Dr. Scott Allen says Rhode Island Adult Correctional Institute prison director A.T. Wall mishandled an incident in which an inmate was injured by prison staff.
The medical director for the Adult Correctional Institutions has resigned over a disagreement with prison director A.T. Wall regarding the forcible removal of a prisoner from his cell. Dr. Scott Allen, who left his job Sept. 24, says that the prisoner was mistreated and that Wall should have brought the incident to light for public review.
The state police and Department of Corrections independently investigated and found no evidence of physical abuse, Wall said. However, Wall said there might be some procedural violations of prison policy and that a Corrections Department investigation -- about to conclude -- could lead to disciplinary actions. Wall said he has made cases of inmate abuse public in the past but did not do so this time because of the police-review finding. Medical exams -- by prison staff and an outside hospital -- showed no broken bones, just superficial bruises and scratches, Wall said.
On June 28, an inmate serving six years for robbery tampered with the light in his cell in the High Security Center. Correctional officers believed he could use the light as a weapon against himself or the prison staff, Wall said, and decided to isolate him. The inmate, who Wall wouldn't identify, was uncooperative, and officers conducted a "cell extraction." Such action has been taken seven times this year, Wall said. "Use of force is a necessary tool," Wall said in an interview yesterday. "We have a number of people incarcerated here who will test the rules." All cell extractions are videotaped. Wall and Allen both saw that tape as part of a later investigation and recapped it yesterday. Wall wouldn't show the tape to The Journal, saying it is part of the investigation.
The extraction started with five officers, in protective clothing, using pepper spray on the inmate. At one point, an officer used the base of his palm to jab the inmate 19 times in the back of his shoulder to get the inmate's arm down into handcuffs.
"What I was shown on a videotape, to me, represented an incident of abuse,"
Allen said yesterday.
"I think striking a man who is pinned down and outnumbered . . . crosses a line. I don't think we can justify strikes or blows against someone in that situation."
Wall said the tape is hard to decipher and that no one can see the officer's hand. However, Wall said, during the investigation the officer "volunteered the information that he administered palm-heel strikes to the inmate's shoulder area because he would not surrender his arm." Wall said there were no injuries to that part of the prisoner's body. Using palm-heel jabs is authorized in some instances, Wall said. This officer believed it was appropriate in this case, but that is still being investigated, Wall said.
The inmate was then showered to remove the pepper spray. Afterward, the officers pinned him on a mat. This, Allen said, is where soft-tissue injuries to the face and chest occurred. Allen said the inmate did not appear to be resisting. Allen also said that the staff nurse in the videotape appears not to conduct a proper assessment and is dismissive of the patient's complaints.
"If this is the conduct that appears to be acceptable when someone knows they're being taped, I have to wonder what goes on when a videotape isn't running,"
The day after the incident, the prisoner was in court for an unrelated reason and told a sheriff that he had been abused. That day, the Corrections Department's internal-affairs unit and the state police started investigating, Wall said. On July 8, state police Detective Cpl. Nicholas M. Tella issued a report saying that a review of the prisoner's file showed past abuse allegations, which independent medical evaluations dismissed. Tella said there was "no criminal activity on the part of the correctional officers." Wall has since ordered a revision of the ACI's policies on cell extraction and use of force. He has also asked the National Institute of Corrections, an arm of the U.S. Justice Department, to review the ACI policies.
Wall said that the use of force is "going to be disturbing to an untrained eye" and noted that this was the first time Allen had seen such a tape. Allen said prison culture requires greater oversight by independent and community bodies. Allen, 42, is also a clinical assistant professor of medicine at Brown University Medical School and has a private practice in Woonsocket.
In a response by medium security inmate Ed Root in the 11-24-2004 Providence Journal it was asserted that inmates have been given wrong medications, have delayed or prolonged follow-up visits to outside facilities and experience other errors in common sense regarding their medical treatment.