COEUR D’ALENE, Idaho (CN) – Guards at a private prison instigated – and watched – a gang fight that left him brutally beaten and unconscious, says a man who claims that Corrections Corporation of America guards “foster” brutality between inmates, and conceal injuries in the prison’s “in-house” medical center.
Jacob Clevenger sued Corrections Corporation of America, CCA Western Properties, and Philip Valdez, warden of the CCA’s Idaho Correctional Center, in Federal Court.
Nashville-based Corrections Corporation of America is the largest private corrections company in the country, managing 60 prisons with a total of 90,000 beds.
Clevenger, who claims he was beaten senseless in the prison, claims CCA “has allowed and even fostered systemic conditions of brutality, peril and injuriousness at the ICC.”
Clevenger was an inmate at the Idaho Correctional Center (ICC) in Kuna, Idaho, a state prison that is owned and managed by CCA.
Clevenger claims he was taken from his cell on Aug. 10, 2010 and placed in another area of the prison where rival gang members were housed.
When the door to his new cell was opened that evening, Clevenger said, he thought guards were bringing him a mattress for his bunk. But he was attacked and beaten.
“Around 8 p.m., Mr. Clevenger’s cell door mechanically opened,” the complaint states. “Cell doors at ICC were opened mechanically by the officer in the control center. Mr. Clevenger assumed that ICC guards were delivering the mattresses and stepped out of the cell to accommodate them. Suddenly, Mr. Clevenger saw prisoners running towards him. He froze. Seconds later, a number of prisoners, including known gang members, began attacking him.
“Mr. Clevenger suffered significant physical and emotional injuries, including, but not limited to, being punched and kicked so many times in the head that he had lumps everywhere, and receiving a broken front tooth, a fractured eye socket, and a partially torn ear. After a few minutes of being beaten, Mr. Clevenger lost consciousness. A few hours later, Mr. Clevenger was taken to St. Alphonsus Hospital’s emergency room.
“Defendant CCA’s staff knew that by placing Mr. Clevenger in a setting with rival gang members he was at great physical risk of attack. Prior to the August 10 assault, Mr. Clevenger submitted concern forms expressing his fear for his safety on a number of occasions, although these forms were never returned. Prior to the attack, CCA began moving other known gang members into the same housing unit in which Mr. Clevenger lived.
“Indeed, CCA officials are aware of the substantial danger of assault that gang members such as Mr. Clevenger face from rival gang members, and have a policy of keeping rival gang members separated.
“Mr. Clevenger does not know for certain why his assailants assaulted him. But one thing is clear: The guards who allowed this brutal attack exhibited deliberate indifference to Mr. Clevenger’s health and welfare.
“Jacob Clevenger’s injuries are permanent and progressive. He continues to suffer physical and mental trauma.
“Previous to Mr. Clevenger’s brutal assault, there had been numerous similar assaults.”
Clevenger claims that ICC warden Philip Valdez has refused to hire enough correctional officers, to adequately train the ones he does hire, and failed to pursue “reasonable policies of personnel discipline and retraining in cases where correctional officers have contributed to or facilitated inmate violence or injury.”
He claims that correctional officers at ICC “have acted, and feel empowered to act, with impunity when they deliberately disregard or derogate inmate safety.”
He claims there is a “code of silence” by which “staff are conspicuously not encouraged to report prisoner or personnel misconduct, and are furthermore not provided adequate training in how to do so”.
The complaint continues: “Defendants CCA and Valdez have operated the ICC’s ‘in house’ medical unit so as to purposefully conceal the incidence and extent of inmate injuries suffered as a result of the facility’s recurrent violence~ through official medical unit policies, such as the omission of any X-rays of severe assault injuries, the defendants act to obfuscate the extent of the systemically dangerous conditions at their facility.
“For years, defendants CCA and Valdez have possessed actual and constructive knowledge of these illegal and dangerous conditions at ICC. However, in direct derogation of their state and federal duties of care, they have avoided and refrained from taking reasonable measures to abate them.”
Clevenger was released from prison in June 2011. He seeks damages for negligence, gross negligence and recklessness.
He is represented by Craig Vernon, with James, Vernon & Weeks, of Coeur d’Alene.
CCA, a politically powerful company, has been sued more than 40 times in recent years, mostly on allegations of civil rights abuses, according to the Courthouse News database.