Friday, May 22, 2009

Department of Corrections lack credibility… from the Governor to the people

According to the Thursday, May 21, 2009, issue of the “News & Observer,” the correctional staff at Central Prison is at it again. In an article titled “Guard sprays disabled inmate: The prisoner banged on a door,” an unidentified guard sprayed Timothy Helms in the face with pepper foam. The foam is a more sinister weapon than the atomized spray, in that attempts to wipe it off merely pushes it deeper into the skin, eliciting more intense pain. However, Mr. Helms, who is mentally retarded and mentally ill, and was diagnosed as being a quadriplegic from brain injuries sustained while in solitary confinement, would probably not have been able to even attempt to try and remove the foam.

Mr. Helms evidently warranted this torture because he refused to obey a guard’s order to stop banging on a door and to stop cursing. According to Department of Corrections spokesman Keith Acree, Mr. Helms slid out of a wheelchair and hit the floor as the officer was attempting to handcuff him. In the newspaper article, Mr. Acree also gave assurances that Mr. Helms was not injured during this incident.

The DOC stated that the corrections officer involved, whose name was withheld, tendered his resignation after being notified that an internal investigation was going to be conducted. DOC Secretary Alvin W. Keller, Jr. stated, “This agency’s job is to protect the public safety and the safety of inmates and employees in our facilities. I will not tolerate anyone who operates outside of established policies and procedures that puts that safety at risk.” This statement comes from a man who stated that there was no evidence to support a theory that Timothy Helms was beaten in August 2008, despite the fact that he had two skull fractures and welts on his back and torso (consistent with those inflicted by a billy club). The department has refused to make public any records concerned with the incidents involving Mr. Helms, stating that to do so would “imperil the security” of the maximum security prison.

Secretary Keller (who believes Mr. Helms sustained two skull fractures from falling and hitting his head on the concrete floor), the State Bureau of Investigation (which has been unable to determine how Mr. Helms received his injuries while in solitary confinement at Central Prison), and the DOC mouthpiece, Mr. Acree, by their words and deeds (and/or lack thereof), have absolutely no credibility with the people of North Carolina. And judging by their silence on these atrocities, Governor Bev Perdue (who appointed Mr. Keller to head the DOC), Attorney General Roy Cooper (who commands the SBI), and other elected officials or politicians lack credibility in the North Carolina Department of Corrections leadership, as well.

There is no doubt in my mind that the torture, abuse, beatings, and mistreatment sustained by Mr. Helms, is standard practice at our state’s institutions. The veil of secrecy that is put up around what transpires behind the walls of our prisons is to shield the public from an awareness of the degrading, dehumanizing, and debilitating conditions in our correctional system… not the pretext of protecting security proffered by DOC officials. This secrecy allows correctional officers to assault and abuse inmates with impunity, and this condition is palatable for elected officials because the majority of those imprisoned are disenfranchised, poor, and people of color. And the people in power have little concern or empathy for their plight. This needs to change.

Without doubt, Timothy Helms should be transferred from prison to a rehabilitation facility where he can receive optimal treatment for the paralytic condition he sustained while in confinement. The fact that he has evidently recovered some movement in his extremities supports such a move (which is also recommended by the DOC physician.) The correctional staff’s attitude towards Mr. Helms, whose situation has brought unwanted scrutiny upon them, is poisoned, and as long as he remains in custody, he will continue to be subjected to abuse.

Government officials and politicians often remain silent or choose not to get involved in situations in which state agencies have committed acts or pursued policies that are indefensible and immoral. That is what has happened with the state’s treatment of Timothy Helms, and that is what has happened with the state’s treatment of former Durham District Attorney Mike Nifong. Politicians, law school professors, and even the North Carolina legal director for the American Civil Liberties Union have refused to comment on the selective and unjust disbarment of Mr. Nifong (the only prosecutor to be disbarred by the North Carolina State Bar since its inception).

Like the North Carolina Department of Corrections, the North Carolina State Bar joins it as being an agency that is totally lacking credibility in the minds of independent, rational, intelligent, and objective thinking North Carolinians. It is past time for state leaders of good conscience to become involved and speak out against North Carolina’s system of “selective justice based on Class and Color.”

9 comments:

Justice58 said...

"“Guard sprays disabled inmate: The prisoner banged on a door,” an unidentified guard sprayed Timothy Helms in the face with pepper foam. The foam is a more sinister weapon than the atomized spray, in that attempts to wipe it off merely pushes it deeper into the skin, eliciting more intense pain. However, Mr. Helms, who is mentally retarded and mentally ill, and was diagnosed as being a quadriplegic from brain injuries sustained while in solitary confinement, would probably not have been able to even attempt to try and remove the foam".








Words fail me!

Walt said...

Sydney wrote: "Government officials and politicians often remain silent or choose not to get involved in situations in which state agencies have committed acts or pursued policies that are indefensible and immoral. That is what has happened with the state’s treatment of Timothy Helms, and that is what has happened with the state’s treatment of former Durham District Attorney Mike Nifong."Once again, Sydney goes for the two wrongs make a right argument. That simply does not hold water. Whatever the merits, or in this case demerits of the treatment of Timothy Helms, that does not justify Nifong's contempt of the courts or his violation of the rules of professional conduct.

