Federal lawsuit alleges brutal abuse by Souza-Baranowski officers
Inmates recount weeks-long campaign of racially charged violence
A FEDERAL LAWSUIT filed by Prisoners’ Legal Services on Monday alleges brutal, violent, and racist behavior by correctional officers at the Souza-Baranowski prison, giving a rare look at the alleged horrific abuse that occurred behind the prison walls.
The lawsuit followed a Boston Globe Spotlight investigation last summer, which depicted a chilling account of excessive force by prison officers at Souza-Baranowski. The lawsuit seeks certification as a class action to obtain damages from the state on behalf of the nine named plaintiffs and more than 100 other prisoners who were incarcerated there during the violence.
The lawsuit, Diggs v. Mici, names as defendants Correction Commissioner Carol Mici, the Department of Correction’s current and former deputy commissioners of field services, its director of special operations, and several Souza-Baranowski officers and supervisors.
“The public has no idea how brutal and violent it can be behind the wall,” Danavian Daniel, one of the named plaintiffs, said in a statement distributed by Prisoners’ Legal Services. He called his experience “terrifying and dehumanizing.”
According to the lawsuit, on January 10, 2020, there was an altercation between prisoners and correction officers in which several officers were injured. The lawsuit alleges that although the prisoners involved in the altercation were transferred elsewhere, correction officers “unjustifiably and cruelly subjected the individuals remaining in SBCC custody to a brutal and lengthy campaign of excessive force and unconstitutional treatment,” what the attorneys call a weeks-long “Retaliatory Force Campaign,” which they say was sanctioned by high-ranking correctional officials.
“This unconstitutional brutality included beating and kicking prisoners; gouging eyes; grabbing testicles; smashing faces into the ground or wall; deploying Taser guns, pepper ball guns, and other chemical agents; ordering K9s to menace and bite prisoners; and excessively tightening handcuffs and forcing prisoners’ arms into unnatural and painful positions, among other positional torture tactics,” the attorneys wrote in the lawsuit.
According to the suit, officers fired pepper ball guns at prisoners at close range, sometimes when they were lying on the floor to show compliance. They shot taser prongs into prisoners’ skin, which had to be removed by medical staff. They slammed prisoners’ heads into walls, leading to broken bones, bent back their wrists and fingers, and grabbed and kicked prisoners’ testicles.
One named plaintiff, who was not involved in the January 10 incident, says an officer stomped on his head in his cell, then handcuffed him and dragged from his cell by his wrists and thumbs to be publicly strip searched and forced to kneel for hours without moving.
The lawsuit says officers targeted Black and Latinx prisoners for especially brutal and degrading treatment “such as yanking and ripping out dreadlocks and braids and shouting racist comments and slurs as the officers assaulted them.” Some officers wore a white supremacist logo on their helmets. The lawsuit says officers called Black prisoners “niggers” and Latino prisoners “spics.”According to the suit, prisoners were strip searched in front of other prisoners and staff, led barefoot through overflowing toilet water and human waste, had their property destroyed, and were denied medical and mental health care.
The attorneys allege that top DOC officials encouraged the violence. At a meeting with 100 tactical team and other officers, Paul Henderson, then DOC’s Deputy Commissioner of Field Services, allegedly instructed officers to “send a message” and told them “the gloves are off,” according to the suit. The lawsuit says supervisors knew of the violence and did not intervene, and officers wrote false reports to justify their actions.