In Federal Lawsuit, Tennessee Inmate Claims Fear of Impending “Physical Injury”

“STRIKING ME REPEATEDLY IN THE FACE WITH CLOSED FISTS”

by Sharon Rondeau

(Mar. 23, 2019) — An inmate at the Northwest Correctional Complex (NWCX) with whom The Post & Email has corresponded intermittently over the last two years has filed a federal civil-rights lawsuit against the Tennessee Department of Correction (TDOC) and a number of its employees.

Omowale A. Shabazz, who was incarcerated in state prison under the name “Fred Dean” in 1995, alleges in the 34-page complaint that he has been the victim of “a criminal and civil conspiracy to violate plaintiff’s constitutional rights by issuing him false/bogus disciplinary reports and contact notes, which resulted in plaintiff’s job being terminated, and by denying him complete access to the law library.”

Further, Shabazz alleges in the suit, he is under “eminent danger of physical injury” [sic] (p. 4).  “In the last year the plaintiff has been assaulted twice by prison officials and once by an inmate,” he wrote on page 2 of the suit. “Plaintiff asserts that he is in imminent danger of physical harm, because he is routinely targeted by prison officials for engaging in constitutionally protected activities, i.e., writing grievances and filing lawsuits, and that NWCX is the most dangerous prison he has been at in the entire twenty plus years of his incarceration.”

On July 24, 2015, NWCX was the scene of a violent incident precipitated by gang members wherein eight inmates were taken to the hospital. According to reports from inmates housed there at the time, then-Warden Mike Parris and his staff were attempting to keep from the public details of the incident, which occurred during a statewide prison staffing crisis.

“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,” then-inmate Walter Francis Fitzpatrick, III wrote in a July 30, 2015 letter of the incident.

On July 30, 2015, the TDOC issued a press release which reads, in part, “Despite recent false media reports, this incident was not the result of any vacancies, “staffing shortages,” or recent scheduling changes. At every TDOC prison across the state, all mandatory posts are appropriately staffed and sometimes that requires the use of paid overtime. The investigation into the incident has revealed the incident resulted from a conflict between two rival gangs in a local community spilling over into the prisons. Inmates with alliances to illegal gangs make up nearly one third of our inmate population.”

In a letter from January of this year, Shabazz claimed he was assaulted earlier that month by “a Sgt. Collins, who was assisted by a Cpl. Baggett.”  A “Cpl. Baggert” is named as one of the defendants in the suit.  Shabazz claims a total of four assaults since 1995.

Repeating a claim made to this publication in dozens of NWCX-inmate letters received over the past four years, Shabazz wrote, “At NWCX, officers and inmates are routinely assaulted, prison knives are abundant, and various gangs virtually run the institution, which creates an extremely dangerous environment which places the health and safety of staff and inmates in imminent danger of being assaulted or killed on any given day.”

In addition to First Amendment rights, Shabazz claims the TDOC has violated his Fifth, Eighth, and Fourteenth Amendment rights. He attributes conditions at NWCX to short-staffing and the concomitant “forced close proximity of prisoners to each other…” (p. 4.)

On pages 9-10, Shabazz claimed that while being taken to “segregation,” which he alleged was undeserved, he was “dragged up the stairs” and “shoved around” during placement in the new cell.  “The officials then jammed my head into the concrete wall while striking me repeatedly in the face with closed fists for no reason whatsoever.”

He alleges that following the assault, he was denied medical care and hygiene items while in segregation.

The complaint, available at PACER.GOV, can be read here:  3600776-0–2185, while 74 pages of accompanying documentation is here:  3600776-1–2298

Several years ago, Shabazz legally changed his name from “Fred Edmond Dean” to “Omowale Ashanti Shabazz,” although at times letters addressed to the latter without reference to the former are returned to the sender.  His TDOC record (shown above) indicates he was eligible for parole in 2001.

Shabazz is the co-author of “Journey To Consciousness: While Behind Bars,” published in June of last year.

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