Several new complaints of alleged brutality by Jackson County jail guards have surfaced since last month’s announcement that the FBI is investigating allegations that corrections officers used excessive force against inmates who were restrained and posed no danger.
At the time of that Aug. 24 announcement, acting correction department director Joe Piccinini said he was unsure whether the problem was broader than than the four or five instances of abuse allegedly committed by members of an elite squad of guards between May and June of this year.
The team, known as known as the Correctional Emergency Response Team (CERT), works at the Jackson County Detention Center.
But new allegations suggest that the abusive practices go back several years.
The Star spoke with two former prisoners who say they were the victims of gratuitous violence by corrections center officers in 2014. The parents of a third former prisoner claim their son suffered broken bones that same year after CERT members went too far in restraining him. And a former guard, himself accused of excessive force, told the newspaper that excessive force by CERT members was common when he worked at the jail in 2011.
A citizens task force investigating jail conditions holds its first public meeting Thursday.
Its chairman, Alvin Brooks, said Wednesday he also has fielded complaints of abuse in the weeks since County Executive Mike Sanders appointed him to head a special Department of Corrections Task Force.
“I’ve gotten more than a dozen calls here at home and the Ad Hoc office from persons who have complaints,” said Brooks, former head of the Ad Hoc Group Against Crime. Some alleged rough treatment by guards, while others pertained to a variety of issues, such as the alleged withholding of medical treatment.
Brooks said he passed the allegations of brutality on to Piccinini, with the understanding the information will be given to the FBI. The task force Brooks heads up is only looking at conditions within the detention center that may or may not have some bearing on the use of force within that facility, such as guard pay and the mandatory overtime policy.
“We’re talking about the A to Z of it,” Brooks said.
The task force, which toured the jail last week, meets at 3 p.m. Thursday at the Historic Truman Courthouse in Independence.
Before turning in its report on Nov. 2, the committee also hopes to hold two public hearings where matters of violence toward prisoners could come up, he said.
Citing the federal investigation, county officials have declined to discuss the specifics of the allegations of physical abuse that led up to the FBI’s involvement, other than to say some of the injuries suffered ranged from bruises to broken bones and the punctured lung suffered by one prisoner in July and that all involved CERT.
Referred to as “the riot team” by some guards, CERT members are called in to quell disturbances when inmates act up. Working in small groups spread out over three shifts, seven days a week, its 40 members are authorized to use some muscle when prisoners get out of hand at the Jackson County jail. The technical term is “submissive force.”
But recently, four team members were fired or quit after evidence suggested that they used excessive force against prisoners who posed no danger at the time they suffered their injuries, which were supposedly caught on camera.
The Star has spoken with a former jail guard and former detainees who say the recent instances were no fluke and that abuse has been going on for years.
The former guard, 45-year-old Young C. Isinwa, also known as Young McIkechi, is himself accused of kicking a defenseless prisoner in the head while working at the jail four years ago. Isinwa, who wasn’t a CERT guard, claims he was merely defending himself and is innocent of the charge filed against him in U.S. District Court.
But he says it was common for other guards to use excessive force on prisoners who posed no danger.
“Especially the ones they call the CERT team members,” said Isinwa, a Nigerian immigrant who faces up to 10 years in prison and a $100,000 fine if convicted of an alleged civil rights violation. “When they want to deal with an inmate, they take them off camera and they beat them like animals. They get them down and tie them up for hours.”
County officials declined to comment on his allegation, but another former guard said jail supervisors did not condone excessive force when they were aware of it.
“There are other times where people have been caught on camera doing that, and they were kicked out of the facility,” said former CERT member Jeffrey Beaber, who worked at the detention center from 2012 to 2014.
As for Isinwa’s contention about guards beating inmates off camera, Beaber said much of the facility is under surveillance. However, some of those cameras were not connected to recorders, he said, and experienced guards know where those “dead spots” are.
Again citing the federal investigation, county officials declined to comment on the allegations of two former jail prisoners The Star spoke with who claim they suffered injuries at the hands of guards. Nor would they comment on allegations made by the parents of another former prisoner who say their son suffered broken bones but did not receive medical treatment after he was attacked.
None of the three former prisoners at the jail filed a formal complaint, although two have hired attorneys.
“It was like the worst nightmare you could ever imagine,” said 45-year-old Patrick Ericksen, who claims guards beat him last winter for allegedly making a rude comment about a female guard.
Ericksen, a Kansas City resident, said he was transferred from the now-closed Kansas City jail to the Jackson County Detention Center on Dec. 22, 2014, and that guards — he doesn’t know whether they were on the CERT team — took turns hitting him with batons in his cell. He suffered bruises but did not require hospitalization.
County officials declined to provide documents detailing his jail stay in response to an open-records request, citing the federal investigation.
But Municipal Court records do confirm that Ericksen was under arrest for trespassing and possession of marijuana at the time he claims the beating took place.
Twenty-six-year-old Shantaa Barnes, also of Kansas City, said guards took her to Truman Medical Center for treatment on July 23, 2014, after one of them dislocated her arm by yanking on it too hard. Again, county officials declined to fulfill an open-records request that might verify Barnes’ account or transportation to the hospital.
But court records do confirm that she was in jail at the time she said the incident occurred.
“The guard had CERT on his shirt,” she said. “I still have pain every now and then.”
The parents of another prisoner, who is now in state custody, say they have been contacted by the FBI about the injuries their now-27-year-old son, Thadius Hughes, suffered allegedly at the hands of CERT members in March 2014.
Copies they obtained of the internal jail investigation of that incident and provided to The Star make no mention of their son being injured, but Idella Hughes claims he suffered multiple broken bones.
“If this was investigated when it was brought to their attention last year,” Idella Hughes said, “the young men this year would not have had to suffer.”