Federal lawsuit accuses state officials of retaliatory violence against Souza-Baranowski prisoners

Federal lawsuit accuses state officials of retaliatory violence against Souza-Baranowski prisoners

Class-action case filed by nine Black and Latino men focuses on treatment by prison officials in early 2020

The Boston Globe
By Mark Arsenault
January 11, 2022

A federal lawsuit filed Monday by nine Black and Latino men who are, or recently were, incarcerated at Souza-Baranowski Correctional Center accuses prison officials of orchestrating “weeks of unprovoked, retaliatory violence” against prisoners as a brutal reminder about who was in charge of the maximum-security institution.

The lawsuit, prepared by the nonprofit agency Prisoners’ Legal Services of Massachusetts, is the latest fallout from a controversial prison-wide lockdown and contraband search at Souza-Baranowski in early 2020. Prison officials locked down the facility and launched the shakedown in response to an assault on corrections officers by about 20 men in Souza’s N1 unit on Jan. 10, 2020. The lawsuit comes on the second anniversary of that brawl.

The suit describes a 5-week “retaliatory force campaign” by prison authorities against men who had nothing to do with the assault in the N1 unit. The campaign “consisted of officers attacking more than 100 prisoners using extreme, malicious, and cruel methods of force designed not to restore order, but to inflict pain, fear, and trauma,” the lawsuit states.

Elizabeth Matos, director of Prisoners’ Legal Services, said the lawsuit “aims to bring much needed and overdue justice to the many who were subjected to extreme and unlawful use of force by state officials and officers charged with their care.”

The action is also an attempt to rein in a state corrections system that is “allowed to act with impunity over and over again,” she said.

“It is simply high time to hold corrections accountable,” Matos said in a statement.

Reached Monday, a Department of Correction spokesman said the agency does not comment on pending or ongoing litigation.

The 59-page PLS complaint is unsparingly tough in its language and blunt in its allegations.

It accuses prison officials of “unconstitutional brutality,” including “beating and kicking prisoners; gouging eyes; grabbing testicles; smashing faces into the ground or wall; deploying Taser guns, pepper ball guns, and other chemical agents; ordering K9s to menace and bite prisoners; and excessively tightening handcuffs and forcing prisoners’ arms into unnatural and painful positions, among other positional torture tactics.”

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