Mr. Earl Saunders
U.S. Department of Justice
950 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW
Civil Rights Division
Washington, DC 20530
RE: Witness To Mistreatment/Abuse of Mentally ill Prisoners In Solitary Confinement at S.C.I.-Greene
Dear Mr. Saunders:
On Monday (03/16/2015), I spoke to you at my cell door (FA-22) in the Restricted Housing Unit (“RHU”) at State Correctional Institution (“S.C.I.”) Greene at about 11am. When you were making your rounds speaking to prisoners about staff’s handling/treatment of mentally ill prisoners in the RHU, solitary confinement. I’m not a mentally ill prisoner. However, I have been a witness to S.C.I.-Greene staff’s abuse/mistreatment of mentally ill prisoners in S.C.I.-Greene’s RHU.
On May 2, 2006, I received misconduct #A264759 for an alleged assault on a prisoner and staff at S.C.I.-Frackville. I was transferred to S.C.I.-Coal Township the same day and given a 270-day disciplinary custody (DC) sanction for said incident. I completed my 270-day RHU DC sanction in 2007, then I was placed on Administrative Custody (AC) status and transferred to S.C.I.-Greene. I was on Administrative Custody status in the RHU from 2007 to March 19, 2013 (when I was released to S.C.I.-Greene’s General Population). I’m presently in solitary confinement. I returned to S.C.I.-Greene’s RHU on August 8, 2014 for misconduct #B266541 and given an excessive 450 day DC sanction that expires on October 31, 2015. S.C.I.-Greene staff recently got me placed on the Restricted Release List (RRL). Therefore, after my DC sanction expires on October 31, 2015 staff will place me on Administrative custody status and keep me in solitary confinement indefinitely. On 03/12/2015, I actually sent this U.S. Department of Justice – Special Litigation Division details of the injustice of my situation, the unconstitutional RHU practices of S.C.I.-Greene staff and their violations of Department of Corrections (D.O.C.) policies.
S.C.I.-Greene RHU corrections officers (“C.O.s”) regularly harass prisoners. I have witnessed S.C.I.-Greene RHU C.O.’s regularly douse mentally ill prisoners’ cells with strong pepper spray, then run into said prisoner’s cell, assault the prisoner, and cell extract (remove) him. Then, give the victim (prisoner) a misconduct for assaulting staff when they prisoner was really the victim of staff assault. They usually do that pepper spray routine when said prisoner is allegedly damaging something in their cell out of anger/frustration of wrongs RHU C.O.’s do to them or for reasons symptomatic of the prisoner’s mental illness. Staff do it so often it seems like they are experimenting or training. I have witnessed said abuse many times in 2014 and 2015 while I was on FB-Block in RHU. I also witnessed RHU C.O.’s pepper spray a prisoner’s cell on FB because the prisoner was laying in his cell, not moving or responding to RHU C.O.’s. All incidents of prisoners being pepper sprayed and/or cell extracted are supposed to be recorded by hand-held video camera. But RHU C.O.’s don’t always video record said incidents.
Mentally ill prisoners are also regularly punished by being put on the disgusting “food (meal) loaf” for not eating fast enough to be finished when staff come to collect meal trays, refusing to allow staff to close the wicket (meal slot), and refusing to give staff their tray because they have an issue/concern that they need addressed and holding their wicket open or refusing to return their meal tray is the only way to see RHU Lieutenant or psychologist/psychiatrist and get other issues/concerns addressed. S.C.I.-Greene staff have a saying: “In order to solve a ‘small’ problem, you (prisoner) have to create a bigger problem.” Meaning that staff will ignore a prisoners issues/concerns until/unless a prisoner does something so drastic/desperate that staff can’t ignore the prisoner. Once staff respond to the drastic/desperate incident, then the prisoner can be heard by staff and get their “small” problem addressed or corrected. But they have to suffer the punishment of the desperate act that got staff’s attention. Clogging the cell toilet to flood the cellblock with water is also a method used by mentally ill prisoners when wronged by RHU staff or denied medical and mental health treatment/attention.
