AFSC-TUCSON: AZ DOC's DEATH YARDS

For Kini Seawright, and all the other women who bury a loved one due to police or prison violence...

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Murder of Shannon Palmer: Lewis lieutenant stands up.



"SOS: Chuck Ryan is Killing AZ Prisoners"
Phoenix New Times Sidewalk
November 12, 2010



The ACLU National Prison Project and the Prison Law Office (which took California DOC to the Supreme Court over medical care for prisoners) are investigating the abuse and neglect of prisoners at the Arizona Department of Corrections and may sue Arizona for injunctive relief over the poor medical and psychiatric treatment. ADC employees, ex-prisoners, family members and others with first-hand knowledge or eyewitness testimony that can be offered to help protect prisoners and staff from the deteriorating conditions inside our state prisons should contact me (prisonabolitionist@gmail.com / 480-580-6807) or the ACLU of Arizona for more information. The ACLU-AZ is at:

American Civil Liberties Union of Arizona
P.O. Box 17148
Phoenix, AZ 85011

602.650.1854
info@acluaz.org


Please see my post from yesterday about the escalating violence in the state prisons, also.



Thanks to both Paul Rubin and Chuck Bauer for the following...


-----------from the Phoenix New Times-------------

A Respected State Prison Officer Quits Over Dangerous Conditions for Inmates and Guards

By Paul Rubin

PHOENIX NEW TIMES

published: September 29, 2011



Chuck Bauer loved his job as a lieutenant at the Lewis Prison Complex in Buckeye. He gradually had risen in rank over eight years (in two stints) with the Arizona Department of Corrections, winning Supervisor of the Year at Lewis twice.

But the 56-year-old Peoria resident says he became increasingly discouraged by what he saw on the job — cutbacks in personnel and resulting safety issues for "his people" (corrections officers) and for inmates.

On September 10, 2010, Bauer heard over his walkie-talkie about an inmate who was badly hurt inside Cell A-26 in Building A of the Buckley Unit, a so-called "protective segregation" area.

The incident led Bauer, within days, to quit his job and try to move on with his life — something, he says, that has been difficult.

"I am a loyal guy, and it still makes me sick to think that I abandoned my people," he tells New Times. "I just had to do it. I know from up close that bad things happen in prisons, but what happened to inmate [Shannon] Palmer that day just didn't have to happen.

"For one thing, we were short-staffed to the max, as we have been for a long time now, and couldn't keep an eye on those inmates like we're supposed to — simple matter of numbers. It was like a nightmare, and it could have happened to one of my officers just as well as to that poor guy."

Bauer contacted New Times after reading our recent "Hell Hole" cover story (September 1) about the horrific murder of Shannon Palmer, 40, a seriously mentally ill Mesa man who had but a few months left to serve on a three-year criminal-damage rap. Palmer was attacked with a razor-blade shank by Jasper Rushing, who had been his cellmate (in a cell designed for one person) for about three weeks.

Rushing was a decade into a 28-year sentence for first-degree murder when he took his weapon to Palmer's throat and then to his penis (which he cut off) after knocking him out with a makeshift club (a small sheet wrapped tightly around hardcover books).

Bauer says he immediately rushed to the wing, where he saw Palmer lying inside the cell, mutilated, bleeding profusely, and all but dead. Jasper Rushing still was in the area, handcuffed and, Bauer recalls, "as calm as a man can be."

Bauer decided to perform CPR on the unconscious Palmer himself, with the assistance of his colleague Captain Ron Lawrence.

"It was so bad that I didn't want the staffers to have to deal with it," Bauer says, without a hint of braggadocio. "There was blood everywhere, like out of a horror movie, and I knew he wasn't going to make it. But we had to try our best, and we did. I didn't even notice [Palmer's penis] on the floor until later."

Afterward, Bauer dictated his report on his role in the tragedy, changed his bloodied shirt, and tried to go about his duties. But he says he couldn't shake the feeling that Shannon Palmer's homicide, while obviously extreme, was symptomatic of issues increasingly plaguing the corrections department.

"I knew that quitting a job I have loved during this economy was pretty drastic, and people I talked to about it thought I was nuts," he says.

"But there's a time in a person's life when you have to do what makes sense to you, and I just couldn't stand by any longer and just wait for something to happen to one of my [corrections officer] guys or gals. I just didn't want to be the one that would have to make that call to an officer's wife or husband about an injury, or worse."

Bauer pulls out a piece of paper on which he has scribbled some talking points:

• The lights were off in the Palmer/Rushing cell for weeks, which was dangerous for all concerned, including the corrections officers: "We couldn't get the maintenance people to fix the lighting and lots of other things at that time. I know that sounds hard to believe, but it's true. Being in the dark is gonna drive anyone nuts."

• The corrections officer who made the ill-fated decision to assign Palmer and Rushing to the same cell in August 2010 "was completely overworked — too much on her plate — doing seven or eight different jobs, which meant she was doing none of them too good."

• Many seriously mentally ill inmates are in harm's way because of their inability to anticipate a potentially violent situation, and because Arizona's corrections department is doing a poor job of isolating that population: "There's no place to put the mentally ill, outside of prison, so we end up trying to look after them, trying to make sure they get the right meds in them, and whatever."

• Morale among state corrections officers is poor, in part, because of mandated furloughs, at the same time that Arizona's prison population continues to grow: "I know [corrections department Director] Charles Ryan has no idea who I am, but he's an idiot if he doesn't know that his officers are not happy with the safety issues and the money issues involving corrections officers that are happening on his watch."

Bauer points out that even though Rushing and Palmer were in a protective-segregation unit, this meant little.

"It doesn't mean that the inmates in that unit aren't going to get hurt [or killed]," he says. "Those guys [Palmer and Rushing] were in an [isolation] cell and weren't out in the yard, and look at what happened."

Bauer says his decision to quit his $52,000-a-year job has had great repercussions on every part of his life.

"It's not as if I had this big fancy game plan to quit my job and lose my benefits and all that," he says, adding that he and his wife don't have healthcare insurance at the moment.

