The confines of prison render abuse by guards a virtually impossible crime to prosecute. The few cases that come to light and successfully prosecuted occur only with video evidence or the testimony of another guard. Florida Department of Corrections [FDOC] guard John Pisciotta took the courageous path to report another guard’s maiming of a prisoner during a cell extraction, but he paid a personal price for doing so.
In May 2008, the Rapid Response Unit (RRU) at Charlotte Correctional Institution (CCI) strapped up in riot gear to extract prisoner Kelly Bradley from his cell. Bradley suffered from schizophrenia and barricaded himself in his cell by putting his mattress against the door of his cell in CCI’s psychiatric ward.
“This inmate was cowering under a blanket in the corner of his cell”, said Pisciotta. “He was an older man, very frail, and mentally ill. He wasn’t trying to fight anybody. He was just scared, he was not threat to anyone”.
The RRU crashed the door and descended upon Bradley. As he was handcuffed and shackled, guard William H. Wilson reached around Bradley’s head and dug his index finger, several times, into Bradley’s eye until it popped out.
“I knew it was morally wrong”, said Pisciotta. “They wanted us to prepare statements and not say anything. I told them I just couldn’t go along with it”.
Captain Scott Anderson asked the guards what happened to Bradley, but the guards involved could not explain Bradley’s injury. Wilson told the guards to write up only what they did and leave the injury out of their reports.
Wilson was not happy when Pisciotta refused to go along. “C’mon, he’s just a fucking nigger, whatta you care?” Wilson said, according to Pisciotta’s testimony at Wilson’s federal trial. “He thought it was funny.”
“He was a big boy and he took care of what they wanted taken care of. He was part of the good ol’ boy crew that did the things the way they wanted”, said Pisciotta of Wilson. “Unfortunately, I was part of the good ol’ boy crew that day”.
Wilson was charged with assault, but the case was moved to federal court on civil rights charges. “I knew once I did the right thing, and I stepped forward…my career would be over,” Pisciotta told the federal jury at Wilson’s trial. “It’s something you don’t do. You don’t go against other officers. Because my life has been a living hell ever since”.
After Wilson was arrested on June 6, 2006, his arrest affidavit detailing Pisciotta’s role as a witness was e-mailed to 19 guards. “Coward” was spray painted on Pisciotta’s car two weeks later, his car’s fender was damaged, and the transmission wires were cut. He was also set up by fellow guards on a charge of assaulting a prisoner, but the allegation was found to be false.
Nonetheless, on the day Wilson was sentenced to five years in federal prison, FDOC fired Pisciotta. He and his wife packed up and went to Vermont. In June 2005, Prisciotta received a $135,000 settlement in his lawsuit against FDOC.
Wilson was the only guard disciplined in Bradely’s assault. Anderson was promoted to Colonel. Lt. Michael Riley was promoted to Captain and guards Stephen Lekawa and Jeffrey Keslowski received promotions to Sergeant and Captain respectively.
The lack of physical or testimonial evidence led a grand jury to issue a scathing report in the death of prisoner Mathew Walker, which was reported in our cover feature in the Feb. 2016 issue of PLN.
The guards involved in the cell extraction of Walker said “they had no idea how Walker’s larynx was crushed or how his head was bashed with such force that there were imprints on his skull,” The Miami Herald reported. The lack of evidence left the grand jury unable to bring charges in Walker’s 2014 death.
Sumter Correctional Institution (SCI) guard Russell Sullivan, however, did not get the same result following his July 22, 2015, of a prisoner. Fellow guards reported Sullivan intentionally shoved a prisoner into a metal gate, causing a laceration to the face and a broken tooth. This is the second incident in a year at SCI that was brought to light by scrupulous, professional guards speaking out against abuse of a prisoner. Perhaps the trend will spread statewide.
Sources: Miami Herald; Sumter Times
As a digital subscriber to Prison Legal News, you can access full text and downloads for this and other premium content.
Already a subscriber? Login