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Attica Prison Guards Who Viciously Beat Prisoner Avoid Jail Time but Lose Jobs

George Williams, now 33, was in his prison cell watching TV as the scene that would lead to his brutal beating unfolded below him. Williams’ ordeal began during mail call in New York’s Attica Correctional Facility. On August 9, 2011, dozens of prisoners talking loudly at the same time filled the dayroom. A frustrated guard yelled at them to “Shut the [expletive] up.” An equally agitated prisoner replied from an upper tier, “You shut the [expletive] up.”

Minutes later three guards raced up the stairs, dragged Williams from his cell and pummeled him with their fists, feet and batons. Williams, who is 5’8” and 170 lbs., could only lay curled up on the floor begging for his life.

Sgt. Sean Warner, 5’11” and 240 lbs.; Keith Swack, 6’3” and 300 lbs.; and Matthew Rademacher, 6’0” and 260 lbs. brutalized Williams for about two minutes before summoning more guards. Erik Hibsch was one of several other guards who joined in the beating. At one point a guard stomped on a plastic safety razor, pried out one of the blades and said, “Here’s the weapon.”

Williams’ ordeal did not end there. Unable to walk, he was handcuffed and shoved to the bottom of a stairway, landing on his shoulder. Guards then picked him up and smashed his face against a wall. When his assailants attempted to place him in solitary confinement, the guard in charge refused, saying, “We can’t take him in here looking like that.”

At the infirmary, a prison doctor determined that Williams’ injuries were too extensive and had him transported to Warsaw hospital. But even the doctors at Warsaw were not equipped to treat him, and sent him to the Erie County Medical Center in Buffalo.

Williams suffered a broken collarbone and multiple cracked ribs; both his legs were broken and an eye socket was fractured. Congealed blood clogged his sinus cavity and he had multiple cuts and bruises all over his body. One leg required surgical realignment by implanting a plate secured by six screws.

Charles Bisesi, a former prisoner who witnessed Williams being dragged away, initially thought he was wearing a red shirt only to realize it was actually soaked with blood. Raymond Sanabria, a porter on the block where Williams was beaten, was told by guards to “hurry up and clean up the blood.” He told State Police that the order came with a warning to keep his mouth shut about what had happened.

Another porter, Peter Thousand, was ordered by Rademacher to clean up bloodstains inside the captain’s office where the guards had gathered afterward. Thousand delivered a bag filled with bloody shirts to a large barbecue pit where they were presumably burned. Witnesses also told investigators that Williams was not the prisoner who had provoked the guards by yelling at them to shut up.

Attica is best remembered for the September 1971 riot in which 43 people died and 89 were injured. The facility currently holds over 2,200 prisoners who are double-bunked in single-man cells. It is mostly staffed by rural white guards while its population is predominantly urban blacks from New York City. Williams’ beating took place approximately a month before the 40th anniversary of the infamous Attica riot.

On December 13, 2011, Warner, Rademacher, Swack and Hibsch were charged with first-degree gang assault, falsifying reports and tampering with evidence. It was the first time gang assault charges had been brought against guards for beating a prisoner.

Warner, Rademacher and Swack were also named as defendants in at least five civil cases over the past seven years. Those cases involved a variety of allegations, from assault and fabrication of evidence (weapons) to racial discrimination. As of March 2015 one case had been settled, with the settlement including an award of damages and legal fees, while two were dismissed and two remained pending.

Williams filed a federal civil rights complaint seeking damages against the guards who had assaulted and severely injured him. See: Williams v. Swack, U.S.D.C. (W.D. NY), Case No. 1:13-cv-00974-WMS-JJM.

On March 5, 2015, Warner, Rademacher and Swack pleaded guilty to misdemeanor charges of misconduct and resigned their positions as state prison guards. Hibsch was granted immunity in exchange for providing evidence against his former coworkers. All of the guards were allowed to keep their pensions.

Following the guilty pleas, on May 18, 2015 the office of the New York Attorney General (AG) provided notice to Warner, Rademacher and Swack that it would no longer pay for their defense costs in Williams’ civil rights suit. The AG’s office had been covering their defense pursuant to state law related to public employees. However, as stated by AG counsel Megan Levine, the state would no longer provide for the guards’ civil defense because they had, per their guilty pleas, “admitted to a knowing commitment of an act outside the scope of [their] employment.”

On June 18, 2015, Radenbacher sought reversal of the AG’s decision to stop paying for his civil defense through a special proceeding in New York’s Wyoming County Supreme Court. See: Rademacher v. Schneiderman, Wyoming County Supreme Court (NY), Index No. 47824.

Williams called the final outcome of the criminal prosecutions “crazy,” but said he was glad the guards had lost their jobs. His attorney, Edward Sivin, said the guards’ actions were “malicious and sadistic,” and vowed to pursue a favorable settlement in Williams’ civil rights case, which remains pending.

According to a December 11, 2015 article in the New York Times, Donald Huber, a specialist in the U.S. Army who grew up in the town of Attica, heard about Williams’ beating and knew one of the guards involved in the assault. Huber set up an online fundraising campaign for Williams that collected $5,800 in donations, which Williams will use to pursue his career as a barber.

“It was almost unimaginable,” Williams said of the fundraiser. “I never thought people would care.” He added, referring to Huber, “This man really stepped up.”

Sources: The New York Times, New York Daily News

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Related legal cases

Williams v. Swack

Rademacher v. Schneiderman,