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“WORKING IN A PANIC”
by Sharon Rondeau
(Aug. 20, 2015) — In a 44-page handwritten letter from Tennessee inmate Walter Francis Fitzpatrick, III dated 27 July 2015, he described his ongoing efforts to opt out of the Adult Basic Education class in which he is enrolled at the Northwest Correctional Complex (NWCX) despite his high level of education.
Fitzpatrick was immediately placed in the ABE class following his release from the Pro-Social Life Skills course to which he had objected after perceiving that it required him to make incriminatory statements. In a letter dated June 19, Fitzpatrick reported that the class instructor, Terry Hopper, had threatened him with a beating should he continue to refuse to participate.
On June 26, Fitzpatrick was peremptorily advised that he was excused from the Pro-Social Life Skills class and was moved to another guild within the prison.
In June of last year, Fitzpatrick was convicted of “aggravated perjury” and “extortion” by a McMinn County, TN jury following the issuance of indictments by a grand jury which was prejudiced against him by the actions of its then-foreman, Jeffrey L. Cunningham. A request from Fitzpatrick’s attorney, Van Irion, for a change of venue, and later, for a new trial, were refused by Senior Judge Jon Kerry Blackwood.
Since the fall of 2009, Fitzpatrick has reported on systemic corruption within the Tennessee courts which allows criminal court judges to hand-pick the foreman of each county grand jury. The foreman is then allowed to serve for as long as the judge wishes, sometimes for decades, as a sort of court employee.
On a conference call on Wednesday evening, the moderator noted that it was exactly one year since Fitzpatrick’s sentencing by Blackwood on August 19, 2014. Observers of the hearing provided sworn affidavits to The Post & Email stating that Blackwood had asked rhetorically during a lengthy soliloquy, “Who cares if the grand jury foreman is serving illegally?” and declared, “I’m tired of all these people coming in here and talking about their constitutional rights.”
Blackwood additionally called Fitzpatrick “a moral coward.”
The state of Tennessee has both said that the grand jury foreman is a juror and voting member of the grand jury but also that he or she is not a juror, depending on the circumstance. Blackwood has stated that “the grand jury foreman is no different than any other juror” but has signed multiple appointing orders for foremen dating back to at least 1980.
Despite having been provided with voluminous documentation of discrepancies and violations of law on the part of criminal court judges, Tennessee’s mainstream media refuses to investigate whether or not its county grand juries are operating legally.
Similarly, the Tennessee Administrative Office of the Courts (TAOC) responds only selectively to questions posed by The Post & Email regarding the media’s inability to obtain public records or even ascertain where they are maintained. In the past, TAOC employee Connie Turner told The Post & Email that audio-recordings and typed transcripts are considered “public information” but that their release is within the purview of each individual county court.
According to the Tennessee Department of Correction (TDOC), the Pro-Social Life Skills curriculum is intended to assist inmates with “anti-social thinking patterns” and “Pro-Criminal Attitude/Orientation,” among other chronic problems linked to a serial pattern of criminality to modify their behavior so as to ultimately be able to re-enter society.
The Post & Email has learned and demonstrated that the TDOC administrative procedures handbook describes the PSLS course as “not voluntary.”
In his letter, which required several days to complete because of various interruptions, Fitzpatrick reiterated that during the intake process one year ago at the Bledsoe County Correctional Complex (BCCX), he was informed by Classification Counselor Paul Oakes that “my veteran’s status and my level of education were accepted and verified.” The purpose of Adult Basic Education is to prepare the student to take the high school equivalency exam, or “GED.”
Fitzpatrick has been attempting to obtain a release from ABE since June 29 to no avail. He has characterized the forced participation of inmates in classes for which they are not qualified, are exempt by TDOC administrative policies, or which they have taken previously as a “daily robbery of the federal bank” billed to U.S. taxpayers.
Fitzpatrick’s letter also contains details of a violent altercation among rival gang members which took place on July 24 at NWCX, although not in the building where Fitzpatrick is currently housed. Tennessee mainstream media has reported on both the uprising and the current staffing crisis caused by a shortage of correctional officers, whose ranks have dwindled by more than 300 across the state, presumably because of a change in how and when overtime pay is calculated. The new rule, enacted by TDOC Commissioner Derrick Schofield last summer without input from the legislature, led approximately ten correctional officers to visit state legislators’ chambers with written complaints in hand on August 12.
On page 21, Fitzpatrick described how he engaged in a conversation with prison “Counselor Gary Copeland” to ask why he remains enrolled in ABE. Fitzpatrick’s meeting with Copeland followed his questioning of “school principal” Ronald Lanier and others, who appeared to be unaware that Fitzpatrick should have been easily exempted from the course on various counts, as The Post & Email has reported.
On page 23, Fitzpatrick continued after encountering an interruption:
On pages 25-27, reverting to a discussion of the July 24 violence, Fitzpatrick wrote:
Allow me to interject here news reports from outside local and Tennessee media aggressively report on the past week’s Site I multiple-units riots and mass stabbings. I’m told a local news crew was onsite here at Site II two (2) or so days ago.
Take note all the serious fighting occurred at Site I…not here at Site II.
Warden Mike W. Parris is frantically trying to keep the lid on any detailed descriptions regarding the actual scope and widespread nature of the violence and working in a panic to secret specific numbers of men injured, those hospitalized, those transported by ambulance and those air-lifted to critical care, mass casualty facilities as far away as Nashville.
Fitzpatrick’s report was consistent with that of inmate Bryant K. Lewis, documentation from whom was published in an article at The Post & Email on Wednesday.
A new day brought the following update:
Fitzpatrick then provided a written and graphic description of the NWCX buildings in relation to the scene of the July 24 gang-related violence.
On page 30 of his letter, Fitzpatrick related, “The TDOC/NWCX complex is in turmoil. More expansively the state wide [sic] TDOC organization is on the brink of utter failure. Narratives vectored to me are coming so quickly I can’t keep up.”
Page 31 contains the comment:
To emphasize: most of any information illuminating the terrible internal storm raging within the TDOC organization is being successfully suppressed.