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Federal Court Continues To Enforce Decade-Old California Prison Guards’ “Code-Of-Silence” Ruling

Federal Court Continues To Enforce Decade-Old California Prison Guards' "Code-Of-Silence" Ruling

The United States District Court (N.D. Cal.) reviewed progress on its 11-year-old federal court remedial action to eliminate a pernicious code-of-silence by prison guards (most notably at the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation's (CDCR) supermax Pelican Bay State Prison). There, investigations of excessive use-of-force complaints against prisoners had been stifled by administration policies grounded in collusion between the Director of Corrections and the prison guards' union (CCPOA). Specifically, the court reviewed an August 22, 2006 report by Special Master John Hagar as to suspected retrenchment after the prior decade of agonizingly reticent progress towards court-ordered compliance, and made further orders.

The court's initial order in this matter, in 1995, found unabashed complicity between top CDCR officials and the CCPOA that literally nurtured the insidious twin events of guard brutality against prisoners and officially-sanctioned cover-up by staff. Culminating in both criminal convictions and court remedial orders, the 1995 smack-down was nonetheless vigorously resisted by CDCR staff. Special Master John Hagar, along with the state's lately reinvigorated Inspector General, maintained strong watchdog supervision of the court's orders.

In his most recent report, Hagar complained of perceived regression by the parties, most notably in the sudden resignations of two outspoken anti-code-of-silence Secretaries of Corrections (Rod Hickman and Jeanne Woodford) in a six-week period in early 2006.

After an October 5, 2006 hearing on Hagar's report, the court issued its findings. While adopting the agreement between the CCPOA and CDCR as to new investigative policies upon a prisoner's excess use-of-force complaint [which restrict the accused guard from immediate access to underlying documentation, so as to avoid manipulation before a formal hearing/resolution], the court directed Hagar to continue to monitor this to prevent backsliding. The court accepted the success story attached to the Bureau of Independent Review, an adjunct to the Inspector General's office that monitors each such complaint in real-time as it moves through the resolution process, to prevent cheating. Hagar shall further meet with the parties every 45 days to closely monitor the process, and report quarterly to the court. The court made it very clear that it would not tolerate any regression to code-of-silence ways.

Importantly for Hagar, who suspected disingenuous pressure on Hickman and Woodford, the court ordered a hearing in December 2006 to take testimony from both to determine what caused their resignations. Hagar's next report and recommendation to the court is due January 31, 2008. See: Madrid v. Tilton [formerly Gomez], C90-3094 TEH, Order, November 16, 2006.

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Related legal case

Madrid v. Tilton