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Convictions Affirmed for Two Former Rhode Island Guards Who Assaulted Prisoners

Convictions Affirmed for Two Former Rhode Island Guards Who Assaulted Prisoners

by David Reutter

Rhode Island’s Supreme Court has affirmed the convictions of two former state prison guards who were found guilty of assaulting multiple prisoners. The Court said the cases “present a rare look into the dark side of prison life and the human cost and institutional consequences that result when rogue correctional officers deviate from established prison standards.”

The charges against former DOC Capt. Gualter Botas, 44, and Lt. Kenneth Viveiros, 65, stemmed from their mistreatment of prisoners at state correctional facilities in 2005 and 2006. Both were fired on February 12, 2007 following their convictions on misdemeanor counts of beating prisoners Robert Houghton, Anthony Romano, Jose Gonzalez and Matthew Gumkowski. Botas also was charged with an assault on prisoner Michael Walsh – whom he allegedly forced to eat his own feces. [See: PLN, Aug. 2007, p.28; Aug. 2006, p.42].

On July 18, 2013, Superior Court Judge Daniel A. Procaccini sentenced Botas to 18 months in prison and 18 months suspended after rejecting a motion to reduce his sentence. [See: PLN, Feb. 2014, p.56]. Due to Botas’ rank within the corrections department, Procaccini explained, the former captain “must be held to a higher standard than the average citizen.” The judge said Botas was in “complete control” of the day shift at the facility where the assaults occurred, and participated in “unprovoked attacks” that the judge described as “humiliating” and of a “sadistic variety.”

Botas’ attorney, John Lynch, Jr., had sought a reduced sentence, saying that Botas’ family was dependent on him. He takes care of his elderly parents, buying their groceries and handling their bills, Lynch argued. If sent to prison, Botas could lose his job and his home to foreclosure.

Judge Procaccini admitted being in a quandary, understanding that Botas was the “sole breadwinner” and “sole caretaker” for his family. “I’m really put in a tough spot in this case,” he said, though he added, correctly, that “All sentences are a burden for families.”

Assistant Attorney General Stacey Veroni countered that “[Botas] had five years to consider things and get his affairs in order.” She urged the judge not to change the original sentence imposed in 2008.

Meanwhile, Viveiros, who was sentenced to nine months in prison and 27 months suspended, continued to receive a monthly state pension check of $4,015.60 – $48,187 annually – despite his conviction. Viveiros’ pension cannot be revoked because he was convicted of misdemeanors and not felonies, according to Joy Fox, spokeswoman for the General Treasurer’s office.

At trial, the prisoners testified that Botas and Viveiros were both present when the assaults occurred. The first happened on June 7, 2005, when Gumkowski was escorted to an office, handcuffed and questioned about a $20 bill he had been caught with the day before. Gumkowski said he cursed Botas, who responded by punching him in the face, splitting his skin open near his eye.

Houghton testified that he was escorted from a holding cell to Botas’ office on December 23, 2005, and questioned as to whether he had information about a particular prisoner on his work crew. During the interrogation, Houghton told the court, Botas hit him with a telephone book and Viveiros “backhanded” him.

Another assault occurred on January 30, 2006, when Romano was questioned about a telephone number that had been found on a piece of paper in his pocket a few days earlier. Romano testified that Viveiros hit him on the head with a plastic clipboard and phone book, and that Botas “backhanded” him and pushed him into a metal filing cabinet.

Finally, Gonzalez stated that on February 14, 2006 he went to see Botas about food that had been seized from his locker the night before. He mistakenly called Botas “lieutenant,” making the captain “very angry.” Botas struck him in the face “a couple of times” and hit him in the head with a bag of food, a package of paper and a phone book. Gonzalez also claimed that Botas grabbed his testicles and “pulled down real hard.”

After a 17-day trial, Botas was found guilty of seven counts of simple assault and Viveiros was convicted on four counts. Both appealed to the Rhode Island Supreme Court, which affirmed in separate rulings. The Supreme Court found no error in the lower court’s refusal to sever the trial, preclude the testimony of a prisoner and deny motions for a new trial, or in the jury instructions. The Court also rejected Botas’ claim that he was prejudiced by a discovery violation related to pornographic pictures found in his desk that were shown to Romano to make him “feel a little better” after being assaulted. See: State v. Viveiros, 45 A.3d 1232 (R.I. 2012) and State v. Botas, 71 A.3d 430 (R.I. 2013).


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Related legal cases

State v. Botas

State v. Viveiros