Mentally ill prisoners in the RHU are also regularly denied requests to speak to the psychologist/psychiatrist. So, they tend to do desperate acts in order to be able to speak to him or her.
Each RHU cell has an intercom button that a prisoner can press to talk to staff for medical emergencies. RHU staff regularly ignore prisoners when they press said buttons to alert staff about serious issues/concerns. RHU staff also turn off said intercoms in everyone’s cell on the block regularly. Staff turn them all off in the “Bubble” (RHU central command office). So they can’t hear prisoners’ pleas for medical or psychiatric help. Sometimes, they only turn off certain prisoner’s (mentally ill) in-cell intercoms. So, there has been times when I would have to press my intercom button to alert staff about a mentally ill prisoner’s issues/concerns.
Some mentally ill RHU prisoners are also regularly maliciously skipped for meal trays because they couldn’t wake up before the C.O.’s come to their cell for meals because of the medication they take. Sometimes, we (other prisoners and myself) are able to wake them up by banging on their wall or ceiling before the trays come or after we see that the C.O. skipped him for a meal but the C.O.’s didn’t take trays off the block yet. In most cases, we are able to wake them up soon after the C.O. skips his cell and is only a cell or two away. But the C.O. still refuses to feed them.
“R.” When I was placed in the S.C.I.-Greene RHU on August 8, 2014 I was placed on FB-Block cell-07. And “R” was in FB-05 cell. I had been in contact with Pittsburgh Post-Gazette Newspaper reporter, Rich Zord, since October 2014 after I sent him documentation and letter I wrote titled “CELLMATE VIOLENCE ENCOURAGE ALLOWED” about S.C.I.-Greene staff knowingly encouraging/allowing cellmate-on-cellmate violence. A mentally ill prisoner was even murdered allegedly by his cellmate after the cellmate warned them not to put him in the cell with anyone. The name of the murdered prisoner was Ronald Yarborough (22 years old). (see, attached May 23, 2014 “Observer-Reporter” Newspaper article “SCI-Greene cellmate charged in Death” by Tara Kinsell). After that October 2014 contact, Mr. Lord ask me about the treatment/handling of mentally ill prisoners in S.C.I.-Greene’s RHU. I saw how RHU C.O.’s were harassing/mistreating R., so I talked to R., gave him Mr. Lord’s contact information, and encouraged R. to write Rich Lord about his issues/concerns. R. wrote him, then Richard Lord featured R. is his Tuesday January 6, 2015 Pittsburgh Post-Gazette Newspaper article titled “State Prison System Develops Separate Housing for Mentally Ill.” See, attached January 6, 2015 Rich Lord Pittsburgh Post-Gazette article “State Prison System Develops Separate House for Mentally Ill.”
“D.” is a seriously mentally ill RHU prisoner that I came across while in S.C.I.-Greene’s RHU on FB-Block. I was on FB-Block from August 8, 2104 to January 20, 2015. I was in FB-18 Cell and “D.” was in FB-11 cell (then in FB-10 cell). While in FB-18 cell I witnessed RHU C.O.’s regularly harass/provoke and otherwise mistreat D. They would regularly give him misconducts and more disciplinary custody (DC) time for doing things that were obviously results of his mental illness, like cussing at staff (abusive language) out of anger/frustration of staff’s neglect or harassment. Staff would regularly put D. on disgusting “food loaf” for certain violations that are result of his mental illness. They didn’t have to put him on food loaf. There are other disciplinary alternatives to “food loaf.” They could give him a modified meal in a bag or give him his meal in a styrofoam tray. That way, he can get a regular meal and staff don’t have to worry about him damaging the regular plastic RHU meal trays or refusing to give the trays back. The RHU C.O.’s put him on styrofoam meal trays (his regular meals were given to him in a stryofoam tray). But they still formulated excuses to put him on food loaf. One day, staff were about to pepper spray him and cell extract him. They kept telling him to come to the door to be handcuffed, and he wouldn’t. D. is an older Latino man, so I’m not even sure if he understood what RHU C.O.’s were telling him or if he even understood the magnitude of the violence that RHU staff were about to commit against him. He eventually came to the door to be handcuffed without being pepper sprayed or cell extracted. D. seldom came out of his cell. So, he rarely took showers or went to the yard. Also, RHU C.O.’s would regularly food D. into refusing to go to certain appointments by telling him that they are at his cell to fake him to a misconduct hearing when he doesn’t have a misconduct hearing because they know that he refuses to go to misconduct hearings. RHU staff treated D. so bad that I wrote the Pennsylvania Prison Society in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania (245 N. Broad Street) about staff mistreating mentally ill prisoner D. and asked the Pennsylvania Prison Society to have a Prison Society Official visitor from the Prison Society in this area to come to this prison to see/visit D. On October 3, 2014, I received a letter dated September 30, 2014 response from Philadelphia chapter Prison Society Administrative Assistant, Emily Cashell, stating that they will have an official visitor come to see D. D. was also regularly denied requests to see the psychologist or psychiatrist.
