Attacks on two notorious, high-profile federal prisoners by fellow inmates in recent months have reignited concerns about whether the chronically understaffed, crisis-hit Federal Bureau of Prisons is keeping people in its custody safe. Able to keep.
In the shadow of gangster James "Whitey" Bulger's 2018 beating death in a West Virginia federal prison and financier Jeffrey Epstein's 2019 suicide while awaiting trial on sex trafficking charges in a Manhattan federal prison, Bureau of Prisons security Is again under investigation for failing. High-profile prisoners were protected from harm.
Chauvin, 47, former Minneapolis police officer, convicted murder of george floyd In 2020, he was hospitalized for a week after being attacked on November 24 at a medium-security federal prison in Tucson, Arizona – the same complex where an inmate shot a visitor with a restricted gun the previous year. had tried.
Chauvin's suspected attacker, an ex-gang leader, told correctional officers he would have killed him if he had not responded, prosecutors said. He was charged with attempted murder last week and has been moved from Chauvin's prison to a federal prison next door.
Chauvin's family is "very concerned about the facility's ability to protect Derek from further harm," said his attorney, Gregory Erickson. ,
Nassar, 60, a former US women's gymnastics team doctor who sexually abused athletes, was treated for collapsed lungs on July 9 at a federal prison in Coleman, Florida, after she was stabbed multiple times in the neck, chest and back. His attacker was restrained by other inmates before authorities arrived.
The attacks on Chauvin and Nassar, among dozens of other assaults and deaths involving lesser-known federal prisoners, are symptoms of larger systemic problems within the Justice Department's largest agency that put all 158,000 federal prisoners at risk. They include severe staff shortages, staff-on-prisoner abuse, broken surveillance cameras and crumbling infrastructure.
The violence has challenged the notion — repeated by some lawyers and criminal justice experts quoted in the news media at Chauvin's sentencing last year — that federal prisons are far safer than state prisons or local jails. The inmates suspected of attacking Chauvin and Nassar both have violent histories.
After Chauvin's attack, his mother complained in a since-deleted Facebook post that the Bureau of Prisons was keeping her in the dark on details of the attack and his medical condition — echoing complaints at the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic when Families were not informed about inmates who were dying from the virus until it was too late. The agency said it provided updates on Chauvin's health to everyone it asked to notify.
"The murder of George Floyd by Derek Chauvin was a tragic loss of life and a horrifying reminder of the rampant inequality in our justice system," said Daniel Landsman, deputy director of policy at the criminal justice advocacy group FAMM, or Families Against Mandatory Minimums.
“However, no one's sentence, no matter what their crime, does not include being subjected to violence while in prison. The attack on Chauvin is the latest in a long list of incidents that highlight the urgent need for comprehensive independent oversight of our federal Bureau of Prisons, Landesman said.
The Bureau of Prisons, with more than 30,000 employees, 122 prison facilities and an annual budget of nearly $8 billion, has called for greater congressional oversight and investigations from government watchdogs in the wake of Bulger and Epstein's deaths.
Meanwhile, Justice Department Inspector General Michael Horowitz has issued scathing reports citing management failures, flawed policies and widespread incompetence. Factors leading to Bulger's murder and blamed "a combination of negligence, misconduct, and gross performance failures" for Epstein's suicide.
"Many of the more serious crimes in this case came to light largely because they involved a high-profile prisoner," Horowitz wrote in a June report on Epstein's suicide. "The fact that serious deficiencies occurred with respect to high-profile inmates such as Epstein and Bulger is particularly concerning given that the BOP will likely take special care in handling the custody and care of such inmates."
High-profile inmates are labeled as "wide publicity" in the federal prison system due to the widespread publicity they receive as a result of their criminal activity or notoriety as public figures. The incidents associated with them generally attract far more media attention and public curiosity than other prison riots, but they are often indicative of greater dysfunction.
In the wake of Epstein's suicide, officials at a federal prison in Brooklyn took the unusual step of arresting his longtime confidant Ghislaine Maxwell Wear paper clothes and sleep without bedsheets. To make sure he was still alive, they woke him up with a flashlight every 15 minutes.
But this is far from ideal. In June, another high-profile inmate, the "Unabomber" Ted Kaczynski, was found unresponsive in his cell after being rounded up by corrections officers after midnight at a federal prison medical center in North Carolina. Kaczynski had previously attempted suicide in 1998 while awaiting trial but rejected a psychiatrist's diagnosis that he was mentally ill.
Responding to Horowitz, Bureau of Prisons Director Colette Peters wrote that lessons learned from the investigation "will be applied to the broader BOP correctional landscape." But asked by the AP last week, the agency declined to say what changes, if any, had been made, saying it "does not discuss specific security practices."
Peters also promised a comprehensive security review in November 2022 after the Tucson gun breach, telling the AP the Bureau of Prisons will assess security measures and identify lapses at prison camps, potentially leading to tightening protocols across the agency. Will provide a lesson. Asked for an update, the agency said it "does not comment on matters unrelated to investigations."
A spokesman, Benjamin O'Conon, said the Bureau of Prisons "takes seriously our duty to maintain the safety of individuals entrusted to our custody, as well as the safety of correctional staff and the community."
