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INDIVIDUAL REPORTS NOW SAY “ASSAULT;” MASTER REPORT CITED “ILLNESS” AS CAUSE FOR HOSPITALIZATION
by Sharon Rondeau
(Sep. 5, 2015) — On Friday, The Post & Email received a letter from Northwest Correctional Complex (NWCX) inmate Bryant K. Lewis, who has written to us over the summer in a series of letters about violence within the facility and its causes.
NWCX is located in Tiptonville in the northwestern corner of the state bordering Missouri. The state of Tennessee has a total of 13 prisons, two of which are operated by a private company, Corrections Corporation of America (CCA), based in Nashville
Lewis has reported that he himself was a victim of gang violence in 2014 and has contacted Tennessee Department of Correction (TDOC) Commissioner Derrick Schofield three times about the perilous situation he has observed and experienced at NWCX.
Following a violent uprising at the facility on July 24 of this year, a press release from the Tennessee Department of Correction (TDOC) stated that its cause was “a conflict between two rival gangs in a local community spilling over into the prisons.”
Lewis, who said he has been incarcerated for 25 years, stated that the housing of gang members within the general population has been an ongoing problem and places everyone at risk. He has expressed concern for both correctional officers and inmates caused by the volatile arrangement.
On August 18, The Tennessean reported that two corrections officers were assaulted by inmates in separate incidents and subsequently hospitalized. Schofield has denied that safety within state prisons is deteriorating due to staff shortages and working conditions. However, in response, The Tennessean wrote, “That contradicts reports from officers, inmates and family members who’ve told The Tennessean that staffing shortages and other issues are escalating safety concerns at state prisons. Schofield has also denied reports that prison officials are changing reports on inmate attacks so that they are not reflected as assaults.”
Following the incident at the Morgan County Correctional Complex (MCCX) detailed in The Tennessean’s August 18 report, the inmate reportedly involved in assaulting the correctional officer called Channel 4’s I-Team to report the incident and conclude that “anyone looking at the prison system should look closer.”
“There’s two sides to the story. You got this side, this side, and then you got the truth,” the inmate was quoted as having said.
Inmate Walter Francis Fitzpatrick, III has told The Post & Email that NWCX Warden Mike Parris has taken extraordinary steps to keep the facts about the July 24 violence from reaching the public, including halting outgoing inmate phone calls.
On August 10, the Tennessee House of Representatives State Government Committee questioned Schofield and a number of corrections officers about the reported rising violence and safety concerns within the state’s prisons.
On August 27, a State Senate subcommittee heard testimony from a former Tennessee prison warden, current and retired correctional officers, the Tennessee State Employees Association (TSEA), and Schofield about the current conditions and operating procedures of the state’s penitentiaries.
Video of the more recent hearing can be viewed here.
The I-Team reported last year that a former warden and a former assistant warden stated that assaults within the prisons are not always reported accurately if reported at all. Last month, current MCCX Warden Shawn Phillips was quoted as having said that following any incident, a “placeholder” incident report is entered “before they get all the facts.”
Following the August 27 hearing, Schofield agreed to an independent audit of the TDOC’s staffing practices, safety concerns and incident reporting. The American Correctional Association (ACA) will reportedly be conducting the study this month.
In a letter dated August 13, Lewis reported that the injuries sustained by several inmates who required hospitalization following the July 24 gang-related violence were noted on a master roster as “illness” while separate incident reports provided by Lewis identified inmates by name, prisoner number, and the reason for the hospitalization as an “injury” on July 24.
Lewis circled the time indicated on each incident sheet and again on the master list to show that they match. All of the incident dates appearing on both types of reports generated on the evening of the prison violence read “07/24/2015.”
In his latest letter, Lewis wrote, “I am sending you computer generated printouts that will match up with the previous printouts that I sent to you in my last letter. These have been changed as you can see. And you will also see that the changes come exactly the very next day after the meeting was held in Nashville. Now, how much more is needed to show the wrong doings [sic] of Tennessee Department of Correction.” [sic]
Other incident reports in The Post & Email’s possession containing the inmate names, time of the incident and cause of hospitalization as “injury” exactly match the incident times listed in the comprehensive report which states the cause as “illness.”
On August 28, the day after the second legislative hearing, some reports containing the names of men who were rushed to hospitals on July 24 were updated with more detail, including that “an Office of Investigation and Compliance” probe of the incidents in question, all occurring on July 24, had been conducted.
Updated reports referring to the July 24 gang violence clearly show that none of the inmates received treatment for “illness.” Another such report reads:
Lewis’s recent letter reads: