“We are bringing this lawsuit to expose the inhumane way the DOC treats the people they incarcerate.”
Dig readers know all about the horrors happening in our own backyard via the Mass Department of Correction (DOC). From brutality carried out against LGBTQ prisoners by officers and other inmates, to an opaque parole system that serves as a revolving door, returning people to cells for nonviolent technical violations, there’s never any shortage of smoke leading to fires from Central Mass to Bridgewater.
Those who advocate for the rights of prisoners are also overwhelmed. Still, you have to sue somebody every now and again to show them you’re paying attention, and so in the midst of endless COVID prison horror, in January Prisoners’ Legal Services of Massachusetts (PLS) and the law firm Hogan Lovells filed a class action lawsuit against the Massachusetts Department of Correction (DOC) and those responsible for overseeing Souza-Baranowski Correctional Center (SBCC) in Lancaster northwest of Boston for what they call “a campaign of systematic, extreme, and unconstitutional violence against more than a hundred prisoners throughout SBCC in early 2020.”
According to PLS, “the complaint, Diggs V. Mici, was filed in the United States District Court for the District of Massachusetts on behalf of nine named plaintiffs, and a class of prisoners harmed during the violence in 2020 as well a class of all current and future people incarcerated at SBCC.”
“Through this class action, the plaintiffs are seeking damages for the injuries suffered during a period of retaliatory force against prisoners, and injunctive relief to prevent such cruel treatment from being inflicted again,” Hogan Lovells partner Greg Noonan said in a statement. The joint media release further explained:
Beginning on January 10th, 2020, DOC deployed tactical teams following an assault on officers. Although prisoners suspected of carrying out the assault on corrections officers were removed from SBCC within a few hours. The tactical teams began a month-long wave of retaliatory violence against the prisoners remaining at SBCC. The teams used brutal beatings; Taser guns and chemical agents; attack dogs; painful restraints and torture positions; ripping out or cutting Black and Latinx prisoners’ dreadlocks and braids; and racial slurs and dehumanizing language. This was not a restoration of order, it was brutal and calculated collective revenge. The campaign of violence was orchestrated and approved by supervisors and administrators at the highest levels of SBCC and the Department.
“This lawsuit aims to bring much needed and overdue justice to the many who were subjected to extreme and unlawful use of force by state officials and officers charged with their care. In addition, this lawsuit is about bringing accountability to a state agency and system that is allowed to act with impunity over and over again- and not just with incidents of brutality,” PLS Executive Director Elizabeth Matos said. “In the two years since these incidents occurred, no action has been taken by the Commonwealth to address the egregious assaults in January and February 2020, or the longstanding culture of violence by officers that continues to threaten prisoners at SBCC today. It is simply high time to hold corrections accountable.”
David Jackson, one of the named plaintiffs, further described the events: “When the Tactical Team reached Mr. Jackson’s cell at approximately 11:30am or 12:00pm on January 10, 2020, they yelled, ‘Get on the fucking floor!’ Mr. Jackson lay on the floor, face-down. Despite his compliance, the Tactical Team entered the cell, stomped on Mr. Jackson’s head, and hit Mr. Jackson on the back of his head with a shield at least two times, causing a laceration and bleeding. The Tactical Team then tightly handcuffed Mr. Jackson and led him down the hallway, pulling him by his thumbs and wrists rather than his arms, causing extreme pain. The correctional officers brought Mr. Jackson to the visitation room, where he was strip-searched… The Tactical Team returned Mr. Jackson to the hallway outside of the visitation room, where he was forced to kneel, with dozens of other men, handcuffed and shackled, for five or six excruciating hours during which he was barred from resting back on his ankles, or resting his head against the wall.”
“As the complaint alleges in detail,” Hogan Lovells partner Anthony Fuller said, “ incarcerated individuals at the Souza-Baranowski Correctional Center suffered unconstitutional violence, cruelty, and degrading treatment during the month of retaliatory force against prisoners. Far from opposing this misconduct, corrections officials appear to have authorized and condoned practices and customs that allowed officers to violate prisoners’ rights with impunity.”
Danavian Daniel, a named plaintiff in the lawsuit, said, “DOC talks about rehabilitating people but the brutality during this time showed how they really feel about people in prison. What happened to me was terrifying and dehumanizing. The public has no idea how brutal and violent it can be behind the wall. We are bringing this lawsuit to expose the inhumane way the DOC treats the people they incarcerate.”
“The events that occurred at SBCC were enabled by an inadequate response to the guard
brutality that is endemic to the prison system,” the statement added. “In 2020, legislation in Massachusetts related to increased transparency, data collection, and accountability in correctional use of force practices died on the vine. This class action lawsuit highlights that brutality is not perpetuated by a few ‘bad apples’ but a broken system that not only fails to rehabilitate prisoners, but actively harms them physically and psychologically. We hope that this lawsuit will bring some needed accountability to a broken system.”