Allegations of Racist Guards are Plaguing the Corrections Industry
In many cases, guards take matters into their own hands, rather than delegating violence to prisoners. Some of these "guard gangs" organize around themes of physical strength and a shared animosity to prisoners.
At Portland's Multnomah County Jail, two guards sporting brand new "Brotherhood of the Strong" tattoos allegedly beat up an inmate this August, and were rumored to be recruiting others into their clique. They since have been placed on paid administrative leave by the sheriff's department.
The guards had been introduced to the tattoo design by a temporary employee from Hawaii, according to Undersheriff Mel Hedgpeth. Following the beating, concern that a dangerous guard gang might be forming prompted the department to send an investigator to Hawaii.
What was discovered there, says Hedgpeth, was a group of "Brotherhood of the Strong" prison guards of various races who "definitely pushed the edge of excessive use of force."
Sometimes, groups of guards are openly white supremacist.
According to evidence compiled by scholar Kelsey Kauffman — evidence that has not been corroborated in any official investigation — a group of employees known as "The Brotherhood" has plagued Putnamville State Prison in Greenville, Ind., for years. Kauffman says members have targeted minority inmates — along with fellow correctional system employees they didn't approve of.
A white woman who worked as a cook at Putnamville says that after she reported a Brotherhood member for calling her a "nigger-lover" and "bitch" in front of inmates, he "drew his arm back and said, 'I'll smash your fucking face right here, bitch.' " Her account, Kauffman says, was corroborated by eight inmates.
Another female staff member reported that a Brotherhood member had threatened her with violence from the Klan. Although nothing occurred, the woman resigned, fearing for her safety and that of her family.
The Brotherhood, Kauffman says, has plastered swastikas on prison walls and assaulted inmates and others. One black inmate, whose story was corroborated by 10 others, said he was threatened and assaulted by a Brotherhood member.
Two shop employees reportedly admitted that they'd boasted to another black inmate about their supposed membership in the Klan.
One guard donned a Klan hood and taunted a black inmate — and was suspended for five days as a result.
Indiana state police conducted an investigation of Kauffman's charges, but said they found no evidence of organized hate activity among guards. Nevertheless, Kauffman says she has plenty of evidence to support her allegations, and in fact she is continuing to meet with prison officials and legislators looking into the matter.
Another guard group calling itself The Brotherhood has apparently surfaced in Florida as well. A black officer — who says is afraid to reveal his name for fear of retaliation — says that he and a black co-worker in an Orlando jail received death threats from the group of about 15 white officers.
When he told a superior, the guard says that he was told, "You'd better not talk about that."
Guards as Victims
As the cases of the two Brotherhood gangs in Indiana and Florida make clear, minority guards and other prison employees are victimized — by their own colleagues — just as minority inmates often are. Some recent cases:
- In Florida, about 100 black officers are represented in two class action suits alleging racial harassment. Officer Roy Hughes, for instance, says that when he entered his colonel's office in 1997, he noticed the following "hunting license" on his walls: "OPEN SEASON ON PORCH MONKEYS ... Daily kills limited to ten."
Others reported encounters with white officers bearing Klan tattoos. One found his office ransacked and "KKK" daubed on his bulletin board.
- Alan Ashenfarb, a Jewish officer at San Quentin State Prison near Sacramento, Calif., recently sued the state for allowing "a constant pattern of anti-Semitic speaking and sloganeering ... all of which have fostered an anti-Semitic environment."
He describes anti-Semitic jokes, neo-Nazi and SS graffiti around the prison, and a physical assault that he suffered. After he sued, he discovered a slip of paper in his mailbox that was marked with a swastika.
- In Nebraska, 32 officers have filed suit, alleging racial harassment.
- In Washington and Texas, ranking officials have been threatened by their own employees. Richard Watkins, the black warden of a Huntsville, Texas, unit, says that he received four death threats, at least two of which were made by white staffers.
Philip Stanley, the white superintendent of Washington Corrections Center, Shelton, received an inflammatory note during an investigation into alleged white supremacist activity at the facility. It was signed by a guard describing himself as "white and pissed" who was subsequently fired.
- When Sgt. Noel Gonzalez, a Latino officer in New York, complained about racial harassment, he was ordered by his superiors to run two miles while lugging a truck tire. He eventually collapsed and landed in the hospital.
Gonzalez quit after finding hangman's nooses and daubed Ku Klux Klan slogans at home and at work. In 1997, he won a $550,000 settlement.
- Orlando Edwards, a black officer in Michigan, says he was fired when he filed a race discrimination complaint, driving him to attempt suicide. For his pain and suffering, a jury awarded Edwards $1 million dollars this August.