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Interviews Sought on Fatal Prison Riot

COLUMBUS, Ohio (CN) - Journalists and Death Row inmates sued Ohio for denying the inmates permission to talk to the press about a horrific riot in the Lucasville prison that left 10 dead in 1993.

Inmates Siddique Abdullah Hasan, Gregory Curry, Keith Lamar, Jason Robb and George Skatzes, and journalists Noelle Hanrahan, Christopher Hedges, Derrick A. Jones and James Ridgeway sued Gary Mohr, the Director of the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction, and JoEllen Smith, the department's Communications Chief.

Hasan, Lamar and Robb have been sentenced to death. Curry has been sentenced to life.

They and the reporters claim the defendants violated the First and 14th Amendments, by "a. denying all media requests to interview prisoner plaintiffs because of the anticipated content of the interviews;

"b. denying all media requests to interview prisoners convicted of crimes during the 1993 Lucasville uprising based upon policies and decisions that have no rational basis."

The plaintiffs say the Department of Corrections has restricted media access ever since the riot, and clamped down harder on the 20th anniversary of the riot.

The longest deadly prison riot in U.S. history, the Lucasville uprising began on Sunday, April 11, 1993, when inmates attacked a guard while returning from the recreation yard.

Five corrections officers were taken hostage after numerous prisoners were released from their cells by the initial attackers.

Negotiations began on Tuesday, April 13, with rioters demanding single-prisoner cells and more educational and visitation opportunities.

Inmates killed a guard on Thursday, April 15, and Warden Arthur Tate signed a 21-point agreement with the prisoners on Sunday, April 18. The standoff lasted another three days, ending with the surrender of the last prisoner at 11:20 pm, April 21, 1993.

The prison claims it has denied the requests of reporters under its policy that security level 5 inmates are not granted interviews.

The plaintiffs claim "no such provision appears in the Ohio Administrative Code and, to the extent that such a restriction appears in departmental policies, such provisions are inconsistent with Administrative Rule 5120-9-16 that permits media visits subject to time, place and manner restrictions."

The complaint cited a documentary, "Lock Up/Lock Down," released by the Discovery Channel and filmmaker James Lipscomb in 2000, for which Lipscomb was allowed to converse with numerous prisoners, all of whom were considered security level 5.

According to the complaint, "between the years 2000 and 2010 defendants have approved and facilitated a total of at least twenty-three media interviews, prior to a scheduled execution date, with at least eight prisoners."

It adds: "criteria such as safety and security considerations, nature of the offense for which the offender is incarcerated, disciplinary history, potential impact on victims or staff, did not prevent the ... media interviews from being granted."

For example, Frank Spisak, a neo-Nazi convicted of three homicides, was interviewed by WJW-TV in 2008, three years before he was executed. Yet the prison has barred plaintiff Hedges, a Pulitzer Prize winning reporter, and Ridgeway, the author of numerous books.

"The only plausible reason for the defendants' granting media access to prisoners the likes of Frank Spisak and denying similar access these plaintiffs is the desire to stifle public discussion of the 1993 Lucasville prison uprising," the complaint states.

The plaintiffs seek an injunction granting interviews with inmates involved in the uprising, or otherwise "a specific, factual basis for denying the particular request and notice of an opportunity to appeal the denial."

They are represented by James Hardiman with the ACLU of Ohio, in Cleveland.

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