Friday, October 31, 1997

George Skatzes Account of Mansfield Death Row Uprising


 Written by George Skatzes in 1997. Reposted from Ohio Families Against Disparate Sentences



UPDATE: During a telephone conversation with Sonny Williams, coordinator for the OPRU, the following info was revealed: John Perotti, well-known prisoner/activist now incarcerated at Trumball in Levittsburg, OH, has joined the juices-only fast of Sonny Williams and the below named prisoners, in solidarity with their brothers on Death Row in Mansfield. A DR prisoner's family member has been denied a visit three separate times since the Sept 5 uprising. Not one DR-4 prisoner has been allowed a visit from family members or friends since the uprising.
Sonny Williams of the Ohio Prisoners' Rights Union, during an interview on Oct 29, issued the following statement:
On Oct 15, I went on a liquids fast only in support of Death Row prisoners in Mansfield. On Oct. 16, George Skatzes joined me, and on Oct 17, Jerry Hessler joined us. Since Sept. 5, on the Death Row 4 Range, no prisoner has had a visit from friends or family as punishment. Until friends and family get a visit with one of the 36 prisoners on DR 4 range, this fast will continue.
To offer support and encouragement to those fasting write:
Ohio Prisoners' Rights Union
530 East 13th St.
Cincinnati OH 45210
 
Several inmates on Death Row in Mansfield Ohio who have family / friends sending them money, have been given tickets and are being brought up on charges for destroying prison property during the riot on Sept 5th. The inmates in question, are the ones who locked themselves in two's and three's in cells for protection, and were beaten by the guards. These inmates did not destroy any property, yet they are going to be made to pay for damages.


ONE may well ask and speculate as to the reason for the above treatment of prisoners. One may also wonder why the ODRC is letting rumors fly about a prisoner work-stoppage. One may wonder, but one must realize that the situation in OHIO prisons is at a dangerous level and even the most facetious call for prisoner unity, or the most feeble showing of such, is all the ODRC needs to exert its muscle. The below article recounts in vivid detail the Mansfield Uprising as witnessed and experienced by George Skatzes, the so-called ringleader of the Lucasville Riot. By his own testimony and that of others, Mr. Skatzes was one of the many who did not participate in destruction of property or person. Yet, he is being forced, as are the others, to bear the price of repair of the damaged section of Death Row in Mansfield. The money is being seized from inmate accounts as the families try to supply their loved ones' needs from their own free-world accounts.

Where is Lady Justice? Has she become completely blind to the abuses and mean-spirited actions of the ODRC? FAMILIES -- aren't you bothered at all by the vindictive and unconscionable treatment that the Mansfield Death Row prisoners must suffer? Do you not understand that a prisoner is a prisoner is a prisoner, be he/she in max, close, med, min, or non-detained or parole status? Where is your voice? Do you not realize that you have another Lucasville brewing in many prisons throughout the state? WAKE UP!!! Uncover your groggy heads and tell your representatives and senators "NO MORE!!!" Support the efforts of the Ohio Legislative Black Caucus, OSPOC, CURE-OHIO, FADS, OHIO DEATH ROW SUPPORT PROJECT, and others to stop this deliberate and unjustified misuse of public trust and governmental authority.

Ed. The editors of this Bulletin have a great deal of new material concerning the April 1993 rebellion at Lucasville, which we are eager to share with readers. we want to discuss, among other things:
- plea bargains and inconsistent statements by "snitches";
- the so-called "death qualified jury";
- "kidnapping";
- a full description of Skatzes efforts to save the lives and ease the fear and discomfort experienced by other prisoners and captured guards during the insurrection.

But contemporary occurances on Death Row continue to require us to report first about what is happening right now.

On Sept 5th,1997, a disturbance occurred in DR-4, the area of Ohio`s Death Row where the Lucasville Five and 32 other condemned men are housed.