Bauer recently has been trying to get his new construction-cleaning business together, and he says things are looking up. Still, he often thinks back to his last day of work at Lewis at the end of September 2010.

A warden wanted to chat with him, Bauer says, but Bauer was worried that he might be persuaded to rescind his resignation.

So instead of meeting with the warden, Bauer found his way to the opposite end of the sprawling complex and stepped through the prison gates for the last time as a corrections officer.

"One of the hardest things I've ever done," he says. "Part of me wishes that I had stuck it out and part of me doesn't. I'd like to think I had the respect of my officers and of the inmates. The inmates may not have liked me much, but they knew I stuck to my word."

Bauer asks if he can add a few final thoughts:

"What happened in that cell between those guys was as bad it gets. I still have these real bad dreams about it.

"I don't know whether to blame the Arizona Legislature for wanting to lock everyone up but not wanting to pay for it, or to blame the current director [Ryan] and the direction he's been taking.

"How about if I just blame everyone?"

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Violence still climbing in AZ State prisons...


I've been perusing the Arizona Department of Corrections' (ADC) website of late and came across this report with a few things worth sharing. As many regular readers are aware, the ADC is the only state agency this year to have received an increase in their funding, placing their annual budget at about $1 billion. This came despite a decrease in the number of prisoners committed there by the courts since 2009. In fact, the ADC is getting a whole lot of new stuff despite the public's decreasing demand for their services.



To convince us of their dire need, Chuck Ryan and the state's prosecutors have been clamoring all year that 94% of ADC prisoners are "violent or repeat offenders" (as if Vicodin addicts and serial rapists pose an equal threat to the rest of us) and therefore MUST be imprisoned for our safety (see this long report - read between the propaganda, if you can). They argue that our high incarceration rates over the past decade are responsible for a falling crime rate (which was actually seen nationally due to many factors).



In truth, though, there's been a
marked decrease in violent offenders among new prisoners being admitted over the past 2 years, so it's not going down because they're all getting put away. Far too many of our resources continue to go towards imprisoning people who have smuggled themselves over the border or worked hard at a job no one else wanted too many times - over 6,000 of our prisoners are foreign nationals - most of whom we just plan to deport after we expend a fortune punishing them.


Actually, contrary to what Chuck Ryan's public claims would lead one to believe, 36% of the state's prisoner population is considered so low-risk that they're in minimum security settings - which means they could be safely walking among us right now. That's over 12,000 people who don't REALLY need to be locked into their beds at night (at about $20,000/year per prisoner) for the sake of public safety.


So why aren't we talking sentencing reform at the legislature this year instead of building 5,000 new prison beds? There's plenty of evidence of the meddling of the private prison lobby and American Legislative Exchange Council in our lawmaking activities here. But there's also a large contingent among law enforcement and corrections - such as ADC Director Chuck Ryan - leading us even further down the path of mass incarceration with fear, not reason. Whether crime goes up or down, their constant refrain is that we need more prisons and police - even when our school budgets are being ravaged.




Charts are from the ADC's 2011 "Data and Information" report. Increases in violence
over the past 2 years appear to be more dramatic than the changes in prisoner population and and apparent increase in the staff/prisoner ratio. Despite ADC claims that the violence grew due to budget and staffing cuts, there aren't a significant number of additional CO positions slated to be filled this year.







While there's no hard evidence that Chuck Ryan has - across his career - actually served to reduce crime in Arizona by fighting to secure longer sentences for vast numbers of petty criminals, there's ample proof that he's having a harder time than his predecessor did maintaining a safe environment for both prisoners and staff behind bars. Under his tenure, suicides and homicides have skyrocketed, and assaults
are up all over.



Indicators of prison violence are projected to jump even more next year. One would think the ADC would set goals to reduce those rates, not project increases.
Sadly, they seem far more concerned with bringing down health care costs than reducing prison violence - even that which is against their own people. In 2009, as Ryan's predecessor was leaving office, 1 in 40 prisoners and 1 in 17 staff were involved in an assault. Things have deteriorated so badly under his directorship that in 2012 1 in 23 prisoners are expected to be involved in fights and assaults, and 1 in 16 staff will be attacked.





Assaults on both prisoners and staff are expected to jump again in 2012. Nothing in the ADC's current 5-year plan addresses how to reduce the assault, suicide or homicide rates. Dora Schriro's reports, on the other hand, looked at these concerns closely.









Meanwhile, prisoners and their families have been told that their lives are of no value to the rest of us short of the revenue that the commodification of their bodies and the enslavement of their labor produces. Visitors have to pay for their security clearance now, rehabilitative programs have been gutted, prisoner pay was cut while medical visit co-pays increased, account deposits are being assessed a new fee, only 2 meals are served each day on the weekends, and women are dying while begging to see a doctor. Things are so bad now that the ACLU National Prison Project and the Prison Law Office are actually talkin
g about suing the ADC for injunctive relief due to the gross medical neglect of their general prison population, as well as the abuse of solitary confinement for prisoners with psychiatric disabilities. That's pretty serious.


AZ prison violence: higher security yards are least secure...


The guys are also writing to me more for help getting protective custody throughout the system, saying that the gangs run all the 3 and 4 yards (medium and maximum security) - and few are getting it, despite being assaulted repeatedly. The guards are often part of the problem - several stood out of the way for Dana Seawright's murder, and I know of at least one guard who was prosecuted for taking a $1000 bribe to let someone try and kill a friend of mine for being gay. Look at the assault statistics for different custody levels - they tell the story of prison violence spiraling out of control.



All that those violent perpetrators seem to be getting from being in Chuck Ryan's custody, frankly, is target practice on vulnerable prisoners like Shannon Palmer, carelessly housed among the most dangerous. That way both the thugs and the brutalized are good and ready for us when they get out. That's neither tough nor smart on crime - It's just hardest on the most easily victimized prisoners, like the very old, the very gentle, and those with psychiatric, developmental, and physical disabilities - many of whom landed in prison due to the shredded safety net in our state, not due to their inherent criminality.


