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by Sharon Rondeau

NWCX is located in the northwest tip of Tennessee near the Missouri border. It has housed very dangerous inmates in the past.

(Jul. 23, 2015) — Beginning in late May, retired Naval officer and Tennessee prison inmate Walter Francis Fitzpatrick, III reported that staff at the Northwest Correctional Center (NWCX) had enrolled him in the Pro-Social Life Skills class despite his having been deemed unsuitable for it during his intake period at the Bledsoe County Correctional Center (BCCX) last fall.

Fitzpatrick was convicted of aggravated perjury and extortion in June 2014 after attempting to present petitions to the McMinn County grand jury containing what he believed was solid evidence of judicial and prosecutorial corruption within the county and greater judicial district.

For the last six years, Fitzpatrick has related how grand jury foremen in Tennessee are hand-selected by the criminal court judge and allowed to serve for an indefinite amount of time, often voting with the 12 grand jurors allegedly chosen by random means as dictated by law. However, Fitzpatrick was first indicted by a Monroe County grand jury containing a foreman who had served a previous term as a petit juror in violation of state law.

In that case, Senior Judge Johnny Kerry Blackwood allowed the indictments to stand despite the defective grand jury.

Since Fitzpatrick’s first Tennessee arrest in April 2010, an increasing number of Tennesseans and court observers have come forward to report obfuscation, forgery, unsubstantiated indictments, retaliatory arrests, police brutality, judicial corruption, and prosecutorial malfeasance within the state’s criminal courts. In addition to The Post & Email, The Chattanooga Times Free Press has reported on allegations that grand jurors within the Tenth Judicial District, where Fitzpatrick was residing, were unduly influenced by prosecutors; that former District Attorney General R. Steven Bebb was accused of misconduct and assault prior to his leaving office last spring; and that Drug Task Force vehicles were routinely used by Bebb and his deputies for personal use.

After Fitzpatrick approached agents at the Knoxville FBI office about the judges’ misconduct, one of them, a native Tennessean, ridiculed him for demanding a fair trial in Tennessee.  “Live with it!” were the agent’s words.

Fitzpatrick refused to participate in the Pro-Social Life Skills class because he perceived, from the workbooks provided by instructor Terry Hopper, that he would be coerced into admitting guilt of crimes he did not commit which he believed would be particularly damaging in light of the fact that his attorney, Van Irion, had argued his innocence before an appellate court approximately ten days before.

According to the TDOC website, the Pro-Social Life Skills class is intended to assist drug and alcohol abusers to acknowledge their poor choices so that they can modify their behavior in anticipation of rejoining society at the end of their sentences.  The course is described by the TDOC as:

Available at seven (7) TDOC facilities, this is a high intensity program designed for those ranking Medium-Very High in one or more of the following LS/CMI areas: Pro-Criminal Attitude/Orientation, Anti-Social Thinking Pattern, Companions, Leisure/Recreation, and Family/Marital.

In a series of very detailed letters in June, Fitzpatrick described increasing tensions between Hopper and other staff members and him culminating in Hopper’s threat of bodily harm on June 19 should he continue to refuse to participate in the class.  Fitzpatrick also received a disciplinary “Class A” write-up, after which he requested a hearing.

The federal reimbursement for each Pro-Social Life Skills class participant is reportedly as much as $3,000.  In early June, The Post & Email wrote a letter to NWCX Warden Mike Parris, copied to TDOC Commissioner Derrick Schofield, about the allegations of a prisoners-for-profit enterprise operating within the prison but never received a response from either official.

Earlier this month, a Tennessee citizen residing in the same legislative district as Fitzpatrick prior to his incarceration asked State Rep. John Forgety to investigate Fitzpatrick’s reported threat incident, with the result that the TDOC denied that there was any “evidence” that it had occurred.

The Post & Email has attempted to reach Forgety on several occasions but never received a response.

Fitzpatrick filed a criminal complaint against Hopper and instructor Candice Prince, who he said looked on as Hopper lunged at him in her office, threatening to “beat you to the middle of next week” if he did not relent in his refusal to take the course.

According to an investigative report by the I-Team at Channel 4 in Nashville last year, many staff-on-inmate and inmate-on-staff assaults within Tennessee prisons are not reported.  The Post & Email was told by TDOC Communications Director Neysa Taylor that no “public” record of a September 11, 2009 alleged assault by two former correctional officers on Timothy Aaron Baxter exists within the agency’s files.  However, Taylor pointed out in a subsequent email that Tennessee law prohibits the release of internal affairs reports within the TDOC.

On June 26, after his personal papers were raided for a third time by correctional officers apparently searching for mentions of their names within The Post & Email’s articles, Fitzpatrick was suddenly moved to a different guild within NWCX and told that his enrollment in the Pro-Social Life Skills class was canceled.

Counselor Vivian Windsor informed Fitzpatrick that the disciplinary hearing was also canceled, then that it was rescheduled for July 1.  However, when Fitzpatrick appeared for the hearing at the appointed time, he was told that the necessary staff members were not working that day.

The Post & Email expects to learn in the near future whether or not the hearing ever took place.  However, Johnson reported that in regard to Fitzpatrick, “they threw the write-up out.”

On Thursday, The Post & Email received a letter from Jerome Johnson, TDOC inmate #150724, stating that he is “a very close friend of Mr. Fitzpatrick.”  Like Fitzpatrick, Johnson related that NWCX staff attempted to force into the Pro-Social Life Skills course in place of a “kitchen job,” receiving a write-up after he refused to participate.  “I like to take this opportunity to bring to your attention, that for the (3) years I’ve been hear, I never had any write-ups, nor any disciplinary infractions. But on Monday afternoon 7/13/2015 Mrs. Ruth Long “The Job Coordinator” had me to come to her office, and when I arrived she says to me that she has dropped me from my Guild Kitchen Job, and I am to go to the Pro-social Life Skills Program and I explained to her that I can’t go to that Program I’m about to be going to court in about (60) days to have an Post-Conviction Hearing and I need all the Law Library time I can get preparing for this Post-Conviction hearing. And there I was being threatened by Mrs. Ruth, she threatened me with an Class ‘A’ write-up.  She threatened to send me to the “Hole” to do Hole time, and threatened to move me from a minimum security level, to a maximum security level which is the main compound…,” [sic] Johnson wrote.

As with another recent letter received from a different NWCX inmate, Johnson described dangerous gangs within the prison and frequent robberies and other transgressions.

Along with his July 14 letter, Johnson included the write-up he received from Pro-Social Life Skills instructor Terry Hopper, the same individual Fitzpatrick identified as having physically threatened him on June 19 in the presence of fellow instructor Candice Prince.

Johnson’s four-page letter and three-page disciplinary report follow.

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