for such purposes as dropping his daughter off at school, driving to the golf course and ferrying his children to a little league game, Rouse claimed that his "24-hour-a-day job" justified it. Later, he apologized for leaving the office to attend family events. The Boston Globe noted that Rouse spent only 14 hours in the office during its entire six-day investigation.

Rouse's responses to the criticism of his department have been to reassign about thirty employees and institute new training procedures for jail staff to videotape all uses of force against prisoners.

A report issued by the American Correctional Association (ACA), a prison industry self-interest group, criticized one of Rouse's reforms, the consolidation of both jails' management which, in the report's words, leaves "an absence of the top-level authority in the institution." Ironically, this echoes the move of the sheriff's office from the House of Correction to the Pemberton Square courthouse in downtown-Boston. The move left the sheriff conveniently located to pursue politics, but very distant from the jails that are his responsibility. The report also criticized insufficient guard in-service traininga mere 16 hours compared with the 30 hour ACA standard. The report expressed surprise at the lack of use of video camera to tape uses of force and monitor prisoner areas. The report cited multiple systemic problems in the division which investigates complaints against the department and a reluctance to enforce discipline of guards due to excessive influence by the guards union. The ACA's report, while falling short of revoking the Nashua Street Jail's accreditation, called for "a complete reaudit of this facility." The ACA has not accredited the South Bay facility.

In October, 2001, acting Governor Jane M. Swift named a task force to investigate abuses and mismanagement at the sheriff's department. The task force members are former Superior Court Judge J. Owen Todd; Harvard Law School professor Charles J. Ogletree; former U.S. attorney Donald K. Stern; civil rights attorney Ozell Hudson Jr.; Karen Green, business litigation attorney and former, deputy U.S. attorney under Stern; and Ralph Fine, a strategic planning consultant.

In September, 2002, Sheriff Rouse announced his retirement from his $107,138 a year job to take advantage of an early retirement package that will pay him about $56,000 a year. Stern, head of the governor's commission which is investigating the prisoner abuse and mismanagement at Suffolk-County jails, noted that "There have been some serious instances of conflict between the union and management" under Rouse's administration and that the new sheriff will "have to be a strong manager with an ability to get diverse people to work together." The commission is expected to soon release a report critical of Rouse's management practices. Brian Byrnes, Rouse's friend and the person overseeing daily jail operations, is expected to retire from his $106,115 a year job as well.

On May 17, 2002, there were two disturbances at South Bay which prisoners alleged were instigated by guards to call attention to the layoff of 37 guards that day. No prisoners were injured, but 10 guards complained of injuries to the neck, back and leg. On May 22, 2002, a group of city-leaders and prisoners' advocates called for the Sheriff's Department to allow civilian monitors in the Suffolk County jails to observe conditions.

On January 18, 2002, former 10-year veteran guard Mark S. Vaughn pleaded guilty to two counts of soliciting or accepting corrupt gifts for giving favors to two 21-year old female South Bay prisoners in July and October 1999 in exchange for sex. Vaughn received a two-year suspended sentence and three years of probation.

On October 30, 2001, the Suffolk County District Attorney's Office dropped rape charges against former guard David Mojica. This occurred despite a recent magistrate's finding of probable cause in which a court magistrate allowed prisoner Maria Perez to lodge felony charges against Mojica. Prosecutors cited lack of evidence and inconsistencies in Perez's testimony. However, James P. Brady, Perez's attorney said that prosecutors never interviewed his client and were willfully ignoring the case. Brady, who is representing Perez in a separate civil rights action against the Suffolk County Sheriff's Department and Mojica, characterized the dismissal following a finding of probable cause as "unprecedented" and "a derailment of justice."

Sources: Boston Globe, Waterbury (CT) Republican-American.

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