“H.” – On November 25, 2007, while in a cell on RHU HB block at S.C.I.-Greene, I witnessed an unprovoked assault and battery of RHU prisoner H. by RHU staff. H. is an older Caucasian man, probably in his 50’s in 2007. On the morning of November 25, 2007, after RHU C.O. opened H.’s wicket to collect meal trays, Iacovetti laid his arm on the wicket so that the C.O. couldn’t close it and requested to see a Lieutenant to address his issues/concerns. This is a common PEACEFULway that RHU prisoners get a lieutenant to come to the cell block to address issues/concerns when low ranking C.O.’s cause problems and refuse to summon a RHU lieutenant. But, instead of summoning a lieutenant, Sergeant Conner told C.O. Pinkey to “break H.’s arm.” So, C.O. Pinkey repeatedly beat H.’s arm with C.O. Pinkey’s baton. H. repeatedly requested to see medical but was denied by Sergeant Conner, C.O. Pinkey, and C.O. Walker (a female, now named, “Tieberry”). Sergeant Conner told H. a misconduct for assaulting C.O. Pinkey and C.O. Walker. Despite the fact that H. never touched/assaulted or tried to touch (assault) any of them. RHU C.O.’s often give prisoners misconducts in retaliation for filing and refusing to withdraw legitimate prisoner grievances, especially grievances complaining about staff assaulting said prisoners. They label the grievance as a lie, then give the prisoner a false misconduct charging them with “Lying To an Employee.” As a matter of fact, I was on HB-Block on November 25, 2007, on DC Status after my 15 day DC sanction expired for retaliatory misconduct #A569517 given to me for firing and refusing to withdraw Grievance #203021 (about staff’s assault/battery of me). I was, in 2007, unconstitutionally given a false/retaliatory misconduct for filing a legitimate grievance, then unconstitutionally kept on Disciplinary Custody (DC) status for 30 days despite the fact that the Hearing Examiner sanctioned me to 15 days DC time.
S.C.I.-Greene staff get away with a lot of violations of RHU prisoners’ civil rights and human rights because prisoners are afraid to file legitimate grievances about wrong done to them and some prisoners simply are not articulate enough to defend or speak for themselves.
It’s also hard for RHU prisoners to get their issues and concerns addressed or even documented because S.C.I.-Greene Grievance Coordinator (Tracy Shawley) regularly aids prison staff in evading review/correction of their wrongs by pretending like she never received a prisoner’s grievance or she issues a fraudulent “Grievance Rejection.” A “Grievance Rejection” allows the Grievance Coordinator to reject a prisoner’s grievance without processing it based on “technical errors” in the prisoner’s grievance filing. Tracy Shawley often issues “grievance regections” when there are no “technical errors.” Also, D.O.C. Central office chief office of Grievance and Appeals don’t review prisoner Grievances, they only write in their response whatever prison staff wrote in their response. Misconducts are not reviewed either.
