Picture of inmate who claims he was
held down by guards and kicked in
the ribs. Click on photo to enlarge.
Lance Hunter Voorhees
Abilene, TX 79606
September 8, 2006
The Honorable Greg Abbott
State of Texas
PO Box 12548
Austin, TX 78711-2548
Dear Mr. Attorney General:
As a chaplain for Taylor County Detention Ministries, the majority of my service is spent volunteering at our Juvenile Detention Center but I also serve at the Taylor County Jail. Over a period of approximately three years I have received various complaints about jail personnel from inmates both past and present, their relatives, county employees and medical personnel.
While some of these complaints appear to be without merit, some reported incidents ring true; incidents that violate the Texas Administrative Code’s Minimum Jail Standards. I am requesting your office investigate the veracity of these purported violations.
Prohibited sanctions allegedly violated under TITLE 37, PART 9, CHAPTER 283 §RULE 283.1, SUBSECTION (4) are as follows: (B) corporal punishment, (C) administration of disciplinary action by inmates, (D) deprivation of clothing, (F) deprivation of items necessary to maintain an acceptable level of personal hygiene and (H) deprivation of physical recreation or exercise.
§RULE 283.3 may also have been violated according to SUBSECTIONS: (1) lack of access to a grievance board of more than one person, (2) not providing details on what constitutes grounds for initiation of a grievance and (7) not providing a documented appeals process when requested.
The most serious types of complaints I’ve received about jailers (designated by number instead of name) are as follows: JAILER #1 kicking inmate Wesley Freeman while he was restrained on the floor by other jailers, JAILER #1 elbowing an inmate in a specialized restraining chair equipped with straps, JAILER #2 encouraging an inmate to hang himself, exposing inmates restrained in the chair to the sun for long stretches of time, subjecting an inmate to multiple dog bites, allowing the beating of inmate Juan Manuel Albarado (a juvenile certified as an adult) by a known adult adversary, prescription drugs stolen by staff, drugs sold to inmates by staff, the taunting of a 100% disabled veteran and former Air Force Captain (who will testify by affidavit) to crawl across the concrete floor for his withheld asthma medication, the pepper spraying of asthmatic inmate David Jefferson by JAILER #3 for defiantly knocking his bowl off the table, several claims of pepper spray being used for corporal punishment (mostly by JAILER #3) including: the spraying of toilet paper thus making it harder to clean up, putting sprayed inmates in a drunk tank or “rubber room” for long periods of time (up to a full night) without a change of clothing and no water to wash off the debilitating spray (Sheriff Dieken says this is done for a maximum of fifteen minutes), jailers purposefully spraying up into inmates’ nostrils and mouths plus in one case restraining the head and pulling back the eyebrows so that an inmate’s eyelids opened wider to expose his eyeballs to a more direct spray.
It has been reported to me that pictures of inmate injuries are missing or not taken at all. Complaints that some inmate grievances not followed up on by staff are common. Sheriff Jack Dieken admits that grievances used to get thrown in the trash and destroyed before taking office but claims he put an end to this practice and ended the beatings he admits occurred prior to 1993.
Name Deleted, (a juvenile sentenced to twenty years for manslaughter) was reportedly a victim of trumped up or exaggerated internal write-ups that were eventually used against him in the sentencing phase of his trial. The supervisor that reportedly wrote some of them has since been fired. With regard to that case, Assistant District Attorney Harriet Haag is being investigated by The Board of Disciplinary Appeals for violating Rule(s) 3.03 of the Texas Disciplinary Rules of Professional Conduct.
It is interesting to note that all but one inmate I’ve spoken with say they are well fed and none claim to be the target of racial slurs by jailers. Although some “feel” discriminated against, none have provided evidence and all but one state that only a fraction of jailers are committing said violations. If an inmate is simply going to lie, why doesn’t he or she lie about being the victim of racial slurs or food deprivation? The consistent details add credibility to accusations by inmates.
Although Sheriff Jack Dieken has publicly stated that he is open to hearing complaints, my experience with him is less than satisfactory. When I inquired into the civil rights of inmates he told me that “I don’t need you. You’re nothing. You’re nothing. You’re a citizen.” With regard to my inquiries, Sheriff Dieken demanded that I “Leave it alone.” When I responded “I can’t do that, Sir” he then retorted, “Then you’re a sorry Republican. You’re a damn liberal Democrat.” As a direct result, I am no longer allowed to counsel adult inmates face to face or see them at all without special permission.
The above conversation happened the Monday after I requested an investigation into Wesley Freeman’s claim of being kicked by a jailer. The Sheriff’s response to me was “Wesley Freeman is a piece of crap. He is a little piece of putty.” He is “not worth my time.” He referred to inmate Juan Manuel Albarado in similar terms when I brought up his beating at the hands of another inmate.
I can’t be certain which claims are valid but neither can the Sheriff, who reportedly hasn’t even spoken with Freeman or Jefferson regarding their claims. Nevertheless, since speaking with the Sheriff it has been made public that one jailer resigned after being confronted about punching an inmate and two others were reprimanded for taking heavy-handed “liberties” with another inmate. The story was published on 8/29/06 in the Abilene Reporter News (http://www.reporternews.com/).
As a chaplain, I am not in a position to investigate these claims. Although I did contact our Chief of Police, the District Attorney and a Texas Ranger about the matter, no investigation has been initiated that I am aware of. That is why I am asking the Attorney General’s Office to interview related prisoners, county employees and medical personnel. Please investigate these claims and find out how much money is spent on pepper spray. Are these allocated funds in align with the 36 pepper spray incidents that have been documented this year?
I don’t want to give the impression that I don’t appreciate what jailers do; I am very pro-law enforcement. My mother and stepfather both served as police officers and my stepbrother currently serves as a police detective. Like my family, I realize jailers provide a valuable service for relatively low pay. Nevertheless, jailers that systematically violate Minimum Jail Standards cast a dark shadow on the majority who perform their jobs with integrity. Law-breaking jailers are simply criminals with pepper spray and a badge. Nobody should be above the law.
Lance Hunter Voorhees
Chaplain – Taylor County Detention Ministries