(ANTIMEDIA) — Clinton, North Carolina — Corrections officers in North Carolina forced inmates to put hot sauce on their genitals, carry contraband items in their anal cavities, and physically assault fellow inmates, according to a recent lawsuit. The lawsuit was filed on behalf of 25 inmates at Sampson Correctional Facility and names over a dozen defendants as either “the Abusers,” “the Supervisors,” or “the Superiors.” Inmates say they attempted to report the abuse, but the year-long campaign of sadistic torture and humiliation persisted.
A road crew at the Clinton, North Carolina, facility was allegedly the chosen target of the officer’s abuse because officers knew working on the road crew made inmates particularly vulnerable. Time working on the crew was accrued as “gain time” towards a potential early release. Thus, refusing to comply with the sadistic demands of officers meant jeopardizing their chance at an early release and their place on the crew.
An inmate’s abuse tended to begin with an initiation into the road crew by a ritual called “taking the sauce.” The ritual entailed an inmate sticking their hand into a sandwich bag filled with a hot sauce, which corrections officers handled with gloves. The inmate was then forced to lick the sauce off. Multiple instances of “taking the sauce” continued throughout the inmate’s initiation day. Initiation marked just the beginning of many disturbing forms of torture that road crew inmates had to endure.
The lawsuit alleges multiple instances of torture, including being forced to insert fingers into the rectums of their fellow inmates, “being held down and having their genitals squeezed until they said particular racist phrases convincingly enough, and having to rub hot sauce on their anus.” One inmate reportedly had blisters so severe from drinking the hot sauce that he lost his sense of taste. Another inmate reported vomiting for the rest of the day after licking the hot sauce off a white line on the road.
According to the lawsuit, the officers often forced inmates to inflict physical harm upon their fellow inmates. The lawsuit references one alleged instance in which an inmate was forced to squeeze the testicles of another. Inmates claim instances of public humiliation were common practice, as well. They say officers forced them to dance naked on their bus or lick the boot of an officer. To enforce their sadistic demands, the lawsuit alleges, officers would restrict water, threaten write-ups, or cock and aim their shotgun at inmates. The full list of allegations is long, deeply disturbing, and sadistic.
In addition to these instances of abuse, the lawsuit alleges the officers forced inmates to act as “suitcases.” Suitcases were inmates who were forced to carry contraband into the prison by hiding it in their anuses. According to the lawsuit, “the Abusers” arranged for contraband to be placed on the side of the road where the road crew worked. The contraband was then smuggled in and sold by the prisoners throughout the prison, but the profits all went to the officers. For their role as “suitcases,” the inmates were granted the privilege of keeping a cell phone. The contraband smuggled in included cell phones, cigarettes, synthetic marijuana, and other illegal drugs.
“The Supervisors” and “the Superiors” are accused of knowing about the torture and allowing it to happen. In one particular instance, Assistant Superintendent Jeffrey Marks, a defendant in the lawsuit, boarded the road crew’s bus, looked at the hot sauce, and asked the supervising officers if that was what they used.
An inmate’s wife and another inmate’s girlfriend both reported the abuse to the State Department of Corrections. The reports were not investigated, and the abuse continued. The inmate’s lawyer stated:
“We have good information that supervisors knew full well what was going on, witnessed it with their own eyes and – more egregiously – ignored complaints that came from members of the road crew.”
The scandal came to light when a dozen inmates drafted a letter detailing their abuse and sent it to the ACLU, prison advocacy groups, and the U.S. District Court in Greensboro. State and federal investigations were opened, but ultimately, no charges were filed. District Attorney Ernie Lee claimed there was insufficient evidence to press charges, citing “discrepancies and inconsistencies in the various inmate interviews.”
The Observer reports that officers named as defendants in the case have either ignored inquiries from the press or denied knowledge of any wrongdoing. Assistant Superintendent Marks did admit in an email to the Observer that “an inmate or two” told him about the allegations but that he would “never tolerate such actions.”
According to the Observer’s report, Marks claimed he opened an internal investigation but that later, the Attorney General’s office filed a statement on Marks’ behalf denying any knowledge of abuse. Multiple corrections officers either resigned or were fired once the scandal was exposed and now stand as defendants in the pending civil lawsuit brought forth by the twenty-five current and former inmates.
The Sampson Correctional Facility case is not isolated. The Observer conducted an investigation into prison corruption and found examples of abuse and corruption throughout the system. According to the outlet, prisons have hired corrections officers with histories of violence and abuse, and since 2012, at least 70 state employees have been charged with criminal behavior inside a prison. The investigation found an additional 400 other officers have been fired for officer misconduct.
Smuggling rings are also not uncommon. In one case, an officer provided a cell phone to an inmate in solitary confinement who then ordered a hit on a prosecutor’s father. The Observer alleges that prisons in North Carolina are particularly prone to corruption and abuse due to low pay, the placement of prisons in rural and economically starved areas, and poor training. The governor of North Carolina issued a response to the Observer’s findings, stating, “I’m deeply concerned about violence and contraband in our prisons… I’ve asked my new Secretary of Public Safety to take a hard look at these issues and recommend ways to make our prisons safer.”
While some states may run better prison systems, corruption is widespread across the country, and North Carolina is not the only state to report abuse problems. Instances of prisoner abuse have garnered attention in New York, California, New Jersey, Florida, and more. Keep in mind, while the United States represents roughly five percent of the world’s population, the United States incarcerates twenty-five percent of the world’s prison population.
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