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Texas Prison Guard Files False Report, Faces 20 Years

Texas Prison Guard Files False Report, Faces 20 Years

by Gary Hunter

Former Texas prison guard Eugene Morris, Jr. was found guilty of filing a false report about a use of force incident involving state prisoner Robert Tanzini. Morris was a sergeant at the Texas Department of Criminal Justice’s (TDCJ) Ferguson Unit when, in November 2002, he got into a physical confrontation with Tanzini.

According to Morris, who is black, Tanzini spit on him and made a racial slur against him and a black female guard. The two scuffled. Following the incident, Tanzini was taken away on a stretcher with a fractured skull after he was reportedly “stomped, kicked and punched” by Morris and another guard, Troy Grusendorf.

Tanzini filed suit in federal court but the case was dismissed in 2004 due to a procedural issue. In January 2007, federal prosecutors reopened the case when they deemed they had enough evidence to go before a federal grand jury, using information from Tanzini’s lawsuit.

“When anyone has information that rules of law are not being followed in the prison system, we have a duty to go forward and we did,” said Assistant U.S. Attorney Ruben Perez.

Morris and another sergeant, Tracy Jewett, had been named in Tanzini’s lawsuit. Morris was charged with physically assaulting Tanzini and for filing a false report about the facts of the incident. Jewett was allegedly complicit because he stood by and failed to act in Tanzini’s defense, and had conspired with Morris to doctor the incident report.

Both Morris and Jewett were disciplined by TDCJ authorities for the beating and for altering the incident report. Morris was fired and Jewett resigned.

The criminal case went before a federal jury in May 2008. Morris was charged with five counts that included violation of Tanzini’s Eighth Amendment right against cruel and unusual punishment. Jewett was charged with filing a false report to cover-up the incident.

The five man, seven woman jury deliberated for 18 hours over the course of three days before returning a verdict of “not guilty” on the cover-up charges against Jewett and “not guilty” on the physical assault charges against Morris. The jury apparently accepted the defense’s contention that Tanzini was injured when Morris “controlled him to the ground.”

The jurors did find, however, that Morris was guilty of attempting to cover-up facts about the incident by filing a false report. The conviction is punishable by up to 20 years in prison and a $250,000 fine; Morris is scheduled to be sentenced on February 10, 2009. See: United States v. Morris, U.S.D.C. (S.D. Tex.), Case No. 4:07-cr-00442.

Source: Houston Chronicle

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Related legal case

United States v. Morris