Alabama DOC Report: Staff Beat, Hog-Tied, and Denied Medical Care to Fatally Injured Prisoner Seeking Help; Then Covered It Up
DOC prisoners found Billy Smith on November 13, 2017, dazed and injured on a bathroom floor at the Elmore Correctional Facility after another prisoner, Bryan Blount, allegedly punched him in the head and knocked him out. An “ambulance unit” of prisoners took the bloodied Smith to the shift commander’s office. He was placed on a gurney and parked in a grassy area outside the office where it was cold and raining. Then he was ignored.
According to the report, which was revealed on February 18, 2020 by BuzzFeed News and Injustice Watch, Lt. Kenny Waver threatened to spray Smith with a chemical agent because he refused to sit down when he first arrived. Smith continued to complain that he was cold and his head hurt, but the guards thought he was intoxicated and continued to ignore him. Waver and Sgt. Jonathan Richardson had ordered Smith to stay out of the office because they did not want him to track blood inside, but he came in anyway. That is when a guard and other prisoners reportedly witnessed guard Jeremy Singleton hit him hard in the face, head and ribs multiple times and sweep his feet from under him, causing him to fall on his side.
Some prisoners said other guards hit Smith as well. At some point, Singleton punched him in the face again and hog-tied him with the help of other guards, cuffing his hands behind his back, shackling his feet, and connecting the cuffs and shackles.
Smith was strapped to the gurney, rolled out of sight of cameras, and left at least another hour while his calls for help went unheeded. He also started vomiting, a potential sign of brain trauma.
Eventually, Waver ordered Singleton and guard Ell White to transport Smith to a medical facility at nearby Staton Correctional Facility.
At Staton, Smith began to lose consciousness and White poured a cooler of ice and water over him and hit him on the head to wake him up. Nurse Tara Parker found Smith bloody, rolling and thrashing on the floor. The guards told her Smith was “wigging out on drugs,” so she refused to treat him due to his erratic behavior. Later, nurses found water in Smith’s lungs.
Singleton and White took Smith back to Elmore using a wheelchair to roll him to a van about an hour after they had arrived at Staton. Prisoners who removed Smith from the van discovered him wedged between two benches with his shirt over his head, his pants around his ankles, his boxers down to his thighs and a trash bag full of ice between his chest and one of the benches.
Smith was shaking uncontrollably and making a strange snoring noise as he was rolled back to the shift office. Waver ordered him returned to Staton.
According to Parker, Smith arrived at Staton with several marks that he did not previously have. She evaluated his condition and administered a medication to treat drug overdoses, which had no effect. Later, Smith was transported to a hospital where he underwent emergency brain surgery for a fractured skull and swollen brain that was shifted to the right. He died 26 days later, on December 9, 2017, without regaining consciousness.
The internal investigation began while Smith was alive. Investigators saw “several cuts on the top of his head, abrasions and bruising on both legs, hips, shoulders,” but no “defensive marks or bruising on his arms nor did he have cuts to his knuckles and hand that would indicate hitting any object with his fists.”
Prison staff who were asked about how Smith was injured “responded with apparent defensiveness, deception, and a lack of cooperation” according to report. The time card of Assistant Warden Gwendolyn Babers, whom prisoners saw leaving the shift office during the incident, was altered to show he had left the prison before it happened. Video recording contradicted what guards said had happened. The original shift log disappeared and a substituted copy was missing notes on the incident and the required supervisor’s signature.
An autopsy concluded that Smith died of blunt-force trauma. An Alabama Department of Forensic Sciences medical examiner concluded that Blount caused the fatal injuries.
In July 2019, a grand jury returned indictments for manslaughter against both Blount and Singleton, who had been promoted to sergeant after the incident. Then Singleton resigned.
Smith’s estate filed a federal civil rights lawsuit against DOC employees. At a minimum, DOC staff seem to have tortured a dying prisoner while delaying and denying his medical treatment—possibly causing the fatal outcome. Instead of disciplining the primary staff culprit, they promoted him.
Sadly, this is hardly the only instance of fatal prisoner abuse in the DOC. Steven Davis died in October 2019, after he was beaten by guards at the DOC’s Donaldson Correctional Facility in Bessemer. One of the guards who beat him no longer works for the DOC. The case is being presented to a grand jury.
On December 5, 2019, Michael Smith died after he was beaten by DOC guards, but few details are available. One of the guards resigned in January 2020. Another “remains on mandatory leave while the ADOC pursues appropriate corrective action,” according to the Department.
Clearly, the DOC has a problem with staff violence in its prisons. As the bodies pile higher, one must wonder what the DOC intends to do about the problem. That is, anything other than forging time cards and shift logs and lying to investigators.