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Articles by Dale Chappell

L.A. County Sheriff Says Prisoners Intentionally Tried to Catch Coronavirus to Get Released

by Dale Chappell

After seeing surveillance video of a group of prisoners drinking hot water from the same cup – allegedly attempting to raise their body temperature before it was checked by a nurse – and then sharing sniffs of a face mask, Los Angeles County Sheriff Alex Villanueva said at a press conference on May 11, 2020, that prisoners were “deliberately [trying] to expose themselves to COVID-19.”

It’s a story that sounds like it should come plastered with a “Don’t try this at your jail” warning: In that housing unit at North County Correctional Facility in Castaic, 21 prisoners subsequently tested positive for coronavirus – almost 40 percent of the unit’s population. From the end of April 2020, the county jail saw its number of coronavirus cases triple to 357.

“So, in this environment, and then considering the fact that the 21 tested positive out of that module, shows what their intention was,” Sheriff Villanueva said.

While it’s clearly a bad idea to infect yourself with the coronavirus to try to get released from jail, the sheriff made it just as clear that he wasn’t releasing anyone because of a positive coronavirus test.

“Somehow there was some mistaken belief ...

ACLU Files Lawsuit Against CoreCivic Prison in Arizona over COVID-19 Failures

by Dale Chappell

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) has filed a federal lawsuit against a private prison run by CoreCivic in Florence, Arizona, claiming that staff has failed to protect its prisoners and the community from the coronavirus, according to a story in The Appeal and court records.

According to papers filed in the U.S. District Court for the District of Arizona on May 9, 2020, CoreCivic has made it impossible for prisoners to adhere to state-mandated “social distancing” because of overcrowding, failed to properly quarantine prisoners suspected of having the coronavirus and new prisoners coming into the prison, failed to test prisoners who have shown symptoms for coronavirus, lied to prisoners about there being no COVID-19 cases in the prison, refused to give prisoners masks and made them share masks, and continues to use prison labor to run CoreCivic’s factory without any precautions.

The five prisoners who filed the lawsuit said they have numerous medical conditions putting them at high risk of death from COVID-19. Some also have cancer that CoreCivic has left untreated since their incarceration months ago, putting them at further risk of serious illness. Some of the prisoners are sitting in jail on minor charges, ...

Oklahoma Jail Sued for Mocking Prisoner as He Died

by Dale Chappell

Surveillance video released in January 2020 from the Ottawa County Jail in Miami, Oklahoma, provides graphic evidence of the neglect and abuse suffered by detainee Terral Ellis at the hands of jail staff in the days leading up to his death from septic shock and pneumonia in October 2015. The new video and audio evidence corroborated details provided to an attorney for Ellis’ family by at least 16 former prisoners who were in jail at the time he died and agreed to testify on his behalf.

“It’s a horrific, horrific death,” said Dan Smolen, an attorney specializing in jail death cases who is representing the Ellis family. “It’s jarring.”

Smolen filed a federal lawsuit on behalf of the Ellis family in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Oklahoma in 2017 against the county, the sheriff’s office and the jail’s nurse contractor. See: Burke, et al v. Ottowa County, U.S.N.C. (N.D. Okla), Case No. 17-cv-00325-JED-FHM.

Using descriptions from Ellis’ fellow inmates written two days after his death, the suit lays out its gruesome details.

On October 10, 2015, the 26-year-old Ellis took his grandfather’s advice and turned himself in to the jail on an ...

Recent Exonerees Give the Public Advice on Being Locked Down: You Have No Idea

by Dale Chappell

Now the whole country is incarcerated,” Theophalis “Binky Bilal” Wilson said after being released in January 2020, exonerated after 28 years wrongfully in prison, only to find himself locked in at home. “This is a microcosm of what a person experiences when he is incarcerated,” he said. “This is nothing.”

He’s of course talking about the “lock down” of the entire world due to the coronavirus pandemic that has city streets deserted across the nation. Wilson was exonerated this year after it was found that the prosecutor used false evidence, false accusations, and committed “official misconduct” in securing a murder conviction against Wilson when he was 17.

While the stay-at-home orders have prevented him from restarting his life going to work for a law firm helping others still stuck in prison, he’s happy to give advice to those who have never experienced being locked down. He’s also hopeful the “incarceration” of the country will create some empathy for prisoners stuck in prisons being ravaged by the coronavirus.

