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Crowd Control Techniques Subject of West Virginia Jail Abuse Suits

Lawsuits filed in 2015 against the West Virginia Regional Jail and Correctional Facility Authority (WVRJCFA) claim a special response teams used excessive force on routine searches and cell extractions.  The alleged force involves techniques normally used for crowd control.

The complaints allege the Special Response Team (SRT) conducted raids at the South Central Regional Jail and The Southern Regional Jail in July 2013, spring 2014, and June 2014.  A video made public paints a culture of abuse. It starts by showing four prisoners sitting at a table playing cards; then, chaos.  “The screaming, the shots, the grenades going off… it was something,” said former prisoner Barry Yearout who was serving a sentence for driving under the influence.

Yearout is seen in the video hitting the ground as stun grenades and stinger grenades go off around him.  He lies on his stomach and puts his hands behind his head, but seconds later an SRT member shoots him in the leg with a bean bag round, a non-lethal shotgun round.

Reports state the SRT entered the pod for a shakedown operation and because the prisoners refused to lockdown.  When asked, Yearout said they were never instructed to lockdown.  “No, there was no notice whatsoever,” he said.  “There is always one or two CO’s that come in and make sure you’re locked down.  They make sure every door is secure and not open--every time.  Every time there’s a lockdown situation, they come in and make sure you’re locked down.”

WVRJCFA issued a statement defending the shakedown as “well-founded”, for “multiple weapons were confiscated.”  It also said the released video “provides an incomplete, out-of-context depiction of a lockdown and sweep of a regional jail.”

Pictures of the aftermath of a February 2015 incident show prisoner Shane Marcum with “charred black skin” on his shoulder, arm, and abdomen.  A nurse noted he had “singed” hair and abrasions on the back of his neck.  He alleges that his injuries came from SRT members throwing a grenade through the food slot of his cell during an extraction.  Video of the operation exists, but WVRJCFA is fighting in court to prevent its release because it “believes that the publication of this video undermines the safety and security of staff and inmates, as the footage relates to the design of a jail facility and its operational procedures.”

The SRT’s actions are framed by WVRJCFA as enhancing safety, but it had the opposite effect.  “We slept on the concrete for two days.  Our pod did,” said Yearout.  “There were several pods that went three to four days without.”  That treatment led to a fight over a mattress that resulted in another prisoner killing prisoner Carlos McMillion, 51.

In its 2014 report, WVRJFCA touted its 16 member SRT for its ability to perform cell extractions and to maintain and restore facility security.  The report extolled the SRT’s training and SWAT school accomplishments. Since that report, the SRT was abolished as part of the new WVRJCFA Executive Director David Farmer’s efforts to resolve these lawsuits “in a just and proper manner.”