I suspect from all that I've seen that the violence among prisoners in our state institutions is actually serving a purpose for the ADC. The gangs keep prisoners divided by race and high on heroin so they can't unite against the real enemy and resist the conditions of their confinement. Fear keeps people spending all their energy just surviving prison life, too, and posits other prisoners as sources of danger while making it appear as if their only hope for safety will come from the institution (often in exchange for something), if it comes at all.


In order words, the gangs and yard leaders are in on it with Chuck in a very convenient relationship. How ironic that they're the ones demanding to see guys' police reports for evidence they haven't snitched on anyone when they're the main parties in collusion with the guards and ADC brass.
Gang members and leaders make a show of resisting authority, but they are hardly the enemy of the state, by any means. They are in bed with them. Feel free to tell them I said that, too. Too many prisoners are being tattooed and led astray by the very rats who sell all of you out to maintain their own comfort and safety every day. If you were to unite amongst yourselves and start organizing around a new analysis of power inside, you might have a chance at disrupting that particular culture.


So spread the word and call them on their shit, guys - not only does the police report they insist on seeing fail to identify those who turned state's evidence later (everyone pisses their pants when they get busted, so they know you're likely to have something in that report they can make a big deal of), but they have no business questioning your integrity when they've been collaborating with the police state for a long time now. The gang violence also makes you all look bad out here, dehumanizing prisoners for those of us who wish to ignore your desperate predicament. In every way, those guys are just doing prisoners as a whole harm - and doing Chuck Ryan a service by keeping you down so he doesn't have to.
They keep his guards in line, too.


On that note, I encourage folks to check out the ADC's website for more information about how our tax dollars are being spent fostering even more criminal activity - and destroying the lives that might be salvaged -behind bars. Here are their collected reports and statistics. The Corrections at a Glance monthly briefs are especially interesting for what they show the ADC isn't doing for the 75% of prisoners these days who come in with drug problems. Even the drunks aren't getting treatment. Given the physical state of most of the prison system, it kind of makes you wonder where all that money has been going...

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Deaths in Custody: National Day of Remembrance For Murder Victims.




I spent some time this past week combing through resources for homicide survivors, trying to pull together something useful for survivors of prison violence today. I was pretty discouraged surfing murder victims' rights pages. It was the victims' rights movement that successfully helped pass a law in Arizona - and across the country - that even further marginalizes prisoners who are victims of violence - and their survivors.

More specifically, the Arizona Constitution explicitly precludes anyone who was victimized "while in custody for an offense" (or their survivor, if they died as a result) from being covered by any provisions of the Victims' Rights Amendment. How then, can they possibly hope to embrace, assist, or represent families of prisoners like Dana Seawright, Shannon Palmer, James Jennings, and Jeremy Pompeneo - all whom were murdered in state custody this past year. They have long since relegated prisoners to a status undeserving of having equal human rights when it comes to life and safety. The movement left these people behind without any apparent thought.

As a consequence, when Kini Seawright was on the verge of homelessness this year after her son Dana's homicide destroyed her life, the Arizona Criminal Justice Commission refused to provide her with access to any state-funded victims rights' services because she didn't qualify as a real victim. Dana was killed in prison by the West Side Crips for being friends with a Mexican - he was defying the racism and the gangs, not running with them. He was trying to take a class at Rio Salado and wanted to get some kind of counseling for his manic-depression and childhood abuse issues. He was beaten into a coma and stabbed repeatedly for refusing to carry out a gang-ordered hit to prove his racial loyalty. He died four days later.


Dana's homicide case was closed by the Department of Corrections' own Criminal Investigations Unit without any suspects being referred for prosecution - or even being given a ticket for the assault causing Dana's death. His mother has been working actively to get an outside law enforcement agency to re-open the case in light of evidence that guards were complicit in Dana's death. She's also suing the state of Arizona, as well as a number of individuals who appear to be liable for his murder. In the meantime, however, she suffered severe financial hardship and social isolation, for which she is not eligible to receive state assistance designated for helping victims of violent crime in such situations. An excerpt from the e-mail to that effect is here:


-------------------------------------

Sent: Tue, June 28, 2011 8:23:36 AM
Subject: RE: Kini Seawright

I have received a response to my follow up inquiry. After clarification it is ACJC’s position that the compensation program is only accountable to those statutes and rules that directly govern the Compensation Fund. Therefore, under program rules Ms. Seawright is not a victim pursuant to the definition of “victim” in A.A.C.R10-4-101(29). She is a “derivative victim” under ACJC’s rule, A.A.C.R10-4-101(10)(a), however, she is not entitled to a compensation award pursuant to A.A.C. R10-4-106(A)(3)(b) because the victim of the criminally injurious conduct was serving a sentence of imprisonment in a detention facility at the time of his death. Therefore, the prerequisites for a compensation award have not been met in this case...



Program Manager Crime Victim Services

Arizona Criminal Justice Commission



---------------------------


I can't believe that was the intentions of the victims' rights advocates in Arizona who helped get that initiative passed, but that was the consequence.

I've blogged about the Victim's Rights Amendment in the Arizona Constitution before - read my letter to the Arizona Department of Corrections on the matter
here. I hope to spend more time getting organized behind a movement to change it. There are far too many families like Kini's being wrongfully punished and exiled under it. Failing to protect victims in custody gives license to law enforcement to use excessive force, and for prisons and jails to mete out cruel and unusual punishment as they see fit, not as the judges ordered. It suggests that toll of violence on one group of homicide victims and their survivors is less important than when it hits the rest of us. The state victims' rights amendment creates a sub-class of citizens whose victimization - usually at the hands of the state - we are willing to not only ignore but actively minimize. It serves to reduce the states liability profile when people are hurt in their custody - including pre-trial detention, when we're supposed to be presumed innocent.

I urge those of you concerned with the civil rights of prisoners and their loved ones to contact your state legislators and ask for help changing the definition of a victim to include those in custody for an offense. The legislature is empowered to extend victims rights to everyone - it doesn't have to go to referendum. Tell your legislator that victims of state crimes matter, too. He or she can be reached at:

Arizona State Legislature
1700 W. Washington St.
Phoenix, AZ 85007


cc your letter to the chair of the House Judiciary Committee, Rep. Eddie Farnsworth, the chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee, Ron Gould, and someone there who might really care: Mesa Representative and Chair of the House Health and Human Services Committee, Cecil Ash.