Another recent exoneree, Mark Whitaker, also has some advice to the newbies on “lock down” at home: “You have to be creative. You better have something to do with you ...

Federal Judge “Troubled” by Arizona Prison Director’s Response to Coronavirus; State Rep Calls it “Reckless”

Court-appointed advocates filed a motion in federal court concerning the Arizona prison director’s response to the coronavirus, which federal Judge Roslyn Silver called “troubling,” writing that it “may reflect a failure to accept what could be a grave threat.”

She wasn’t the only one disturbed by Arizona Department of Corrections, Rehabilitation and Reentry Director David Shinn’s handling of the pandemic. News that at least three Arizona prison guards had tested positive for the coronavirus as of April 1, 2020, did not reach prison staff and the prisoners through the department, but only via TV news.

It wasn’t until the morning after ABC15 broke the news that Winslow prison warden John Mattos sent an all-staff email admitting the details. Still, he criticized the news channel, writing that “they are not our friends” and “are only looking for a big story.”

ABC15 obtained internal emails and documents showing that as of April 1, only 30 percent of symptomatic prisoners had been tested, and that 358 prison employees had been turned away from coming to work because of health screening at the gate.

“I really don’t understand the rationale of DOC’s lack of transparency at all,” said Rep. Diego Rodriguez. ...

Federal Court Grants Default Summary Judgment in Favor of Indiana Prisoner as Sanction for State’s Lies

by Dale Chappell

In a rare move, the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Indiana on January 3, 2020 granted default judgment in favor of a prisoner who sued Wabash Valley Correctional Facility, after prison staff and the Indiana Attorney General’s (AG) Office “blatantly” lied to the Court and refused to turn over evidence that exposed their falsities.

The prisoner, Phillip Littler, who acted pro se for much of the lawsuit, sued Wabash Valley guards for the use of excessive force committed on December 27, 2015. On that day, they shot him in the face with a pepper-ball gun and sprayed him with pepper spray when he refused to submit to a strip search, which he said was a ruse to humiliate him. He suffered a head injury, including a possible broken nose.

In response to Littler’s lawsuit, the AG Office represented prison staff and moved for summary judgment, arguing that Littler’s claims had no basis and that there were no material facts in dispute that would warrant further action by the Court.

In support of the summary judgment motion, the State offered sworn statements by guards that Littler’s claims were not only baseless, but that the guards ...

$25 Million Jury Award to Baltimore City Prisoner For Guards Setting Up Retaliatory Gang Attack

A jury awarded a prisoner brutally beaten at the Baltimore City Detention Center $25 million, after guards allegedly worked in concert with a gang and arranged a beating as retaliation for complaints filed by a detainee awaiting trial.

The beating left Daquan Wallace in a coma for two months, and now he has to use a wheelchair and cannot talk. The incident happened in October 2014, after three Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services (DPSCS) guards cooperated with members of the Black Guerilla Family gang to set up the brutal beating. Wallace’s lawsuit claimed that the beating was in retaliation for complaints by his mother that jailers weren’t protecting her son from the gang.

Wallace’s mother told jail staff numerous times that her son was routinely beaten for refusing to join the gang, the lawsuit said. In response, staff allegedly moved him to a unit with the gang members, with more unmonitored areas to allow the beating.

Wallace claimed that when everyone went to dinner one night, guards allowed gang members to stay back with their cell doors unlocked, against policy. Within minutes, Wallace was beaten by the gang. Wallace’s cellmate returned to find him unconscious ...

Prison Plays Go on the Road, Teach Prisoners Life Skills

The Colorado Department of Corrections (DOC) teamed up with the University of Denver’s Prison Arts Initiative and took some prison plays on the road last December. It’s the first time a prison play has gone on tour.

About 40 prisoners from the Denver Women’s Correctional Facility traveled ...

Suicide Rate of BOP Guards Keeps Increasing, Sets New Record

The suicide rate among guards in the federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP) keeps increasing, reaching a record high in 2019 for the most suicides in a single year: 14.

Top brass at both state and federal prisons have known for years that the suicide rate of prison ...

Are Prison Law Libraries Adequate?

If you’ve ever had to rely on a prison law library to research for a court filing, you know just how sorely lacking they can be. And that’s if you were even able to access the law library. Many states do not provide law libraries for prisoners. ...