The lawsuit alleges that Souza-Baranowski Correctional Center officers singled out Black and Latino inmates for retaliation.
A federal class action lawsuit accuses Massachusetts corrections officials of violently retaliating against inmates at the Souza-Baranowski Correctional Center after a prison guard was attacked in January 2020.
According to WBUR, the complaint states that Souza officials attacked and beat more than 100 inmates after the assault.
“This unconstitutional brutality included beating and kicking prisoners; gouging eyes; grabbing testicles; smashing faces into the ground or wall; deploying Taser guns, pepperball guns, and other chemical agents; ordering K9s to menace and bite prisoners; and excessively tightening handcuffs and forcing prisoners’ arms into unnatural and painful positions, among other positional torture tactics,” the class claims.
Officers allegedly targeted prisoners of color in what the lawsuit calls a “retaliatory force campaign.”
“Officers targeted Black and Latinx prisoners for especially brutal and degrading treatment, such as yanking and ripping out dreadlocks and braids and shouting racist comments and slurs as the officers assaulted them,” the lawsuit says, alleging that “some officers” went so far as to display “white supremacist” logos and motifs on their state-issued helmets.
One of the plaintiffs, identified by The Boston Globe as Danavian Daniel, said that on January 24, 2020, four or five officers “stormed” into his cell, pinned him to the floor, and began beating him.
“I could hear the screams of my neighbor in the next cell as he was being tased and beaten,” Daniel said in a statement. “[…] an officer started choking me. I prayed I wouldn’t die, thinking of my family at home. I could see my cellmate being choked on the floor next to me, and hoped that he would survive too.”
WBUR notes that, after the initial assault on the guard, at least 20 men were removed from Souza and sent to other prisons.
Around the same time, however, several state-level lawmakers visited the facility and found that detainees were being abused.
Meanwhile, a Superior Court judge determined that the Massachusetts Department of Correction was violating prisoners’ constitutional rights by preventing them from accessing their legal paperwork and documents.
While the state has faced other legal challenges stemming from alleged abuses at Souza-Baranowski, the recent class action was filed on behalf of nine current inmates. It names 18 defendants, including Massachusetts Correction Commissioner Carol Mici, along with several other prisons officials and guards.
The class action claims that Mici and other prisons officials sanctioned violence against inmates.
Now, the inmates are asking for unspecified damages as well as a court order ending the use of excessive, retaliatory force in Massachusetts state prisons.
“This lawsuit aims to bring much needed and overdue justice to the many who were subjected to extreme and unlawful use of force by state officials and officers charged with their care,” Prisoners Legal Services of Massachusetts Director Elizabeth Matos told WBUR. “In the two years since these incidents occurred, no action has been taken by the Commonwealth to address these egregious assaults. It is simply high time to hold corrections accountable.”