Finally, if you are a survivor of prison violence or have lost a loved one to it - or simply want to make a difference - please feel free to contact me. My number is 480-580-6807. I'm organizing with families now who want to see an end to the neglect, abuse, and violence now.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

The work of a true revolutionary...begins at home.



I just came home from court this morning, and finally had a chance to get my police report, detailing what I'm being charged with and what evidence is against me. I already gave them most of it in letters, blogs, and postcards about my protest. I was relieved I didn't have to actually enter a "not guilty" plea this morning, because after all that, it would seem pretty dishonest. I may have a defense against some of this, though, so I'm going to speak to the attorney they gave me at the public defender's office before digging a much deeper hole. But I still have amends to make to my neighbors, since I made such a thoughtless public display of vandalizing them. I even seemed to make light of it in the process.

See, this is all about me throwing that red paint down in an alley already covered in paint during the First Friday June Artwalk. I openly admitted doing that, and committed my act of resistance in front of the graffiti detectives themselves. In the process, though, my paint splattered a few inches up the wall of the building next door, an art studio/ collective that it turns out does work with people involved in mental health programs. I'm so clueless about some of my neighbors that I had no idea they were doing that kind of work, or I would have talked to them about this all in advance, even though I had no intention of hitting the alley side of their studio wall. Instead, I learned about my neighbors from my own criminal report, listing them as my victim. I feel pretty crummy about that.





In my police report, the manager of the place said she wanted to prosecute because what I'd done would have been so upsetting for some folks participating in the programs - which I inferred was of particular concern for those folks with pre-existing psychiatric conditions. I get that - and can see it upsetting others as well. That explains to me why it was important to clean it up, without messing around with my offer to re-paint it myself - even I would have called Graffiti Busters to clean up after myself if I thought it through. It really was unintended - that doesn't mean I'm not responsible, though. I acted out without much thought for the neighbors over there, or their members and guests. That's not very excusable, given what I could have brought out for some folks with images of bloodshed across the alley, as well as the names of the dead. That's me acting out my own unresolved trauma, in part - they don't need my help with theirs.


So, this blog post will no doubt be added to the evidence they use against me in the end, but I'm truly deeply sorry for having dragged you all into the middle of my protest. You're already doing your part to protect our people from ending up in prison in the first place. I hope that if my activities ever trouble you that way - criminal or not - you feel okay contacting me.


Most people with mental illness, by the time we're my age, have already been through too much.
I'm dually-recovering myself, survived a horrible, violent suicide of a loved one, and the last thing I would want to do is traumatize someone else further. We all need to feel safe in order to grow, and I undermined that for some folks, I suspect, by all my agitation and graffiti - which invited others to contribute more. I was also wrong to define the terms of resistance by my own standards without talking to others living and working around there that night, outside of what I call my own community.


I thought this protest would be all about getting my message out about the state's violence, not mine. It still is, in a way, but not how I thought it would be. It's been said that the work of a true revolutionary begins in the our own communities, taking care of others. Despite all I preach about the importance of doing so if we're to really hold each other accountable and not rely on the criminal justice system for amends to be made in cases like this, when it came down to it I didn't practice that. I think this is the bigger lesson in all this - it's for me, not for the cops. I understand why people get upset about graffiti, now. My total lack of concern for the effect of my actions that Artwalk on the people right next door is my real crime, though - even if I hadn't even touched their property.



But an apology alone is not an amends. I'm inclined to think that only those folks - and perhaps the participants they were concerned about - can say what they feel justice would be, having been harmed in some way by me - and I respect it if they feel the criminal justice system is the way to get that, and to restore their own sense of safety and order in their community. I'd have a pretty hard time pleading not guilty to that charge, after all this. The charges filed about city property, though, I'll probably fight.


I think I just threw myself at the mercy of the court - or my victims, I'm not sure which. I guess now I should wait until I talk to an attorney before commenting much further on all this. Thanks to my friends for showing their support today. I really think I need to reconsider some of my tactics...



Peg

--
Margaret J. Plews, Editor
Arizona Prison Watch
P.O. Box 20494
Phoenix, AZ 85036
480-580-6807


"Our strategy should be not only to confront empire, but to lay siege to it. To deprive it of oxygen. To shame it. To mock it. With our art, our music, our literature, our stubbornness, our joy, our brilliance, our sheer relentlessness, and our ability to tell our own stories..."

- Arundhati Roy


Prison Abolitionist
http://prisonabolitionist.blogspot.com
Arizona Prison Watch
http://arizonaprisonwatch.blogspot.com
Arizona Juvenile Prison Watch
http://azjuvenileprisonwatch.blogspot.com
Hard Time Alliance - AZ
http://hardtimehepc.blogspot.com
Survivors of Prison Violence

Monday, September 12, 2011

Cop-Court Watch: Montgomery on Gerster & Keesee

"Indict Arpaio" Rally - Wells Fargo,
June 7, 2011
(Phoenix)

For those of you following the cases of the MCSO detention officers (Kevin Gerster and Alan Keesee) who assaulted their prisoners in the psychiatric unit of Lower Buckeye Jail, I'm writing to try to set the prosecutor's side of the story straight - or at least give you a piece of it. I guess it's more a clarification than a correction, so I didn't rewrite my earlier posts - just redirected folks here. I wrote to County Attorney Bill Montgomery last week because it appeared from court records as if the assault case against Alan Keesee had been dropped at the initiative of his office. My confusion, I guess. Montgomery got back to me pretty quickly asserting that the prosecution is moving forward nonetheless, and re-iterated the reason he didn't proceed with prosecuting either of those guys for abusing "vulnerable adults," as I'd been urging.

