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New Details Regarding Race Riot at USP Florence

More details have emerged about the April 2008 race riot that occurred at the United States Penitentiary (USP) in Florence, Colorado, as prisoners who participated in the violent disturbance have pleaded guilty after being criminally charged.

The riot started after members of the Aryan Brotherhood (AB) began yelling racial epithets at African American prisoners on the recreation yard on April 20, 2008. The ABs were celebrating Adolph Hitler’s birthday, and some were drinking homemade alcohol. Around 200 prisoners were involved in the resulting melee. [See: PLN, August 2009, p.10].

It took almost 30 minutes after the brawl began for “sufficient staff” to respond, federal officials wrote in a court filing. “The staff then were able to separate the two groups [that were fighting].” In the process, two prisoners, Brian Scott Kubik and Phillip Lee Hooker, were shot to death by BOP guards.

“Staff formed a line of containment and pushed one group of inmates into the gymnasium, leaving the other group on the yard,” prison officials stated. “Since the gym inmates continued to be disruptive and antagonistic to-ward staff, they were secured in the gym alone without correctional officers and remained there for approximately four hours.”

Four white prisoners in the gym severely beat Dirk Horne, another white prisoner, who had “refused to participate” in the riot. “The assault on Horne continued until staff arrived in sufficient numbers to order the inmates to stop and to direct Horne to walk out of the gym to a safe area where staff members were positioned,” according to a plea agreement be-tween prosecutors and Richard Frey, one of Horne’s attackers. “Once out of harm’s way, Horne collapsed and was taken by wheelchair to medical personnel for immediate attention.”

Horne suffered a broken nose, a laceration to his left ear, fractured ribs, and bruising and swelling from the brutal at-tack. According to court documents, he was unrecognizable due to “the size of his swollen head that had turned purple in color.” The entire incident was caught on camera.

Frey accepted a plea bargain and was sentenced in January 2010 to an additional 46 months in prison, three years supervised release and $8,657 in restitution. Prisoners Christopher Copeland, Clifford Leonard and Jody Stamp also were indicted for their involvement in the attack. A fifth prisoner, Douglas Brannan, was charged with possessing contraband in a federal prison after he was discovered with a “shank”; he was sentenced to 12 months in prison plus three years super-vised release.

Following the April 2008 riot, five prisoners were taken to a local hospital for injuries, including gunshot wounds, and another 30 were treated at the prison’s medical facility. Four staff members suffered minor injuries. Over 200 rounds of ammunition were discharged during the riot, plus tear gas, pepper balls and sting grenades.

Two prisoners have since filed suit, claiming they did not participate in the disturbance but were nonetheless shot by BOP guards. Richard Steele, who was shot in the foot, and Edward Evey, who was struck in the face by a bullet fragment, allege that prison staff were aware the riot was going to occur. They state in their complaint that they com-plied with instructions to lie down with their hands on their head and were about 600 feet from the fighting, but were shot anyway.

“Inmates in the yard were intoxicated from homemade alcohol and armed with prison-made weapons. Prison of-ficials were put on notice by inmates as to the pending riot and failed to take any action whatsoever to avert the situation,” said their attorney, James C. Cerney. See: Steele v. U.S. Bureau of Prisons, U.S.D.C. (D. Col.), Case No. 1:09-cv-01557.

The BOP’s official investigative report concerning the riot at USP Florence has not been made public.

Sources:, Denver Post

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Related legal case

Steele v. U.S. Bureau of Prisons