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Beaten Philadelphia Prisoner Gets $125,000, Two Guards and Warden Get Time

Beaten Philadelphia Prisoner Gets $125,000,
Two Guards and Warden Get Time

by Matthew T. Clarke

On May 1, 2002, two guards and an assistant warden were convicted in federal court of charges relating to the beating of a Philadelphia prisoner. In the latest of a series of settlements for assaults on prisoners by staff, the prisoner received $125,000 from the City of Philadelphia.

Donti "Pumpkin" Hunter, 22, had been convicted of running a 34-member drug ring in the impoverished Mantua neighborhood of Philadelphia and was serving a federal sentence on March 11, 1999, when Reginald Steptoe, a guard at the jail, allegedly found a bag of marijuana in a container of talcum powder during a surprise cell shakedown. Hunter grabbed the bag and ran into an adjoining cell. After locking himself into the cell, Hunter flushed the incriminating evidence down the toilet.

The nineteen year-old had no idea what would transpire when Steptoe and other guards extracted him from the cell. The severe beating Hunter received resulted in federal indictments against Steptoe, 38, and three other guards: Cornell Tyler, 39; Albert Payne, 39; and Anthony Black, 33, for conspiracy to violate civil rights and deprivation of civil rights. Deputy Warden Glen Guadalupe, 40, was indicted for two counts of obstruction for ordering a lieutenant and a captain to cover up the incident. Now-retired Sgt. Dennis Hardeman, 60, was indicted for deprivation of civil rights for failing to stop the beating.

Hunter, who had previous convictions for selling crack and three escapes from juvenile prisons, was facing a mandatory no-parole 30-year to life federal prison sentence when he cut a deal with prosecutors. He agreed to testify against his gang and the counselor at the juvenile prison to whom he paid $5,000 to aid him in a 1996 escape. Assistant U.S. Attorney Anthony J. Wzorek argued that the guard's knowledge that Hunter was a jailhouse informant who incriminated "one of their own" was the true motivation for the beating. Hunter also claimed that the marijuana had been planted by the guards in retaliation for his testifying against the counselor.

Whatever the motivation, it was clear that the kicking and beating Hunter enduredwhich resulted in a chipped tooth, both eyes swollen shut, a swollen jaw, and gashes in his scalp and face requiring 19 stitcheswas excessive force. Particularly onerous was Steptoe's use of handcuffs as brass knuckles to beat Hunter in the face.

During the trial, jail Lt. Linda Burnette testified that Steptoe, Payne, and Tyler ignored her orders to stop the beating, eventually shoving her out of the way. When she reported the beating to Guadalupe, his initial anger and determination that "someone had used handcuffs to beat an inmate and someone is going to burn for what happened" changed to a determination to cover up the incident when he found out that Steptoe, Tyler and Payne were involved. The trio were members of an elite team created by Guadalupe to conduct cell searches. According to Burnette, upon learning who was involved in the beating, Guadalupe said, "Oh, no, no. They can't burn. They're my boys. They're my homies." Guadalupe then ordered Burnette to cover up the assault and to fabricate evidence to justify the amount of force used.

Jail Captain Winston Boston, who was paged after the beating, arrived at Guadalupe's office and heard him tell Burnette to change her story. He testified that he knew that was wrong, so he left the office. Ironically, Guadalupe disciplined Burnette for failing to properly supervise the guards and stop the beating. Guadalupe disciplined Boston for not properly and promptly investigating the incident.

Steptoe and Tyler were found guilty of depriving Hunter of his civil rights; Payne and Black were acquitted of the same charges; Guadalupe was found guilty of one of the two counts of obstruction of justice he was indicted for and acquitted on the other count. Halderman, whose defense was that he was too slight, timid, and old to intervene in the beating, was found not guilty of failing to stop the beating. Steptoe and Tyler face 57 to 71 months in federal prison; Guadalupe faces 24 to 30 months. Hunter is serving out the rest of his ten-year sentence in the federal prison at Lewisburg, Pennsylvania.

In December, 2001, Philadelphia settled a lawsuit Hunter had filed against the city. Hunter received $125,000. This was the eighth lawsuit against Philadelphia by prisoners beaten in its jails that was settled in 2001. One settled suit alleged that guards hog-tied and beat a deaf prisoner; another alleged that a guard used Mace on a prisoner then beat him with the can, leaving crescent-shaped cuts and bruises; yet another alleged that guards fractured a prisoner's eye socket and broke facial bones.

Sources: The Philadelphia Inquirer, AP

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