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Arkansas Prisoner Almost Dies After Being Left in Feces

An Arkansas prison guard who had been previously fired and rehired by the state’s prison system was terminated a second time after he was involved in an incident that almost resulted in a prisoner’s death.

On June 22, 2009, the Associated Press reported that Sergeant Bobby Lunsford and Lieutenant John Glasscock were fired after it was discovered they had knowingly left a prisoner naked and covered in his own feces in his cell at the Tucker Unit prison for an entire weekend.

The prisoner, whose name was withheld, was later transferred to a hospital and placed on life support. He was suffering from septicemia and septic shock due to infections that reached his blood stream as a result of the unsanitary conditions.

Sgt. Lunsford had been fired by the Arkansas prison system in February 2002 after he accepted several Hot Pockets microwave sandwiches from a prisoner that had been stolen from a prison chaplain, and then lied about the incident. “Behavior such as this by a sergeant in the Arkansas Department of Correction is inexcusable,” wrote Warden Grant Harris in a letter terminating Lunsford. “You are required to lead by example and enforce policy. You have failed with these tasks.” However, Lunsford was rehired in 2003 and assigned to the maximum-security Tucker Unit.

Following the prisoner’s near-death incident, which occurred on January 19, 2010, it was learned that Sgt. Lunsford had lied when he claimed he had told a supervisor about the prisoner’s condition. It was later discovered that the supervisor in question was not working at the facility at the time. Lunsford also lied when he said he had been patrolling the prison’s perimeter fence when the prisoner was found covered with feces in his cell.

Lt. Glasscock likewise was less-than-truthful about the incident. An internal report found he had engaged in conduct “resulting in injury and/or property damage.” Glasscock, who joined the Arkansas Dept. of Correction in 1996, had not received any previous disciplinary infractions.

However, during the course of the investigation a number of other allegations about his conduct were raised – including that he had brought prisoners in to cook for night shift officers, had spent long periods of time in a prison office with female guards, and had received a lap dance from a prison nurse within the sight of prisoners.

Dina Tyler, a spokeswoman for the Arkansas prison system, called the incident in which the prisoner was left in his cell covered in feces “unpredictable.” “I think what you’ve got here is a case of a couple of officers who were not doing their jobs up to their standards and we took appropriate action,” she said.

The near-fatality was but the latest in a series of disturbing incidents in the Arkansas DOC. On May 29, 2009, Calvin Adams and Jeffrey Grinder, both serving life sentences for murder, escaped from the Cummings Unit by wearing fake guard uniforms that were made at the facility; five prison employees were fired as a result, including a captain and a sergeant.

And on June 20, 2009, a guard at the Tucker Unit shot and killed a parolee who prison officials claim crashed his car into an assistant warden’s vehicle while fleeing from a security checkpoint outside the facility. The slain parolee, who was wanted for failing to report to his parole officer, was not identified.

Tyler cautioned against making blanket assumptions over what she called “three totally unrelated incidents.” However, Arkansas Governor Mike Beebe, while stopping short of calling the series of events part of a systemic problem, asked for an “in-depth investigation” and said they raised serious concerns about the state’s prison system. Legislators have also questioned the Department of Correction’s Director, Larry Norris, and the Chairman of the Board of Correction, Benny Magness, about the incidents.

Yet the problems didn’t stop there.

Varner Unit guard Danita Williams was fired on July 7, 2009 after an internal investigation alleged she had had a romantic relationship with a death row prisoner for several months. According to an anonymous letter sent to prison officials, Williams engaged in a sex act with the unnamed prisoner and helped him trade food items with another prisoner – a violation of institutional rules. She was fired due to the trafficking violation; the alleged romantic or sexual relationship was not confirmed.

“Things like this happen and they don’t reveal it and they keep it to themselves,” said Senator Bobby Glover, who chairs a legislative committee that oversees the state’s prison system. “Then you begin to wonder what other incidents have occurred that they didn’t report to the public and the governor.”

“If the Department of Correction wants the Legislature and the public to trust them, then they need to act in a manner that’s appropriate for us to give them that trust,” stated Rep. John Burris. “So far they haven’t.”

Another incident involved Betsey Wright, a former chief of staff for Bill Clinton when he served as governor of Arkansas. Wright was charged on August 12, 2009 with trying to smuggle contraband into Arkansas’ death row at the Varner Unit. She is accused of attempting to bring a small knife, box cutter and 48 tattoo needles into the prison. The knife and box cutter were on her key chain, while the needles were hidden in a bag of Doritos that Wright said she found in the bottom of a vending machine at the facility. She also had a pen that contained a pair of tweezers.

“They think it’s me, but it’s not,” she said. “I certainly did not do what they have charged me with.” Wright, who opposes capital punishment, was a regular visitor to death row. She faces 51 charges.

The Arkansas prison system is known for its troubled past. U.S. District Court Judge J. Smith Henley once declared the Arkansas DOC unconstitutional, when prisoners were allowed to carry weapons and guard other prisoners. At that time, forty years ago, Judge Henley described the state’s prison system as a “dark and evil world.” It is apparently still dark, and still has evil denizens – including prison employees in some cases.

Sources: Associated Press, The Morning News, Arkansas Online

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