Frankly, I think if this had occurred in any other kind of institution treating psychiatric patients, the vulnerable adult statute would be invoked to raise the felony level and broaden the sentencing possibilities. But I honestly don't know the law well enough to ferret this all out myself, so I figured it was best to just let you hear the explanation straight from the county attorney.

My apologies for attributing anything less than professionalism to the folks working hard on these detention officer's prosecutions.



--email from Bill Montgomery's office, Thursday September 8, 2011--

From Bill Montgomery:

We were able to resolve the case by filing a Direct Complaint/Plea proceeding without having to go through the entire Preliminary Hearing/Trial process. So, while it looks like charges were dropped, we still proceeded with prosecution.


I can assure you that the resolution leads to the defendant no longer working in law enforcement, let alone detention.


I would also appreciate it if you would acknowledge that the goal of holding people in positions of responsibility for safely and securing handling inmates accountable when they break the law is being met. We may disagree about the best way to accomplish that but my commitment to that goal remains. Also, I previously explained to you that the basis for the crimes committed was not the mental status of the victim but the fact that he was restrained. That was the direct set of facts. If we had charged the Class 2 Felonies there is a high likelihood that we would have failed to secure convictions. It was more important to me to charge the appropriate crime so we could ensure convictions.


Thank you for your continued advocacy,


Bill Montgomery

Maricopa County Attorney

301 W. Jefferson, 8th Floor

Phoenix, AZ 85003

602-506-1260


Saturday, September 10, 2011

Suicide Watch: Too many AZ prisoners dead.


Today is:



Suicides at the Arizona Department of Corrections, January 2009-July 2011 (Chuck Ryan's tenure):

LinkJan - June 2009 (5 suicides in 6mos):
Angela Soto (MexAmer, 28) Harvey Rymer (W, 33)
Angel Torres (MexAmer, 32) Dung Ung (AsnAmer, 32)
Caesar Bojorquez (MexNatl, 37)

July - June 2010 (9 suicides in 12 months):
Erick Cervantes (MexAmer, 30) Douglas Nunn (W, 33)
Hernan Cuevas (MexAmer, 18) Monte McCarty (W, 46)
Patricia Velez (MexAmer, 24), Jerry Kulp (AfAmer, 17)
Jessie Cota, (MexAm, 28) James Adams (W, 46)
Eric Bybee (W, 32)

July - June 2011 (14 suicides in 12 months):

Tony Lester (NA, 26) Robert Medina (MexAm, 29)
Geshell Fernandez (NA, 28) Patrick Lee Ross, (AfAmer, 28)
Lasasha Cherry (AfAmer, 23) Rosario Bojorquez-Rodriguez (MexNat, 29)
Duron Cunningham (AfAmer, 40) James Galloway (W, 54)
Ronald Richie (W, 42) Susan Lopez (MexAmer, 35)
Michael Tovar, (MexAmer, 20) Carey Wheatley (AfAmer, 49)
Michael Pellicer (AfAmer, 35) Luis Moscoso-Hernandez (MexNat, 28)

In the first 2 1/2 years of his tenure, Chuck Ryan presided over 28 suicides. That's almost one per month. During that time the prison population remained relatively stable - even dropping a bit last year. In the 2 1/2 years that preceded Ryan, under Dora Schriro, there were only 12 suicides - less than 1 every two months.

Additionally, both Shannon Palmer and James Jennings were murdered by their cellies because Shannon and James were psychotic and isolated with intolerant cellies (in Shannon's case, his cellie was also psychotic).

Most suicides occurred in higher security settings and isolation cells - as best as I can tell, all but one of the women who killed themselves in their cells were in some kind of solitary confinement.

Several things that I know of changed when Chuck Ryan took over the ADC that may have affected these outcomes. According to retired deputy warden Carl Toersbijns, almost immediately the policies for how to house certain prisoners together changed (two other prisoners - not mentally ill, were subsequently murdered by cellies), and a suicide prevention program that used prisoners as aides to help identify and support other suicidal prisoners was cancelled, despite the relatively low cost of the program.

I haven't cross-referenced the prisoner population by race and don't have some other stats for before Ryan took over. But the suicides that occurred on his watch are by and large young minorities. The white prisoners (and one African American) who took their own lives tended to be older men facing long sentences for violent crimes; a couple of pedophiles were among them. The youthful ages and minority status of the rest - and the relatively short sentences they had by the time they died - are quite disturbing.

From the data above, I would argue that the mental health of young minority prisoners seems to be taken less seriously than that of white prisoners, across the board.
This is often the case in the "free world", as well - though on the outside, white males tend to have the highest, not the lowest, suicide rates. Minorities, by the establishment, are perceived as dangerous to others more so than to themselves, whether or not an individual's case or evidence exists to support that.

It is not uncommon, though, to find that many prison suicides are by individuals with a history of violence - at least two of the women who killed themselves had a history of assault in prison - which may be why they were in maximum security at the time they died. Unfortunately, maximum security means more isolation and restrictions, not necessarily closer supervision. Punishing prisoners by cancelling visitation and phone privileges seems like a set-up for more anti-social behavior, and undermines the rehabilitative process - two good reasons why the new $25 fee for visitors should have never been imposed, as it will cost prisoners a certain amount of community support and pro-social relationships (which are often so important to maintain to prevent further violence against others or oneself).

A significant number of the prisoners who suicided struggled with a previously-diagnosed psychiatric disorder. The prison psychiatric care is substandard, though, and access to the prison psychiatric facility where serious therapy is done is extremely hard to gain. Susan Lopez, for example, hung herself after two days of begging for help - including psychiatric hospitalization, and being ignored. That goes for most of the states jails, too. Just a week before she did herself in, Susan had been in the Greenlee County Jail where she was brutally strapped into a restraint chair by guards for being agitated on the phone and having a panic attack. She was sent to the hospital for unknown reasons soon after that traumatic incident.