Also, in regards to the attached May 23, 2014 Observer-Reporter article “S.C.I.-Greene prisoner (Ronald Yarborough) who was allegedly murdered by his cellmate. Ronald Yarborough was a mentally ill prisoner serving a 1 to 4 years sentence and his alleged murder could have easily been avoided. The cellmate accused of the alleged murder allegedly warned staff to not place him in the cell with anyone before the incident occurred. There is a serious pattern of S.C.I.-Greene staff encouraging/allowing cellmate-on-cellmate violence, instead of trying to reasonably/peacefully resolve or avoid it even when the prisoners involved try to do the “right thing” by warning staff of eventual physical conflict. And is evidenced by the pattern of cellmate-on-cellmate violence, prisoners sent to RHU for refusing to double cell or cell with certain prisoners, the Ronald Yarborough incident, and my current situation of events leading up to and surrounding the alleged August 8, 2014 incident that I’m presently in the RHU for (misconduct #B266541. Also, see my Defendant’s Statement (11/04/2014) in Commonwealth v. Ricardo L. Noble, #MJ-13302-CR-0000134-2014; 324 Criminal Sessions 2014). Years 2012 through 2015 should show a pattern of cellmate-on-cellmate violence encouraged/allowed by S.C.I.-Greene staff.
In 2014, I actually tried to avoid any cellmate-on-cellmate violence by doing things the “right way.” I even contacted the U.S. Department of Justice-Special Litigation Division long before August 8, 2014 about S.C.I.-Greene staff’s pattern of encouraging/allowing cellmate-on-cellmate violence. The U.S. Department of Justice gave my complaint the number: 168-64-01453020. No action was taken.
I’m serving a sentence of Life Without Parole, been incarcerated for 24 years (since age 15), and I’m no longer capable of living in a cell with someone. I repeatedly notified various S.C.I-Greene staff (Program Review Committee, Superintendent, my counselor Tara Dively, my D-Block Unit Manager and others) of said fact. I haven’t had a cellmate since 2003 as a result of an alleged assault against my cellmate. Therefore, I was given a z-code (single cell status) over 10 years ago. But my counselor Tara Dively and Unit Manager Michael Ivan recommended that my z-code (single cell) status be removed in May 2014 (Four months after the January 10, 2014 murder of Ronald Yarborough allegedly by his cellmate). Superintendent Robert Gilmore agreed with their recommendation in June 2014 but stated that my z-code be removed 6 months from his June 2014 decision. Unit Manager Michael Ivan and Counselor Tara Dively told me that they don’t care about cellmate-on-cellmate violence unless a prisoner murders or rapes their cellmate, after I told them that I will eventually hurt my cellmate if they force me to double cell (accepts a cellmate).
After a physical altercation (with a weapon) with the person I was celled with in 2003 at S.C.I.-Huntingdon, I was eventually given a z-code. . In 2007, the Pennsylvania D.O.C. gave my former cellmate 10,000 dollars to settle the lawsuit they filed because of the 2003 incident at S.C.I.-Huntingdon.
While in the S.C.I.-Huntingdon RHU serving DC time sanction for the cellmate altercation and waiting to go to Huntingdon County Criminal Court for said incident I received multiple misconducts for refusing to accept a cellmate (double-cell) and each time I submitted a written statement stating that I would never double-cell and why. In 2005, I was sentenced in criminal court for said cellmate incident, then transferred to S.C.I-Frackville in 2005. In 2005, I was released to S.C.I.-Frackville’s general population with a z-code (reviewed, signed, and approved by S.C.I.-Frackville’s Superintendent and deputy Superintendents). (Evidenced by my May 5, 2005 Program Review Committee (PRC) report). In 2006, I was given a misconduct for allegedly assaulting two people with a weapon and also criminally charged in Frackville (Schuylkill Country) criminal court. Then, transferred to S.C.I.-Coal Township to complete my 270-day DC sanction for the incident. Then, transferred to S.C.I.-Greene in 2007 and placed in the RHU on Administrative Custody status from 2007 to March 19, 2013 (when released to S.C.I.-Greene general population) allegedly due to my alleged assaultive history.