O'Conn said, "As part of that obligation, we review safety protocols and implement corrective actions where necessary in those reviews to ensure that safe, secure and humane facilities are operated. May our mission be accomplished."
Chauvin began his imprisonment in solitary confinement at the maximum-security Minnesota State Prison, isolated from other inmates and kept in his cell 23 hours a day "largely for his own safety," his former attorney wrote in court papers. .
He was transferred to FCI Tucson in August 2022 after taking a deal to serve all of his sentence for Floyd's murder — a 21-year federal sentence — concurrently in federal prison. For violating Floyd's civil rights.Which was later reduced to seven months and 22 and a half years state sentence for second degree murder,
The judge who sentenced Chauvin, while sympathetic to his isolation in state prison, expressed optimism that he would fare better as a federal prisoner with fewer restrictions.
U.S. District Judge Paul Magnuson told Chauvin in imposing federal sentencing in July 2022, "Although these conditions may be necessary for security reasons and for your safety, I still feel for you and the difficult days you have had to endure." You have passed." The Bureau of Prisons will be able to improve these conditions to a great extent.”
Instead of solitary confinement or protective custody, the Bureau of Prisons placed Chauvin in the "Dropout Yard" – a housing unit for former police officers, ex-gang members, sex offenders, and other high-risk inmates.
Although generally considered safer for such prisoners than the general prison population, there are occasional glimpses of violence in those units, such as in the "Dropout Yard" unit at the US Penitentiary in Coleman, Florida. Nassar's stabbing.
Nassar, who was also convicted of possessing child sexual abuse images, was attacked in his cell after allegedly making a vulgar comment while watching the Wimbledon women's tennis match on TV. An inmate, identified in prison records as Shane McMillan, stabbed him repeatedly with a knife before four other inmates pulled him away.
McMillan was previously convicted of assaulting a federal prison officer in Louisiana in 2006 and attempting to stab another inmate to death in 2011 at a federal supermax prison in Florence, Colorado. He is being held in Florida and has not yet been charged with attacking Nassar. , who was taken to a federal prison in Pennsylvania. Court records did not list an attorney for him.
In May 2018, Nassar's lawyers said, he was attacked within hours of being placed in general population at an Arizona federal prison next to Chauvin's prison. Nassar's lawyers, who have not shared details of the attack, blamed it on the notoriety of his case and his seven-day televised sentence.
By contrast, Chauvin's move to federal prison appears to be off to a good start. In a brief glimpse of his life as a federal prisoner, he appeared in a video at FCI Tucson in March — after pleading guilty in a Minnesota tax evasion case — wearing a prison-issued short-sleeve blue button-down shirt.
Last month, Chauvin mailed court papers from jail — with his handwritten name and inmate number on the envelope. long speech To overturn his federal guilty plea. In them, he complained that his former lawyer had ignored alleged new evidence of his innocence, but said nothing about how he was being treated behind bars.
Before Chauvin was stabbed, there were no public reports of violence toward him — but he was still at risk.
John Tersak, the former Mexican Mafia gang leader and one-time FBI informant who was accused of attacking Chauvin, told investigators that he planned to attack Chauvin in the law library around 12:30 a.m. local time in November. Thought about stabbing him for a month before seeing the opportunity. 24, federal prosecutors said.
Prosecutors said Tursak attacked Chauvin with a knife 22 times, stopping only when corrections officers reached him and used pepper spray to subdue him. FCI Tucson has struggled with understaffing in the past, but the Bureau of Prisons said nearly every corrections officer position is now filled and that staffing was not an issue on the day Chauvin was attacked.
The agency said two employees were working voluntary overtime, but none were on mandatory overtime, nor were using prison enhancements – a practice in which nurses, teachers, cooks and other staff are given extra time to protect inmates. Is removed from duties.
Chauvin's attorney said he confirmed to his family that the allegations in Tercek's charging document were accurate, and said the attacker had ambushed him from behind.
Prosecutors said Terscak told the FBI he attacked Chauvin because he is a high-profile inmate accused of killing Floyd. Prosecutors said Terscak said he chose Black Friday, the day after Thanksgiving, as a symbolic connection to the Black Lives Matter movement and the Mexican Mafia's "Black Hand" symbol.
Tercek, 52, led a faction of the Mexican Mafia in the Los Angeles area in the late 1990s and was released from prison in 2026 after serving more than 30 years in federal prison for racketeering and conspiracy to kill a gang rival. Was to be released from. Court records did not list an attorney for him.
Now, following Tercek's arrest and Chauvin's return to FCI Tucson, Erickson said he and his client's family have even more questions — and concerns. Erickson said they are continuing to respond to additional measures, if any, being taken to protect Chauvin and will "pursue any avenues available under the law to ensure his continued safety." "
Erickson said, "It remains a mystery how the perpetrator was able to obtain and possess dangerous materials to make a makeshift knife" and that Derek was stabbed 22 times by a guard until the perpetrator How was unable to reach and grab him," Erickson said.
“Why was Derek allowed into the law library without a security guard to prevent a possible assault? The lawyer said. "His family continues to wonder."
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