The Media Version
Initial reports of the disturbance told a relatively sraightforward story. The incident began at 5pm when inmates overpowered 3 guards, took their keys, and freed other death row inmates. Several hours later, a prison tactical squad fired tear gas into the unit and regained control. Three guards and four inmates were said to have been injured, but there were few details. Authorities indicated: "We`re not sure what triggered it. Nor do we know the leader." (Cleveland Plain Dealer, Sept 6 1997).

Spin control started in Columbus, the state capital, The Columbus Dispatch began its story: "Those responsible for the deadly 1993 Lucasville prison riot were among the Death Row inmates who took control."
The Dispatch went on to quote the first of many misleading statements from warden Ralph Coyle. "Some of the injuries may have been inflicted by other inmates before prison officials regained control," Coyle said.
The story added without comment: "Wilford Berry, who has volunteered to become the first inmate executed in the state since 1963, was also housed in the same area." (Columbus Dispatch, Sept 6 1997).

Within 24 hrs Berry`s presence in DR-4 had given rise to a full-fledged official theory: An inmate who has volunteered for execution may have provided the spark that touched off a five-hour riot Friday among the most dangerous prisoners on death row.... Berry, 34, suffered severe injuries at the hands of his fellow Death Row inmates during the uprising, Coyle said.

George Skatzes` sister, Jackie Bowers, told the paper that Berry was unpopular but that "her brother isn`t among those who dislike Berry. She said he told her he feels that Berry doesn`t have the mental ability to make decisions about his appeal."

Bowers also said that tensions had been mounting on Death Row because of the conditions that prompted the summer hunger strike. "They just keep taking things away and punishing them and punishing them" she said, adding that after the fast, the Five had lost the right to receive "sundry boxes" from relatives.

Warden Coyle denied any connection between the fast and the disturbance, claiming that he had granted the Five more privileges after the hunger strike ended. (Columbus Dispatch Sept 7 1997)

The controversy about the fast and the riot continued eleswhere. Sonny Williams of the Ohio Prisoners Rights Union told the Youngstown Vindicator Sept 7 1997: Prison administrators have ignored warnings for months that there could be problems on Death Row. He said inmates are not provided with proper medical care and some death row inmates have been denied priveleges granted to others on death row, such as access to tv`s and radios. Coyle said there were no warning signs....

As the hours passed, it became clear that all injuries to guards had been minor, whereas several inmates had been seriously hurt. Richland County Prosecutor James Mayer, Jr, entered DR-4 shortly after the riot ended. "You had to be careful because there were few places where there wasn`t any blood," he told the local paper. Mayer also confessed puzzlement as to how the state could punish those responsible. " I can`t think of anything else we could do to them. They`re already facing the worst the state could give them." (Mansfield News Journal, Sept 7 1997)

Warden Coyle concurred that if the most dangerous prisoners were involved in the riot, there wasn`t much tht could be done to punish them. "You really can`t do much more," he stated. (Columbus Dispatch sept 9 1997)

WHAT GEORGE SAYS

When George Skatzes was interviewed on Sept 10, his public defender reported visible lacerations over both eyes and on one ear, where guards had banged his head against a wall. By Sept 16, Skatzes` wounds had healed and he was ready to tell his story. He carefully distinguished between what he had seen, what he had heard from others, and what he inferred to be true.The disturbance began about 5pm when supper trays were brought in. George was locked in his cell at the time. About half an hour later inmates came to George`s cell and unlocked it. He told them that he wanted no part of what was going on, and asked to be left alone. He remained in his cell throuhgout the disturbance.

Inmates were milling around in the public area of the pod. "No one was doing anything, " George says. Inmates tried to arrange themselves, 2 or 3 to a cell, in case there should be violence. At any time the guards could have come in and peacefully regained control, according to Skatzes. He saw no inmate-to-inmate violence whatsoever. He saw no shanks or clubs. The only object that could be considered a "weapon" was an unlocked body chain. "All they [the guards] had to do was come in," Skatzes insisted.

George advised others of the Lucasville Five not to get on the phone to negotiate, lest, as in 1993, this cause them to be viewed by the authorities as ringleaders.