I notified S.C.I.-Greene PRC and Michael Ivan before and after they released me to general population from the RHU in March 2013 of my refusal to double-cell and why. In 2013, PRC and Unit Manager Michael Ivan told me that if I get into another physical altercation with someone, I will be returned to the RHU and NEVER let out of solitary confinement again. So, removing my z-code (single cell) status would be setting me up for failure. Also, the fact that former cellmate won a lawsuit against prison staff as a result of the alleged 2003 incident would make it easy for any prisoner I’m celled with to instigate/initiate a physical altercation with me for the sole purpose of winning a lawsuit against prison staff since it’s already documented that it’s not a good idea to put me in the cell with someone.
Despite the before mentioned, D-Block Unit Manager Michael Ivan told me in 2014 that he will make sure that my z-code is removed. Then, he initiated the process for it to be removed which was eventually approved by Superintendent Robert Gilmore in June 2014, as stated on page 8 of this letter. D.O.C. Policy DC-ADM-11.2.1-Section 5 clearly states that my z-code (single-cell) status should not be removed and I should not be double celled when you consider before-mentioned. Staff are double celling people that they know should not have a cellmate.
I have been in solitary confinement in S.C.I.-Greene’s RHU since August 8, 2014 for misconduct #B266541 for charges of allegedly assaulting (with a weapon) Unit Manager Michael Ivan. On September 29, 2014, I was criminally charged for said alleged incident (Criminal Docket # Commonwealth v. Ricardo L. Noble, 324 Criminal Sessions 2014; originated Docket #MJ-13302-CR-0000134-2014). No trial date has been set, yet. My 11/04/2015 “Defendant’s Statement” docketed in this case is actually an essay (with attachments) that I wrote long before August 8, 2014 titled: “Cellmate Violence Encouraged/Allowed.”
The sad part about the Pennsylvania D.O.C’s “revamping” strategies mentioned in the attached January 6, 2015 Pittsburgh Post-Gazette Newspaper article “State Prison System Develops Separate Housing for Mentally Ill” by Rich Lord is that D.O.C. officials are only focusing on mentally ill prisoners in RHU but continuing to overlook, encourage, and allow harassment, neglect, excessive RHU Disciplinary Custody Sanctions, and abuse of prisoners in the RHU who are not mentally ill. However, RHU prisoners who are not mentally ill may, and often do, become mentally ill as a result of the before-mentioned actions of staff in this paragraph.
Also, at my November 4, 2014 Preliminary Hearing for allegedly assaulting Unit Manager Michael Ivan, it was revealed that Michael Ivan and Counselor Tara Dively falsified my file in order to falsely “justify” their recommendation to remove my z-code (single cell) status and attempt to force me to live in a cell with someone (double-cell) because they know that I’m not supposed to have a cellmate. Superintendent Robert Gilmore also consented to falsifying my file.
I hope that this information in this letter will be helpful in the U.S. Department of Justice’s investigation of treatment/handling of mentally ill prisoners by RHU prison staff and prison staff in general. And I hope that there will be improvement in S.C.I.-Greene prison conditions and the handling/treatment of all prisoners (mentally ill and non-mentally ill) in the RHU and outside of the RHU.
Feel free to use my full name whenever this letter or parts of this letter is published or posted to enlighten the public and others about wrongs committed against prisoners. Feel free to use this letter or parts of this letter in reports, newsletters, and websites to enlighten the public and others about the wrongs committed against prisoners. All counselors, medical and psychiatric staff who come through the RHU know of, participate in such wrongs. Thank you for your time.
Erie, Pennsylvania’s Betrayed Child,
175 Progress Drive
Waynesburg, PA 15370
“Erie, Pennsylvania’s Betrayal of Child” by Ricardo Noble can be read/downloaded for free at: www.prisonsfoundation.org