I've heard numerous stories in the past year of how prisoners aren't getting their psychiatric meds, presumably because of the budget cuts. Tony Lester was off all his meds and getting psychotic when he cut his throat. Shannon Palmer and his cellmate, Jasper Rushing, were both seeking protective custody due to their paranoia when they were housed together, and neither - according to their families - were on anti-psychotic medicine at the time Shannon was murdered and castrated. The cell they were placed in should have only held two men for no more than 24 hours, because it was originally built to keep just one man in solitary. Instead, they were kept in that tiny cell together - without light or psychiatric care - for three weeks. When Shannon handed the guards a kite begging them to let him out of the cell with Jasper - just a day or two before he was killed - they simply laughed at him. That kite has not yet been found. I suspect this is typical of how the mentally ill in Arizona State Prisons are treated today.

Carl Toersbijns, the retired DW I referenced earlier, has done extensive blogging on the treatment of the seriously mentally ill in Arizona's Department of Corrections - check out his site here. He's also written quite a bit about alternative programming and policies that may hep reduce both the suicide and homicide rates among prisoners with psychiatric disabilities, while also improving the level of care for other at-risk prisoners. Before retiring, Carl worked in the Supermax, ASPC-Eyman, where many mentally ill prisoners are driven to psychosis and despair in isolation instead of being in a treatment setting; he knows of what he speaks. Unfortunately, the ADC seems to regard him as a traitor for his criticisms, and hasn't picked up on any of his suggestions.

In the face of the criticsm many of us have had about their suicide rates and psychiatric programs, the ADC released the following letter to the Mental Illness and Criminal Justice Commission defending themselves by minimizing our concerns and profiling a token program or two that few prisoners can even qualify for. See that memo here.

Read it for yourself, but there is no good explanation that I can see for why the suicide rates have skyrocketed under this administration - and since they fail to even acknowledge how much they are failing, I'm not optimistic that they will properly analyze those deaths and come up with more effective suicide prevention practices. Rather the memo justifies the policies and practices they currently employ, avoids confronting the possible reasons for high suicide rates, and attempts to marginalize the rest of us from the conversation as being ill-informed or even malicious.
Let me remind folks that Carl Toersbijns has decades of corrections' experience, including extensive work with mentally ill prisoners, and is particularly familiar with Arizona's Special Management Units.


Finally, while the memo argues that Director Ryan implemented programmatic and staffing changes in 2010 to respond to the high suicide and homicide rates (which they wouldn't even really admit to), the data since then shows an even higher body count than before. And in no place in the ADC's response is there a satisfactory discussion of the mental health and treatment needs of women prisoners, who are the most neglected...nor does it explore the stats that concern community advocates by race, crime, custody level, or age. As long as they deny the problems they have delivering adequate mental health care to prisoners, they won't be able to effect meaningful change.

Therefore, as I've done so often lately, I'm urging readers - especially the survivors of these prisoners - to contact Representative Cecil Ash at the Arizona State Legislature. Representative Ash is chair of the House Health and Human Services Committee, which seems to be the most appropriate place from which to organize a legislative investigation into the deaths and the poor mental health care in the state prisons. Ask him to convene legislative hearings into the state prisons (including testimony from prisoners and their families). The legislature has the authority to open an investigation, compel testimony, and bring many more resources to the table than those of us in the community can. Time is running out before the next prisoner takes his or her life, so please put the pressure on now. Rep. Ash can be reached at:

AZ State Legislature 1700 W. Washington St Phoenix 85007

Cecil's email address is cash@azleg.gov - but handwritten letters in the US mail make more of an impact - emails are too easily lost.

If you are the survivor of prison violence, then I'd also suggest that you try to make an appointment with him to advocate for an agency-wide investigation into the practices and patterns that are causing this level of violence and despair in our prisons to grow.
He's a sincere man - very interested in the plight of our prisoners and their families - and will give you the time of day if he has it. The legislature's phone number is 602-926-5999.

Feel free to contact me with any questions - or even criticisms - regarding this post. Blessings and condolences to all of you who have lost a loved one to prison violence, abuse, or neglect. If you want to organize with other such families, please let me know.

Take care,

Peggy Plews
480-580-6807
prisonabolitionist@gmail.com



"Fight Real Power"
Sandra Day O'Conner Federal Courthouse
November 13, 2010
(Phoenix)

Friday, September 9, 2011

The highly preventable homicide of Shannon Palmer

Link to previous Arizona Prison Watch post on Shannon Palmer, originally written shortly after his death last September:

Shannon Palmer: Criminalization, Victimization and the Damage Done

The article below follows up on what was initially a lousy piece of work by James King (don't take anything that man says seriously, families. He's just playing to the sick people that make up his audience), which my own post commented on extensively. This one just came out in the Phoenix New Times last week. Thanks to Paul Rubin for taking on the Department of Corrections, and going the extra mile to find out why and how Shannon was imprisoned - then executed by his cellmate - all for climbing a utility tower in a thunderstorm while getting closer to God.


The ACLU and Amnesty International are already investigating the treatment of mentally ill prisoners at the
Arizona Department of Corrections (ADC), but we need someone to go further. Please ask your legislators to call for investigative hearings on the level of violence, neglect, and despair in Arizona's state prisons under the administration of ADC Director Chuck Ryan. Suicide and homicide rates doubled almost as soon as he took over. God only knows how many officers have also been subject to escalating violence- everyone should be concerned about what's going on inside these days. Just a couple of weeks ago, one officer succeeded in killing himself on the job at ASPC-Yuma.


For both staff and prisoner safety, hearings into the prisons should be convened immediately by Cecil Ash under the AZ House Health and Human Services Committee
.

Representative Ash can be reached at:


Arizona State Legislature,
1700 W. Washington St.
Phoenix, AZ 85007.

The legislature's switchboard is 602-926-5999.

Cecil's email is cash@azleg.gov


-------from the Phoenix New Times---------

Why Did the Arizona Department of Corrections Put a Mentally Ill Man in a Cell With a Convicted Killer?

By Paul Rubin

published: September 01, 2011



Jasper Rushing is reflecting about why he pummeled, slashed, and mutilated his seriously mentally ill cellmate to death last September 10.

"It was not a healthy environment in there," he tells New Times from his current residence at the Maricopa County Jail.