Time ticked away. Inmates conjectured that the authorities were hoping "for the body count to pile up" so that inmates could be severely punished. But there was no body count, and unlike 1993, there were no hostages.
About 10pm George looked through the window of his cell into the corridor and saw men in gas masks. Then came a loud banging, followed by a noise like the firing of shotguns. A cannister came through the cell window, shattering the glass, striking George directly, and causing minor cuts on George`s arms. At least five cannisters were shot into his cell; one of the cannisters lodged on his top bunk, among his legal papers. He felt as if gasoline had been poured over him and set afire. The hair on his arms stood straight up, and turned white. He couldn't breathe. He lay down on the floor, thinking he was going to die. He could not see his hand in front of his face.

After about 15 minutes, as if by a miracle, the fog of tear gas lifted. George got up and leaned towards the hole in his cell window to get some air. A guard sprayed liquid mace through the hole. George told him, "you don`t have to do that. I`m no threat to you." George put a blanket on the floor, sat down on it, and waited. Everything in the cell was white from the tear gas.

About an hour later "bunches" of masked guards, wearing black ninja suits, came into DR-4. Two of them told George to stand and put his face to the wall. His hearing is not good, and had been affected by the shotgun-like sounds when the tear gas was first fired, but as soon as he understood what was wanted he complied.

The guard went into Jason Robb`s cell next door. Jason was told to strip to his underwear. He was then beaten very badly (but did not lose an eye as the prison grapevine once reported). George could hear beating,screaming, mumbling from the cell next door. A man who was with Jason in the cell told George later that Jason didn`t say a word to provoke the assault.

When the guards came to George`s cell, they told him to get down on his knees, with his hands behind his head. At least three of them then opened the door and stormed in. They asked no questions but "started beating on me"George did not resist, but rolled himself into a tight ball, trying to protect his head. (In a letter written on Sept 22 1997, Jason Robb states: "Last week I had 33 stitches removed from my face that state officials inflicted upon me when I was cuffed behind my back.") The guards pulled his arms and legs in different directions, trying to make him straighten out, face down. They succeeded. The Guards got his left hand behind his back and put on a plastic handcuff. They bent back his wrist and fingers trying (George believes) to break the bones. One guard hit George several times with his fist on the left side of his head, causing cuts on his jaw and above his eye. Another put his foot on George`s neck. George`s right arm was still under his body. He was told to "get your right arm around here". He told them he was sorry to be angry but they didn`t need to do all this. When they took hold of his right hand they tried (he believes) to break his right index finger and right arm. George was handcuffed behind his back, "ungodly tight". A guard tried to stomp on his private parts. He sqeezed his legs together. The guards picked him up by the handcuffs and half walked, half dragged him out of the cell. George thought he was walking to his death. He saw thick gobs of blood on the floor.

The guards forced the handcuffs up as high as they could, so that George was bent over like an old man as he moved. A guard told him, "You are going to stand up and walk out of here." It was impossible for George to stand up straight. Another guard took him by the hair, and slammed his head against the wall of Jason`s cell. George thinks he was "out on his feet" for a time. The next he knew he was at an exit door from DR-4, a guard on each side. He was bent over with his arms up high behind him. In front of 017, a guard hit George in the head. He rolled with the punch. There were more punches. They walked him out.
For half an hour he was put in a cell with Hasan and 2 other inmates who complained they could not breathe because of the tear gas on George. Then 2 officers, one female, the other male, walked George to the warehouse. The female officer who is from Mansfield said, "This man is saturated with that shit." The male guard (who George thinks is from Mansfield) told him, "you`re a good man." When the guards cut off the plastic handcuffs to put on an orange jump suit and then recuff George, the female guard remarked on how swollen his hands were.
 
The inmates from DR-4 lay in rows on the warehouse floor for about 3 hours. A nurse gave medical attention to the most seriously injured. There was no opportunity to wash off the tear gas and mace, nor would there be any shower for 5 days. George found himself on the floor next to an inmate named Combs, a man with only one arm and therefore "totally defenceless" who had been sprayed with gas and severely beaten. "His head was a sight," George recalls.

