DOC says prisoner suing agency assaulted officers

Inmate rebuts surprise accusation, says he was assaulted

THE STATE DEPARTMENT OF CORRECTION on Wednesday tried to turn the tables on a prisoner who alleged the agency violated his civil rights and assaulted him by accusing the inmate of attacking officers during a cell search by a tactical team. 

The surprise accusation surfaced during the cross-examination in Suffolk Superior Court of Robert Silva-Prentice, who along with two other prisoners is suing multiple Department of Correction officials at the Souza-Baranowski Correctional  Center, the state’s maximum security prison in Shirley. 

Silva-Prentice testified Wednesday that during a tactical team search of the facility in the wake of a January 10 attack by inmates that sent four correctional officers to the hospital he was placed in a new cell with a different cellmate. Silva-Prentice was not on the unit where the attacks took place, and wasn’t involved. He said his new cellmate told him they were in a cell not monitored by surveillance cameras. 

About five minutes later, Silva-Prentice said, tactical team members entered and some of them dragged him off the top bunk, restrained him, and kicked him in the face as his roommate was beaten. He also says he was tased while restrained. “It just felt like a burning sensation,” he said. “Your body kind of tenses up.” 

Silva-Prentice said several of his dreadlocks were pulled out as he was dragged from his cell. 

On cross-examination, the Department of Correction attorney, Bradley Sultan, suggested Silva-Prentice was the aggressor. “Mr. Silva-Prentice,” he said, “would it surprise you to learn that officers allege that you in fact assaulted them when they entered your cell? 

“Of course, it would surprise me,” Silva-Prentice responded, noting he had not heard a disciplinary action had been filed against him. He refused to change his story. 

His attorney, Patricia DeJuneas, also discounted the Department of Correction claim. There’s not any chance my client assaulted staff members and is in general population and allowed to leave his cell,” she said after the hearing. “I also confirmed with the court officer that he had no knowledge whatsoever from DOC or any other source that my client was a danger to him or other court officers in this building.” 

DeJuneas said any prisoner that attacks a correctional officer usually goes to restrictive housing, or solitary confinement. “He would have been charged, he would have been referred to the district attorney’s office,” she saidIt’s beyond outrageous what’s happening.” 

Souza Superintendent Stephen Kenneway, however, testified that Silva-Prentice was involved in a “use-of-force” incident. He said a disciplinary action against him is in the works, and would be filed soon with the Worcester district attorney’s office, almost a month after the alleged incident. The district attorney’s office has also taken no action against the many inmates who assaulted the prison guards on January 10. 

Kenneway said he assumed the disciplinary action against Silva-Prentice was begun before the complaint against the agency was filed by Silva-Prentice and the other prisoners. The disciplinary action was not mentioned in the agency’s response to Silva-Prentice’s complaint, and it’s unclear whether video footage of the incident exists.  

Earlier in the day, Patrick DePalo Jr., assistant deputy commissioner of field services for the Department of Correction, testified that Souza “always has video” when prisoners are moved by tactical teams. 

Kenneway, the superintendent, said Silva-Prentice is allowed 2½ hours outside of his cell daily since the lockdown ended.  

The DOC says that since the tactical team search, prisoners have been given back most of their legal paperwork, something plaintiffs’ attorneys dispute, along with 17 other attorneys who filed affidavits last week.  

Kenneway also said that while the tactical officers didn’t have name badges, they had identifying numbers on their helmets. Inmates have aired complaints about this because, without a name, they cannot file a credible grievance over alleged corrections abuse. 

The lockdown at the prison ended on January 30. The agency said the case filed by the prisoners should be dismissed because all of the restrictions on visits by attorneys have also been lifted. 

Attorney Patricia DeJuneas speaks to reporters about her client, Robert SIlva- Prentice, a prisoner at Souza Baranowski in Shirley. (Photo by Sarah Betancourt)

DeJuneaus expressed concern for her client’s safety at Souza following the hearing. “Now they’re gonna terrorize him some more on trumped-up charges and try to get him convicted for it, she said. 

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Sarah Betancourt

Reporter, CommonWealth

About Sarah Betancourt

Sarah Betancourt is a bilingual journalist reporting across New England. Prior to joining Commonwealth, Sarah was a reporter for The Associated Press in Boston, and a correspondent with The Boston Globe and The Guardian. She has written about immigration, social justice, and health policy for outlets like NBC, The Boston Institute for Nonprofit Journalism, and the New York Law Journal. Sarah has reported stories such as a national look at teacher shortages, how databases are used by police departments to procure information on immigrants, and uncovered the spread of an infectious disease in children at a family detention center. She has covered the State House, local and national politics, crime and general assignment.

Sarah received a 2018 Investigative Reporters and Editors Award for her role in the ProPublica/NPR story, “They Got Hurt at Work and Then They Got Deported,” which explored how Florida employers and insurance companies were getting out of paying workers compensation benefits by using a state law to ensure injured undocumented workers were arrested or deported. Sarah attended Emerson College for a Bachelor’s Degree in Political Communication, and Columbia University for a fellowship and Master’s degree with the Stabile Center for Investigative Journalism.

About Sarah Betancourt

Sarah Betancourt is a bilingual journalist reporting across New England. Prior to joining Commonwealth, Sarah was a reporter for The Associated Press in Boston, and a correspondent with The Boston Globe and The Guardian. She has written about immigration, social justice, and health policy for outlets like NBC, The Boston Institute for Nonprofit Journalism, and the New York Law Journal. Sarah has reported stories such as a national look at teacher shortages, how databases are used by police departments to procure information on immigrants, and uncovered the spread of an infectious disease in children at a family detention center. She has covered the State House, local and national politics, crime and general assignment.

Sarah received a 2018 Investigative Reporters and Editors Award for her role in the ProPublica/NPR story, “They Got Hurt at Work and Then They Got Deported,” which explored how Florida employers and insurance companies were getting out of paying workers compensation benefits by using a state law to ensure injured undocumented workers were arrested or deported. Sarah attended Emerson College for a Bachelor’s Degree in Political Communication, and Columbia University for a fellowship and Master’s degree with the Stabile Center for Investigative Journalism.

Attorneys for Silva-Prentice and other inmates have asked Superior Court Judge Beverly Cannone to issue a preliminary injunction that would return all legal materials to inmates and require that any move to restrict attorney or legal document access beyond 24 hours be approved by a court.  

The Department of Correction has insisted throughout the court proceedings that it has the discretion under a disorder policy to impose restrictions on inmates in cases of emergency. The agency has refused to release the disorder policy.