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by Sharon Rondeau

Department of “Correction,” or “Torture?”

(Jan. 30, 2016) — The letter below was sent by certified mail on January 14, 2016 to the official whose position, but not his name, was indicated on a form as the party to whom complaints regarding withheld prisoner mail were to be directed.

The Post & Email obtained the name, Jason Woodall, from Tennessee Department of Correction (TDOC) Communications Director Neysa Taylor earlier this month after learning that a letter sent to inmate Walter Francis Fitzpatrick, III was taken from his cell at the Northwest Correctional Complex (NWCX), Site 2, along with four stamps we had stapled to the letter.  Not only were those items taken, but we understand that all of his personal possessions were strewn across the floor “around the toilet” in an unwarranted raid intended to intimidate him.

Raids have reportedly continued and become more frequent since early December.

Fitzpatrick was sentenced in August 2014 to three years in state prison for convictions on “aggravated perjury” and “extortion” after attempting to gain an audience with the McMinn County, TN grand jury without then-grand jury foreman Jeffrey L Cunningham, who was hand-picked by Judge Amy Armstrong Reedy to serve indefinitely at her pleasure.

McMinn County is one of four counties situated within the Tenth Judicial District of Tennessee in the states southeastern corner bordering North Carolina.

Tennessee law allows any citizen to approach his county grand jury to report evidence of a crime.  According to Tenth Judicial District lead prosecutor Stephen Crump, “The grand jury is open to any citizen who wants to come and appear” and “… it is unethical for us to come in, particularly in Tennessee, and ask or tell the grand jury to vote a certain way.”

Although named as a perpetrator in Fitzpatrick’s petition to the grand jury and state law mandates it, Cunningham refused to step aside, and the petition was not reviewed. Rather, Reedy appointed a new foreman from among the remaining grand jurors, and four indictments, three of which were for felonies, were quickly returned against Fitzpatrick as he awaited a disposition on the petition while reading a book outside the grand jury room.

During Fitzpatrick’s trial, although considered the key witness, Cunningham admitted that he never filed a criminal complaint with the prosecutor’s office nor a police report with local police against Fitzpatrick for any alleged crime.

In June 2014, a jury convicted Fitzpatrick on the perjury and extortion charges, acquitting him of harassment, with Judge Jon Kerry Blackwood having dismissed the charge of stalking during the “trial.”

At the sentencing hearing on August 19, 2014, Blackwood called Fitzpatrick “a moral coward” and asked the rhetorical question out loud of “Who cares if the grand jury foreman is serving illegally?”  Blackwood is now fully retired, enjoying a taxpayer-funded pension.

Fitzpatrick was first sent to the Bledsoe County Correctional Complex (BCCX), then the Northwest Correctional Complex (NWCX) in December 2014, where he has remained since that time.  On January 27, Fitzpatrick turned 64 years old.

In early September, a Tennessee appellate panel upheld Fitzpatrick’s conviction, a ruling which Fitzpatrick’s attorney, Van Irion, has appealed to the state Supreme Court.

An 1883 Tennessee Supreme Court case reveals that the grand jury foreman at the time was chosen by the judge from among the 13 empaneled grand jurors, not “from anywhere they choose,” as has been done for the last century throughout the state.

Despite the unconstitutional indictments, incarcerations, and untold suffering of Tennessee citizens, the people have not called out corrupt public servants in large numbers, as Fitzpatrick has contended it will require for a change to occur.

On Friday, The Post & Email became aware that Fitzpatrick’s medical and physical situation has continued to deteriorate and that he “experiences pain every day.”  “Unnecessary, permanent physical injury is ongoing” against his person, we were told.

The Post & Email has also learned that Fitzpatrick’s cell is raided on a weekly basis in search of our correspondence with him, which violates no prison rules nor contains any forbidden objects, known in prison as “contraband.”  However, we have been informed that correction officers, with the knowledge of NWCX Warden Mike Parris, provide contraband to inmates in exchange for money.  “Majority of the staff make money off tobbacco, [sic] drugs, and cell phones. So they leave the gang members alone,” recently wrote one inmate.

Cell phones and tobacco are expressly prohibited at TDOC facilities in a document approved by Woodall himself.

Our letter to Woodall reads:

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