Rushing is talking about what happened inside Cell A-26 in Building A of the Buckley Unit at the Arizona State Prison-Lewis Complex in Buckeye. It is a so-called isolation cell within the larger protective segregation unit.

He speaks with unsparing clarity about Shannon Palmer's murder at his hands inside a cell designed for one person, not two.

"It makes no sense at all to put a murderer in a cell living assholes-to-elbows with a guy who is crazy and probably shouldn't be in prison at all. Bad things can happen in a house like that.

"I can deal with just about anything within reason in prison. All I basically need is light, running water, and a book, and I'm okay. I guess this wasn't within reason.

"Day after day and night after night of his paranoid bullshit, and his disrespect for women and children. It was almost pitch-black in there because they couldn't fix the lights. I couldn't read or think straight. This is what can happen."

What did happen is that Jasper Rushing decided Shannon Palmer needed to die.

It was much the same as in 2001, when Rushing, at age 20, murdered his stepfather because he became convinced the man had raped a young family member (no evidence of an assault ever emerged). Rushing shot the sleeping man to death inside a Yavapai County trailer.

He was sentenced to a minimum of 28 years in prison after his first murder conviction.

When Rushing was assigned to A-26 on August 19, 2010, his new cellmate, Palmer, was nearing the end of a three-year sentence for criminal damage.

Palmer's "victim" was a Salt River Project power pole in Mesa, which he scaled during an August 2008 thunderstorm, forcing the utility to shut off power in the area until authorities finally talked him down.

Police reports said Palmer had a photograph of his daughter (he'd lost parental rights a few years earlier) with him.

The 40-year-old long had been haunted by unbearable mental problems. Diagnosed years earlier with paranoid schizophrenia, he was fixated on government officials he was sure had implanted a device into his thigh allowing evildoers to control his thoughts and actions.

Palmer's fragile mental state was such that he had spent time earlier in 2010 in a Phoenix prison ward reserved for only the most seriously mentally ill inmates.

But by his older sister Dawn's account, he was not on any anti-psychotic drugs when he died, which was very unfortunate.

It wasn't that Palmer, with no known history of committing violent acts, was a danger to anyone but himself. But he couldn't help expressing his thoughts, which could be delusional, jumbled, and inappropriate.

What happened in Cell A-26 just before 1 p.m. last September 10 is not in great dispute:

First, Jasper Rushing bashed his cellmate several times in the head with a makeshift "club" made of books wrapped tightly in a small sheet. (Rushing chose not to include the tome Rights of Prisoners, which was visible in crime-scene photos.)

Then he grabbed a small shank he had fashioned with the blade of a disposable razor that prison officials remarkably had allowed him to have in the cell.

Within seconds, he had gouged open the unconscious Palmer's throat on two sides, the gaping wounds as wide and long as a middle finger.

Blood spewed and spattered against the cell's gray walls, quickly gathering in a puddle on the concrete floor.

Finally, Rushing pulled down Shannon Palmer's orange prison-issue pants and hacked off the dying man's penis.

Then he quietly waited for someone in authority to come by, which took two or three minutes.

Palmer died within a half-hour, despite the fierce efforts of corrections officers to save him.

"He was very calm," one of the officers later said of Jasper Rushing's demeanor at the scene. "It was like the sky is blue, the grass is green, there's a nice breeze blowing."


This is one homicide that definitely doesn't qualify as a whodunit.

Jasper Rushing committed first-degree murder and did so in a heinous fashion. He faces the death penalty when his case goes to trial, perhaps sometime next year.

No doubt, Rushing will die in prison — whether or not the state of Arizona kills him by lethal injection.

What is more pressing than Rushing's fate are questions that surfaced after Shannon Palmer's frightful — and preventable — murder.

First, why and how did Arizona Department of Corrections officials stick a psychotic short-timer in a tiny cell with a smoldering killer who had no hope of getting released for decades?

Joel Hughes wondered the same thing during a recent interview with Rushing's attorney and a county prosecutor. Hughes was locked in the isolation cell next door when Rushing attacked Palmer, and he knew both men.

"I wouldn't move in with Jasper for all the money in the world," said Hughes, freed from prison just last month after serving 20 years on an attempted murder rap. "He was doing too much time for me to live with him. That's their life — and you're getting out. Your conversations don't match."

Hughes claims to have seen Shannon Palmer hand a note — a "kite," in prison parlance — to a corrections officer a day or two before the murder.

He says he heard Palmer ask the officer to get the message to a duty sergeant as "a matter of life or death" and say that he desperately needed to get out of that cell.

Rushing also says he was a few feet away when Palmer delivered that kite, and he says he saw the sergeant and the original officer just chuckle later that day when Palmer asked about the status of his request.

The deputy county attorney prosecuting Rushing recently told a judge that prison officials have not located Palmer's urgent kite.


Shannon Palmer fits the chilling description by psychiatrist Dr. E. Fuller Torrey in his book The Insanity Offense, in which he writes of seriously mentally ill inmates who "become human beings rotting away inside dark and isolated concrete cells with no hope of ever receiving proper care and attention . . ."

Torrey is the founder of the Treatment Advocacy Center, based in Arlington, Virginia. A May 2010 survey by the nonprofit center, in concert with the National Sheriffs' Association, revealed that the seriously mentally ill are incarcerated nationally at more than three times the frequency they get treated in hospitals or outpatient clinics.

In Arizona and Nevada, according to that study, that same ratio of incarceration to treatment facilities is more than 10 times — by far the nation's highest.

That is no anomaly, says Carl ToersBijns, a retired deputy warden at Arizona's supermax prison in Florence and frequent critic of the state's corrections system.

"Arizona citizens and society, in general, has shown no signs for outpouring sympathy or compassion for those [seriously mentally ill] offenders or their families," ToersBijns wrote in a recent essay, Serpents At Your Front Door, which he published on Yahoo!'s Associated Content site.

"This is reflective of the fact that when the state hospital was de-funded and reduced capacity through budget cuts occurred, more inmates were sent to prison than ever before," according to ToersBijns.

Even Shannon Palmer's murderer has considered the plight of Arizona's seriously mentally ill who happen to commit crimes.

