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Washington Guards Shoot Now, Ask Questions Later

There had not been a prisoner shot to death by a guard at the Washington State Penitentiary (WSP) in Walla Walla, Washington for more than thirty years. That changed last year. During 2002, under the "capable" leadership of Richard Morgan, the new WSP superintendent, WSP guards shot two prisoners to death. Both prisoners were killed without warning, which Morgan admitted was what he "asked [guards] to do."

In January of 2002, Richard Tate, a WSP guard, shot Abdul Ali to death while he was fighting with a cellmate over a hygiene dispute. Ali knocked his cellmate unconscious and began kicking him in the head. Tate promptly shot him to death without warning.

Neither the Washington Department of Corrections (DOC) nor the Walla Walla County prosecutor found fault with Tate's killing Ali. In fact, Tate was praised by his supervisors for shooting Ali.

In November of 2002, Gregory "Tex" Garner arrived at WSP, where Christopher Shelley was serving nine years for raping a twelve-year-old girl. Garner was serving forty-nine years for shooting at Snohomish County sheriff's deputies. The two knew each other from the Monroe Corrections Complex, near Monroe, Washington. Garner told WSP prisoners Shelley was a homosexual at Monroe.

Shelley confronted Garner on the WSP yard, asking if Garner had called him a punk. Garner replied that Shelley was a punk and Shelley attacked him. Shelley wrestled Garner to the ground, where Garner hit him three or four times, sat up, and stopped fighting. Although guards coming to break up the fight were only seconds away, Garner was shot in the back without warning by David Pooler, a WSP tower guard. Garner died in less than an hour.

Walla Walla police detective Mike Boettcher investigated the shooting. Since an unnamed WSP lieutenant conveniently "forgot" to hit the record button for the camera monitoring the yard, however, there was no video tape of the shooting.

Therefore, Boettcher was relegated to investigating via interviews. Numerous prisoner witnesses said the fight was but a mere wrestling match, and that Shelley's life was not in danger.

Pooler told Boettcher that he shot Garner because he thought Shelley was being beaten to death. Another tower guard, Timber Burton, corroborated Pooler's story saying that he also thought Shelley's life was in danger. The evidence belied these claims; however, as pictures taken of Shelley after the fight revealed that he had only "a scratch on his face."

Even so, Jim Nagle, the Walla Walla County prosecutor, refused to prosecute Pooler for shooting Garner. Nagle claimed that prisoner witnesses would not be credible enough to get a manslaughter conviction. Oddly, that same prosecutor's office has been quite willing to use prisoner witnesses to convict other prisoners of crimes committed at WSP.

Morgan acknowledged that had Pooler not shot Garner, no one would have died. Still, DOC investigators exonerated Pooler of any wrong doing.

Morgan said Garner's death "bothers [him] a great deal," and that he would never advocate violence to reduce violence

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