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‘It was an eye for an eye’: Former corrections officers testify at civil assault trial about culture of violence

As Richard Hanna and other corrections officers filed in for their shift at a state-run prison in downtown Baltimore, word quickly spread that one of their own had been badly assaulted by inmates.

Hanna huddled with two sergeants, one clutching a list of inmates at the Maryland Reception, Diagnostic and Classification Center suspected to have been involved. Time to go to work, one of them allegedly said.

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The officers moved from cell to cell delivering beat downs, Hanna testified Monday. Inmates were grabbed from their beds and hit with fists and feet. One was doused with a pepper spray “fogger.”

“I’m a Biblical man,” Hanna said. “It was an eye for an eye.”

Hanna’s blunt testimony came in U.S. District Court in Baltimore as part of a civil case against him and five other corrections officers and supervisors stemming from the 2013 attack. The plaintiff, Kevin Younger, was one of the five men beaten in their cells.

Hanna years ago pleaded guilty to his part in the assault, and is now one of several people being sued by Younger.

But on the witness stand Monday, his straightforward testimony strongly bolstered the case of the man suing him, other guards and state corrections officials.

Younger’s case has taken more than six years to wind its way through the criminal courts and state civil courts. But recent events show that the problems that led to his assault persist.

The Maryland corrections system has seen a sharp increase in staffing woes, which can be tied to dangerous conditions: vacant officer jobs have jumped to 20 percent last year from just 5 percent in 2013, while overtime spending more than tripled to $129 million from $40 million during that time.

Last month, 25 corrections officers were indicted on charges of using excessive force and evidence tampering to exert dominance and control behind prison walls, the latest in a series of indictments against officers at facilities across the state.

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Those officers were members of a tactical unit that would be called together to address specific issues with problem inmates. Hanna’s role was less formal.

After agreeing to cooperate in the criminal case against him and others, he told prison system investigators that he was part of a “goon squad” — “problem solvers who worked outside the lines of duty.”

“How is it that you could think you could engage in that conduct and get away with it?” attorney Allen E. Honick asked Hanna on Monday.

“That’s just how the jail was run,” Hanna testified Monday. He is defending himself in this case and no longer works as a corrections officer.

He said he once kicked part of an inmate’s cell door closed on his fingers, breaking them, after the prisoner groped a female corrections officer. Another time, a lieutenant asked Hanna to retrieve an inmate from segregation, and the lieutenant beat the inmate up in front of Hanna.

“It’s a fighting institution,” Hanna said. “I was never worried about [getting in trouble]. Nobody ever gets in trouble. Inmates don’t say anything. Officers don’t say anything. It’s handled like street justice.”

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But after the series of attacks on Sept. 29, 2013, the corrections agency did launch an investigation. The officers initially denied involvement. They tried to cover their tracks, including forcing the victims to sign forms saying they fell out of their beds.

Criminal charges were filed in 2014 against Hanna and then-Sgts. Jemiah Green and Kwasi Ramsey. Hanna pleaded guilty to a conspiracy charge and testified against Green and Ramsey, who were acquitted of most charges but convicted of second-degree assault and misconduct in office. They received suspended sentences and were placed on probation.

One inmate convicted for his roles in the assault on an officer that sparked the retaliation received a 10-year sentence, while another was sentenced to 17 months.

Green, who had denied the accusations during criminal proceedings, took the stand Monday morning in the federal civil case and acknowledged the beatings had occurred, and alleged it was at the direction of Lt. Neil Dupree, one of the supervisors being sued by Younger.

Dupree said he “wanted blood for blood,” Green testified. “He didn’t say anything else.”

“So you understood that to mean: Go assault the inmate?” asked Assistant Attorney General Shelly Mintz.

“Yes,” Green testified.

Green testified that he was coming clean now because Dupree has since “turned his back” on him.

Dupree, one of the defendants, denies the allegations.

It’s not just Hanna and Green who are sharing tales of working in the state prison system. Felicia Hinton, who retired as an assistant commissioner after a 32-year career, gave a deposition in the case about the Baltimore prison having “very little discipline" when she arrived as warden in 2006, something she said she worked to change.

She objected to her assistant, Tyrone Crowder, being elevated to replace her three years later because she believed he did not have enough experience. Crowder is among the defendants in Younger’s suit.

Crowder’s assistant warden from 2010 to 2013, Suzanne Fisher, told internal investigators that there was a culture at the prison as “one where supervisors did not report incidents within the institution.”

Fisher wrote a memo to Hinton in 2013, four days after the attack, saying, “I have worked at MRDCC for over three years and ... I feel as administrators we failed to ensure the mission of the department was adhered to."

The memo is included in court filings, and both Hinton and Fisher are witnesses in the civil case.

A spokesman for the Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services declined to comment Monday.

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