New lawsuit accuses state officials of retaliatory violence against prisoners
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
BOSTON – January 10, 2022 – Today, Prisoners’ Legal Services of Massachusetts (PLS) and the law firm Hogan Lovells filed a class action lawsuit against the Massachusetts Department of Correction (DOC) and its officials responsible for overseeing Souza-Baranowski Correctional Center (SBCC) during a campaign of systematic, extreme, and unconstitutional violence
against more than a hundred prisoners throughout SBCC in early 2020.
The complaint, Diggs V. Mici, was filed in the United States District Court for the District of Massachusetts on behalf of nine named plaintiffs, and a class of prisoners harmed during the violence in 2020 as well a class of all current and future people incarcerated at SBCC.
“Through this class action, the plaintiffs are seeking damages for the injuries suffered during a period of retaliatory force against prisoners, and injunctive relief to prevent such cruel treatment from being inflicted again,” said Hogan Lovells partner Greg Noonan.
Beginning on January 10th, 2020, DOC deployed tactical teams following an assault on officers. Although prisoners suspected of carrying out the assault on corrections officers were removed from SBCC within a few hours. The tactical teams began a month-long wave of retaliatory violence against the prisoners remaining at SBCC. The teams used brutal beatings; Taser guns and chemical agents; attack dogs; painful restraints and torture positions; ripping out or cutting Black and Latinx prisoners’ dreadlocks and braids; and racial slurs and dehumanizing language. This was not a restoration of order, it was brutal and calculated collective revenge. The campaign of violence was orchestrated and approved by supervisors and administrators at the highest levels of SBCC and the Department.
“This 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. In addition, this lawsuit is about bringing accountability to a state agency and system that is allowed to act with impunity over and over again- and not just with incidents of brutality. In the two years since these incidents occurred, no action has been taken by the Commonwealth to address the egregious assaults in January and February 2020, or the longstanding culture of violence by officers that continues to threaten prisoners at SBCC today. It is simply high time to hold corrections accountable,” said PLS Executive Director, Elizabeth Matos.
A description of the violence inflicted on one of the named plaintiffs, David Jackson, age 57, highlights the brutality that the prisoners endured:
“When the Tactical Team reached Mr. Jackson’s cell at approximately 11:30 a.m. or 12:00 p.m. on January 10, 2020, they yelled, ‘Get on the f***ing floor!’ Mr. Jackson lay on the floor, face-down. Despite his compliance, the Tactical Team entered the cell, stomped on Mr. Jackson’s head, and hit Mr. Jackson on the back of his head with a shield at least two times, causing a laceration and bleeding. The Tactical Team then tightly handcuffed Mr. Jackson and led him down the hallway, pulling him by his thumbs and wrists rather than his arms, causing extreme pain. The correctional officers brought Mr. Jackson to the visitation room, where he was strip-searched… The Tactical Team returned Mr. Jackson to the hallway outside of the visitation room, where he was forced to kneel, with dozens of other men, handcuffed and shackled, for five or six excruciating hours during which he was barred from resting back on his ankles, or resting his head against the wall.”
DOC leadership then denied necessary mental health and medical care, underfed and underclothed prisoners, and failed to document injuries. For example, after the assault on Mr. Jackson described above, his request for medical treatment went unaddressed until January 29th, 2020.
Furthermore, officials failed to record the uses of force, as required by law, and confiscated prisoners’ personal property and legal paperwork, which was only returned due to a preliminary injunction during a previously ongoing class-action suit against SBCC officials.
“As the complaint alleges in detail, incarcerated individuals at the Souza-Baranowski Correctional Center suffered unconstitutional violence, cruelty, and degrading treatment during the month of retaliatory force against prisoners,” added Hogan Lovells partner Anthony Fuller. “Far from opposing this misconduct, corrections officials appear to have authorized and condoned practices and customs that allowed officers to violate prisoners’ rights with impunity.”
Although the peak of the violence occurred between January and February 2020, SBCC staff continuously engage in acts of violence against prisoners, and have done nothing to amend the policies, practices, and customs that fostered this misconduct. PLS, which tracks reports of assaults by staff at prisons and jails across the state, consistently documents more assaults on prisoners at SBCC than any other prison or jail in Massachusetts.
“DOC talks about rehabilitating people but the brutality during this time showed how they really feel about people in prison. What happened to me was terrifying and dehumanizing. The public has no idea how brutal and violent it can be behind the wall. We are bringing this lawsuit to expose the inhumane way the DOC treats the people they incarcerate,” said Danavian Daniel, a named plaintiff in the lawsuit.
The events that occurred at SBCC were enabled by an inadequate response to the guard brutality that is endemic to the prison system. In 2020, legislation in Massachusetts related to increased transparency, data collection, and accountability in correctional use of force practices died on the vine. This class action lawsuit highlights that brutality is not perpetuated by a few “bad apples” but a broken system that not only fails to rehabilitate prisoners, but actively harms them physically and psychologically. We hope that this lawsuit will bring some needed accountability to a broken system.
Prisoners’ Legal Services of Massachusetts is an organization committed to being anti-racist and whose
mission is to challenge the carceral system through litigation, advocacy, client counseling, partnership
with impacted individuals and communities, and outreach to policymakers and the public in order to
promote the human rights of incarcerated persons and end harmful confinement. The office prioritizes
work involving health and mental health care, assaults by staff, extreme conditions of confinement
(including COVID, overcrowding, exorbitant prison phone rates), misuse of segregation and isolation, and
Global law firm Hogan Lovells has a long tradition of supporting ground-breaking social developments,
focusing on access to justice and the rule of law. As lawyers we recognize this commitment is part of our
professional practice and collectively we spend 150,000+ pro bono hours per year on work to achieve
lasting impact for others. More is here.