by Sharon Rondeau

(Mar. 4, 2018) — In a letter received on Thursday dated February 26, 2018, Bledsoe County Correctional Complex (BCCX) inmate Robert Z. Whipple, III provided an update on his reported lack of access to the prison law library for a number of months dating back to last year.

Tennessee Department of Correction (TDOC) and American Correctional Association (ACA) policies, as well as the U.S. Supreme Court ruling in Bounds v. Smith state that inmates must be provided reasonable access to facility law libraries or their equivalent.

Last fall, Whipple updated a 2014 civil-rights lawsuit, Whipple v. Millay, over his inability to use the “Site 2” law library in order to conduct research for three active cases which he said were prompted by the alleged actions or inaction of the TDOC in response to a number of grievances.

Whipple has claimed retaliation in the form of his relocation from the Turney Center Industrial Complex (TCIX) to BCCX in apparent response to his exercising of his “First Amendment rights,” including filing the aforementioned suit.

In his latest letter, Whipple indicated that in lieu of law library access, a computer terminal containing the “Westlaw” legal research tool “was installed at the annex (finally) last week, although not without a few hiccups.”

According to Whipple, the BCCX librarian “put up a sign” stating that the terminal was unavailable “until the Associate Warden, Shannon Green comes out with rules concerning its use.” [sic]

Whipple reported that he happened to see Green the following day and that “she claimed to have no idea about the note and said it could be used now.” [emphasis Whipple’s]

Further staff posturing occurred after Green “posted a memo about Westlaw, assuring that it would be available all hours the library is open” but a correction officer reportedly “started locking the library door” when the librarian, Richard King, was not present.

Whipple then contended that the correction officer “even went so far as to tell other inmates they could not use the library because of me.” [emphasis Whipple’s]

On August 21, 2017, The Post & Email published parts of a contemporaneous letter from Whipple in which he wrote in regard to another lawsuit against the Tennessee Board of Parole that he “was promised parole by a hearing officer in 2014 if I completed TCOM (drug program).”

Whipple stated in the same letter that he completed the program successfully.  His FOIL entry at the time stated that he was eligible for parole on January 29, 2014.

Upon checking FOIL on Sunday, The Post & Email found that Whipple’s parole eligibility date was oddly backdated to “12/02/2013” and that he is scheduled for a parole hearing next month (see above graphic).

His complete letter appears below.

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  1. Sharon

    You might find it interesting that access to the computer with WestLaw is still an issue for all of the inmates in the annex. It seems that several of the guards have taken it upon themselves to limit access by locking the library. They do this when the “librarian” another inmate is not in the library even though this was never the policy until the WestLaw access was established in the annex library. Now it is possible that the guard really do not care about what the federal court system has to say about access to court or they have received verbal instruction from one of the warden at BCCX to cause and limit access to this program as possible.

    This all started when one of the wardens determined that it was not acceptable for inmates to keep filing complaints and federal cases and when it included themselves and the BCCX staff, that is when they started the harassment and their what appears to be unconstitutional restrictions to the federal courts by not allowing access to legal materials including the WestLaw terminal in site 2. Then they claimed that this would be a security issue to allow trustees to go to site 2 and use the library, just because they have to go their for numerous other reasons?

    In an attempt to get legal access using WestLaw for himself as well as other trustees in the annex, Robert has agreed to drop one of his major cases against the TDOC and the staff personnel at Turney Center. That staff started the same kind of harassment and retaliation against him for filing complaints and grievances. One thing lead to another and then federal cases followed. You would think that the TDOC would be bright enough to prevent the cost and issues caused by numerous federal case, but they have proven over and over again that they are not capable of any logical thinking and can only react even when that includes constitutional violations.