Let us review Nifong's conduct. At the beginning of the lacrosse fiasco, he began by giving a remarkable number of interviews to the national media claiming that a crime was committed and even describing in detail how that crime was committed. Details that turned out to be false. Details that he would later testify he had no knowledge of at least from the file. We know that the rules of professional conduct have certain requirements of attorneys and prosecutors. See Rule 3.6(a) A lawyer who is participating or has participated in the investigation or litigation of a matter shall not make an extrajudicial statement that the lawyer knows or reasonably should know will be disseminated by means of public communication and will have a substantial likelihood of materially prejudicing an adjudicative proceeding in the matter.


Nifong blatantly violated this rule with his dozens of statements to the media about the case, both before and after obtaining indictments. Numerous of his media statements were obviously false, for example his statements about condom use. Others of his statements expressed his opinion of the guilt of the suspects or his personal opinion that a crime or crimes had been committed. The right or wrongs of other cases in no way shape or form justify Nifong's violation of Rule 3.6. I cannot recall another North Carolina District Attorney making the kinds and quantity of statements that Nifong did. Regardless, disbarment was called for in Nifong's case.


Let us not forget that Nifong also failed to be candid with the trial court. In the September hearing, he was asked if he had turned over all exculpatory evidence to the defense. He said he had, when he had not. And for that, Nifong was found in contempt. I have long feared his lack of candor was more or less common among District Attorneys and their deputies. Still, common acceptance does not justify his conduct.


Walt-in-Durham

Justice58 said...

Mr. Nifong deserves his law license back because I believe he was treated unfairly by having it taken from him. So I stand in solidarity with this blog in helping to get his license restored.



Mr. Nifong was a 27 year seasoned prosecutor who was pursing the Duke Lacrosse case in good conscience. He was only doing a job that he was elected to do.

Walt said...

Justice58 said: "Mr. Nifong was a 27 year seasoned prosecutor who was pursing the Duke Lacrosse case in good conscience." His pursuit in good conscience ended the minute he got the results of the DNA testing back that contradicted Crystal Gail Mangum's version of events. DNA results that had five (5) positives for people other than the suspects. No other suspects were pursued by Nifong. From then on he was no pursuing the case in good conscience.

"He was only doing a job that he was elected to do." You still disregard Rule 3.6 which sets out the job of the prosecutor From the commentary to Rule 3.6: "A prosecutor has the responsibility of a minister of justice and not simply that of an advocate; the prosecutor's duty is to seek justice, not merely to convict." Nifong was actively trying to convict people who are and were demonstrably innocent. That is far from the job of a District Attorney. No number of other perceived wrongs on the part of the justice system will make what Nifong did right.

Walt-in-Durham

Justice58 said...

" Nifong was actively trying to convict people who are and were demonstrably innocent. That is far from the job of a District Attorney. No number of other perceived wrongs on the part of the justice system will make what Nifong did right".


No he wasn't.

What prosecutors did to Alan Gell was unforgivable! But THEY still have their license to practice law. And Gell's was a death penalty case!! The prosecutors involved received a slap on the wrist. Is that justice?





Besides...Roy Cooper's declaration was an unqualfied proclamation. He gave his opinion of the case. I believe he was pandering to the special interests.

Walt said...

What prosecutors did to Alan Gell was unforgivable! But THEY still have their license to practice law. And Gell's was a death penalty case!! The prosecutors involved received a slap on the wrist. Is that justice?

Of course it is not justice to Hoke and Graves. But, as Sydney has said this blog is not about that. What Nifong did is just as wrong and worse. In fact, Nifong deserved to lose his license and go to jail. The same punishment should have been applied to Hoke and Graves. The fact that it wasn't does not excuse Nifong.

Walt-in-Durham

Justice58 said...

"What Nifong did is just as wrong and worse. In fact, Nifong deserved to lose his license and go to jail. The same punishment should have been applied to Hoke and Graves. The fact that it wasn't does not excuse Nifong".





Mr. Michael Nifong is the only prosecutor to be disbarred by the North Carolina State Bar since its beginning. If the North Carolina State Bar is going to set rules, then make sure the rule applies to everyone.

Walt said...

Mr. Michael Nifong is the only prosecutor to be disbarred by the North Carolina State Bar since its beginning. If the North Carolina State Bar is going to set rules, then make sure the rule applies to everyone.By that logic, every rapist, every mugger, every burglar, every thief, every tax cheat, every criminal of every description must go free because at least one somewhere did. This is just a rehash of the two wrongs make a right argument. That is not how our system of justice works.

Our system applies the rules to each person individually. Nifong was guilty beyond question of violations of the rules of professional conduct and of contempt. The sanction was appropriate. Given how gross his violations of the pre-trial publicity rule was, I can safely say he was the worst offender in the history of North Carolina. I don't practice much in the criminal courts, but I have never had a lawyer lie to me about discovery in civil court where I do practice. Again, contempt seems more than appropriate for his actions in court.

Walt-in-Durham

Justice58 said...

"By that logic, every rapist, every mugger, every burglar, every thief, every tax cheat, every criminal of every description must go free because at least one somewhere did. This is just a rehash of the two wrongs make a right argument".



No it's not!


You know clearly what I'm speaking of. And that is the NC Bar gave a slap on the wrist to other prosecutors who were guilty of gross conduct... imho. Mr. Nifong had an excellent 27 year record. In all those years, he hadn't been accused of any wrong-doing. The punishment doesn't fit. The taking of his law license was much too harsh.


It is unbelievable the NC State Bar intervened while there was an on-going investigation. When has that ever happen. Why?



"That is not how our system of justice works".



Really? You mean the just "us" system? ;)