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PLN associate editor quoted in article re CCA riot, death of CCA guard in MS

Clarion Ledger, Jan. 1, 2013.
PLN associate editor quoted in article re CCA riot, death of CCA guard in MS - Clarion Ledger 2013

Lawsuit: Informant predicted Adams County prison riot
Family says slain guard never was warned of 'hit list'

May 13, 2013

Written by Therese Apel

At least one email allegedly sent by an inmate informant to the chief of security at the Adams County Correctional Center predicted the riot that broke out the next day resulting in a guard’s death.

Other emails described a “hit list” of prison guards, one of whom was the guard killed.

In a lawsuit filed in connection with the May 20 riot, the family of Sgt. Catlin Carithers, the prison guard who was killed, point to these emails and information from the informant as reason to believe Corrections Corporation of America was negligent in Carithers’ death. CCA is the Nashville-based parent company of the Natchez prison.

According to copies of the emails obtained by The Clarion-Ledger, the security chief was warned that the leadership of certain prison groups wanted to meet with the warden to ask for changes in medical, food, recreation and laundry arrangements. The emails appear to have been sent to the prison’s security chief from an inmate who had a cellphone inside the facility.

At 10:14 p.m. on May 19, the email writer says that the situation is more serious than prison officials seemed to think. He indicated there would be meetings the next day for the heads of the groups to list their requests to Warden Vance Laughlin. The email characterizes one of the new leaders as having a “couple riots on his belt,” and the informant believed most of the inmates would follow him.

“People will be ready 4 war tomorow (sic), I am not joking,” he writes, going on to say, “Any officer that disrespect an inmate will be punish (sic).”

In the same email, the informant warns leaders would present changes, and if the facility did not comply, they “will burn the place down.”

He then warns that it would be a peaceful demonstration, but if the staff interfered, it could “get ugly.” He ends the email by telling them to get ready, that this was serious, and could involve as many as 1,600 inmates.

Up to 700 inmates are believed to have participated in the riot. The prison holds nearly 2,500 inmates convicted of crimes while being in the U.S. illegally.

CCA officials would not comment on the informant’s warnings but condemned the actions of the inmates.

“CCA takes the safety and well-being of our staff very seriously, and we work diligently to provide our dedicated correctional officers, chaplains, nurses and teachers the training, security and support systems they need in this very challenging field,” said CCA spokesman Steve Owen. “In addition to conducting our own thorough review, we have cooperated fully with law enforcement throughout their investigation of the incident, and we support full prosecution of those inmates responsible for this disturbance. There is never an appropriate justification for an inmate to instigate and participate in violence against a correctional officer.”

Alex Friedmann, an associate editor at Prison Legal News, said he corresponded with the informant for several months. He said the informant told him when Laughlin met with two men he thought were leaders, they assured him there would be no problem. What the warden didn’t know was that those men were no longer “shot callers.”

“CCA didn’t know and these guys didn’t say they’d been forced out by the other inmates. They weren’t aware these guys had no say anymore and no power to control the guys in their groups. The next day the inmates begin congregating on the yard,” he said. “The guys who were there at the time took a strong, hard response, and they threw tear gas from the roof to break up the congregation, and they climbed up on the roof and assaulted the guards throwing tear gas at them.”

Carithers, 24, was on that roof. According to one of the emails, the writer also told prison officials Carithers was one of several guards who was on a “hit list,” designated to be injured or worse if there was any trouble.

Inmates stacked food carts to get to the roof to attack Carithers and the others. During the riot, fire also broke out.

Carithers wasn’t supposed to work on the Sunday of the riot. He recently had received a promotion to senior corrections officer that took him off the weekend shift.

“They called him in for backup,” his brother Josey Carithers said at the time. “I know my brother, and I bet he got in his truck and hauled butt to go help. He was ready.”

Emails supposedly from the inmate to the chief of security a few days later said he couldn’t accept that someone as young as Carithers died because of the warden’s “stupidity.” The security chief wrote back saying he felt terrible about it because he was the one who called Carithers to come into work on his day off, resulting in his death.

The lawsuit brought against CCA by Carithers’ family is based on the claims that CCA was aware of the hit list and was aware that officers on the hit list would be injured or punished. Carithers was not warned when he was called into work that day.

“The inmate informant further asked why the Facility security officer put Catlin on the front line when the facility administration knew he would be ‘eaten alive’ by the inmates,” the complaint states.

The complaint also states CCA officials put their guards in further danger by maintaining a less than adequate staff with underequipped and undertrained officers. In addition, the complaint states, CCA “further created a dangerous atmosphere for the correction officers by depriving the inmates of basic needs and treating them inhumanely.”

The suit asks CCA for past medical expenses, pain and suffering, emotional distress, funeral and related costs, future lost income, future emotional distress, loss of consortium, attorney fees, punitive damages, prejudgment and post judgment interest and any other damages warranted under the circumstances.

The family’s attorneys did not return calls for comment, and both the FBI and the U.S. attorney’s office said they could not comment on the ongoing investigation.

The FBI has said in court records that the riot was started by a group of Mexican inmates, known as Paisas. Paisas are a loosely affiliated group within the prison, one of many groups referred to as “nations,” because they usually congregate based on what country they are from or what language they speak, Friedmann explained.

Several inmates have been charged with rioting in the case. One of them, Marco Perez-Serrano, has been identified as the first person to attack Carithers when he hit him with a food tray. Carithers was beaten to death with a lunch tray.