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Massachusetts Jail Guards Assault Mentally Disabled Prisoner

Massachusetts Jail Guards
Assault Mentally Disabled Prisoner

by Michael Rigby

Six Essex County jail guards were
suspended and one fired after they assaulted a mentally challenged prisoner in the jail infirmary by forcing him to eat cake while handcuffed. Author Austin, a mentally challenged prisoner who suffers from fetal alcohol syndrome and, according to a source at the jail, has the mental capacity of a third grader, was called to the infirmary of the Essex County Correctional Facility in Middleton three times on March 30, 2003. While there, guards gleefully humiliated him by forcing him to kneel and eat cake while his hands were cuffed behind his back. A source at the jail said "They were pushing his face down into the cake, flicking his ears."

The guards, apparently inured by the culture of impunity present in so many jails and prisons, performed the assault in full view of a video camera mounted in the jail infirmary. Essex County Sheriff Frank G. Cousins Jr. said, "All of my employees have full knowledge that we have cameras in the common areas."

Captain Elaine Bushway, a 17-year veteran, was present during the assault but did nothing to stop it. "On the tape she was laughing and clapping," the source said. "Apparently she thought it was hysterical."

Cousins said he learned about the incident after a nurse who was present during the assault reported it to her supervisor. Upon learning of the incident on April 3, 2003, Cousins said, the guards were immediately escorted off jail property and that state and federal prosecutors were alerted to the possible crime.

The civil rights division of the FBI also contacted the sheriffs office after the story appeared in the Boston Globe. The six officers are white, Austin is black. "I am not happy about this, and the department is not happy about it," said Cousins." We work very hard to properly train people."

The guards were identified as Thomas Francesconi, 27; Joseph Goldstein, 28; Robert Kostin, 33; Brian Lavoie, 27; Jason Copp, 30; and Captain Elaine Bushway, 37.

On May 14, 2003, Cousins announced he had fired Bushway for her role in the incident. The other five guards received suspensions without pay ranging from five weeks to 8 1/2 months. Cousins, who is black, said that racism was not an issue. "They were playing with him," he said. g

Sources: Boston Globe, Boston Herald

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