At this writing, George and the others from DR-4 are housed in Security Control Investigation in very harsh conditions. All their personal property was left behind in the cells, and much appears to be missing. Everybody`s commissary is gone. They have been given toothbrushes cut off after the bristles, apparently on the theory that the toothbrush handle could be a weapon. No one has shoes (although George has hospital slippers). Food is even more inadequate than before. Neither coffee nor cigarettes are permitted.
George wants everything to be told 100% truthful. What George saw was totally uncalled for, he says
THE REGULATIONS VS THE FACTS

MANCI Death Row policies include Policy No. 3D.033, which has very specific limitations on the use of chemical mace or liqiud tear gas.

Section 10, paragraph 2 says:
The use of aerosol chemical dispensers will be resticted to such instances where an inmate barricades or arms himself or cannot be approached without danger to personnel or himself.

Under Section 2 Paragraph 2b), medical staff should have been contacted before the use of a chemical dispenser unless immediate action was required to deter harm to self, another person or state property. The policies acknowledge that liquid tear gas may be extremely harmful.

Section 10, paragraph 2d) through g) provides regarding the use of liquid tear gas:
They are not supposed to aim at the eyes intentionally.
They are not supposed to use an aerosol dispenser closer than 4 feet.
They can use it again if control is not achieved within 15 secs ( suggesting that it is not appropriate to use more than once if the first burst is effective).
Liquid tear gas is not to be used in small rooms where there is no ventilation, except in extreme cases.
Inmates are to be evacuated immediately after use of liquid tear gas.


Based on what George says, nearly all of these provisions were violated in this case.

MORE FROM GEORGE IN A LETTER DATED SEPT 24


I feel in my heart that these people are trying to cause a situation in the block! They do simple little things that keep everybody in an "uptight" state of mind. It is nothing about trying to learn and heal from what took place on Sept 5th. On Sept 22, I was forced to cut my hair. You would think with all this going on, our living under such conditions, our tight stripped of everything, etc., these people would have more on their minds than to worry about the length of a man`s hair. Of course I had a choice, I could get my hair cut willing or by force. The Lt. telling me this stated that it made no difference to him how I wanted to do it. I just asked how many guards would I have to fight? In other words, laughed it off and got my hair cut! Meantime the ones that want to get their hair cut are having a hard time doing so. Now, is this crazy or what?Alot of other stupid things have taken place. Sunday night, Sept 21, the inmates on the top range flooded the range and I had at least one inch of water in my cell. They let the inmate next to me clean up; they said to hell with me!
I am really trying my best to keep the anger out of my heart, but they are making it next to impossible.
Also on that Sunday night, they took Big John (Stojetz) out of here. I didn`t know where they were taking him or even why. Come to find out, the next day when he returned, they took him to the infirmary, stripped him and cuffed him to a steel bed. I know they didn`t do that to any of the other inmates for flooding the range. So why Big John? To top it all off they had a real flood later that same night and nothing was done to anybody! They also took Big John`s recreation. That is not a big deal in some ways. Who wants to go into a small cage for one hour with cuffs and shackles on?

Anyway, Monday morning Hasan want out to talk to the deputy warden. That afternoon about 6pm, officers along with the deputy warden and a captain came and physically extracted Hasan from his cell. They took him to the infirmary where he spent the night, just as Big John did. From what I understand this was over the TB testing. It don`t make sense for them to wait all this time (they came around with the TB shots or test some time ago) to try to get Hasan to take this test. Why now?

These power people always have to prove they are in total control, that they are the tough ones and they own us. It is really a shame! Some of us want to stay out of the way, do our time, be left alone and work on our cases, but they are making it very hard, impossible. There is some serious injustice within our cases and we only want the chance to expose it.

To whom does one turn so the chains of injustice and oppression may be broken?

GEORGE SKATZES SUPPORTERS
PO BOX 1591
MARION, OHIO 43301-1591
The opinions expressed by this prisoner
are his own and do not necessarily reflect
the opinions of this site editor.

WE are FADS.
WE shall remain in force until the CHANGES we seek are Accomplished.

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