"It's unfortunate there were no real mental-health services available for Palmer outside," Jasper Rushing tells New Times. "Once you get in trouble out there, you pretty much are going to prison, no matter what your problem is. And there was nothing in [prison] to help him."

That fits with another of Dr. Torrey's pertinent observations: "Jails and prisons were not created to be psychiatric hospitals, and staff were not selected to be psychiatric nurses. Some of the problems precipitated by the rise in seriously mentally ill inmates include the following: suicides, abuse and beatings, rape, and murder."

Arizona politicians, led by Governor Jan Brewer, continue to trumpet the ongoing budget cutbacks in the mental-health arena as necessary "savings" to beleaguered taxpayers.

But studies from across the political spectrum suggest that continued criminalization of the seriously mentally ill in lieu of a workable community mental-health treatment system is more expensive, short and long-term.

Leaders of some states, including law-and-order Texas and its Republican governor (and presidential hopeful), Rick Perry, have come to realize that they may effectively shrink the prison population and save money without sacrificing public safety, while decreasing the rate of recidivism.

In 2007, Texas officials reinvested $241 million into a network of residential and community-based treatment and diversion programs, rather than more than $2 billion to build new prisons. Few in that hang-'em-high state seem to be complaining.

But scores of seriously mentally ill Arizonans continue to be imprisoned each year, mostly because there is no place else to put them.


Shannon Palmer's father, Len, is talking about his late son.

The Phoenix native, who now lives east of Dallas, loved Shannon dearly. But like many parents, he had (and still has) trouble coming to grips with the reality of Shannon's serious mental illness.

"I didn't want to believe this, but Shannon was one of those who couldn't make it in society, couldn't function," Len Palmer says.

"He definitely needed to be in a mental institution, but there aren't any available. He didn't belong in some cell with a convicted murderer. Shannon was never violent, and he always was respectful to his mother and myself."

Shannon's mother, Fran Henderson, declined to speak for this story. Last month, her attorney, Ron Ozer, filed a wrongful death lawsuit in Maricopa County Superior Court against the state corrections department and selected prison officials.

The defendants have not yet replied.

Len Palmer and Fran Henderson split up before Shannon was a teen. Palmer says their son started "becoming difficult" at a young age, and his ex-wife asked him to take primary custody when Shannon was 11 or 12.

"She said she couldn't control him," Palmer says.

Palmer says Shannon was "doing much better after all the activities I had him in — Boy Scouts, sports, and what have you."

Shannon returned to the Valley and his mom when he was about 13. But, soon, he constantly found himself in juvenile court for petty crimes and other mischief.

Next came Maricopa County Superior Court, as Shannon, who had dropped out of school, was convicted of car theft charges soon after turning 19. He served more than a year in prison, the first of his five felony and 13 misdemeanor convictions.

Palmer's mental problems were palpable, as were his ongoing issues with illegal drugs (he used methamphetamine, according to court records).

Doctors certified him in the 1990s as seriously mentally ill, making him eligible for treatment with Maricopa County's behavioral-health agency, called ComCare.

He was diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia, a chronic mental illness in which (according to the Mayo Clinic) "a person loses touch with reality — psychosis. The classic features are having delusions and hearing things that aren't real."

By all accounts, Shannon Palmer's mother tried desperately to keep him out of trouble and sought endlessly to find him intensive mental-health help.

Nothing seemed to work, including the relationship Palmer had with a woman who gave birth to their daughter in the early '90s.

In 1993, a county judge sentenced Palmer to seven years in prison on a burglary rap.

Despite his schizophrenia, mental-health professionals repeatedly found him "competent" to stand trial, often after first deeming him "incompetent" to understand legal matters or aid with his defense.

The "restoration" process assumes that someone was competent at one time and just needs proper meds and "re-education" to move forward.

The end result for Palmer inevitably was prison, not a psychiatric ward.

He was released from custody in January 2000, with no disciplinary infractions on his prison record.

Palmer tried off and on to live independently, collecting about $600 monthly in disability income and working at times for his mother's janitorial service.

But, as Len Palmer suggests, life in society proved just too much for Shannon to handle.

In December 2003, Chandler police responded to calls of gunfire in a residential neighborhood. Officers found Palmer in his backyard, with three expended shell casings from a handgun nearby. It is unclear where he had gotten the weapon.

Palmer told the police he was "paranoid" and had taken an overdose of meds and brandy and was planning to commit suicide but lost his nerve.

He said he discharged the gun "to terminate the voices in my head."

Instead, the cops arrested Palmer for misconduct involving weapons, a crime made more serious because, as a felon, he was a "prohibited possessor" of firearms.

He was sentenced in late 2003 to nearly four more lonely years behind bars.

"It was nice to get a letter, as I have only you and my mom that write me," he wrote his father from prison in November 2006.

After his mid-2007 release, Palmer's parents found an apartment in Mesa for him and hoped for the best. His father says that arrangement lasted only a few weeks.

"He ended up back on the streets pretty quick," Len Palmer says. "But his mother made sure he had a cell phone. He called me one time. Said he had just gotten a new bedroll. A homeless guy with a cell phone. He sounded happy, but it was sad."

By late August 2008, Shannon Palmer had moved back in with his mother in Mesa, increasingly absorbed with thoughts of the "evil forces" aligned against him.

On the afternoon of August 29, Palmer walked a short distance from his mom's home to a Salt River Project power pole as one of the summer's biggest storms swept into the Valley.

Fortified with vodka, Palmer climbed about 100 feet up the pole, dangerously close to the live high-power lines.

Mesa police and fire negotiators spoke to Palmer for about two hours before he stepped down safely. It made for quite a little story on the evening news.

Palmer told police he had gone up there to "escape the feds," who were stalking him, he said.

Salt River Project officials sought prosecution, and a Mesa officer noted that Palmer "admitted knowing it was against the law to climb up the power pole."

That was enough for prosecutors.

A county grand jury indicted Palmer on several charges, the most serious being criminal damage, a felony with serious ramifications because of his prior record.

More than a year passed, as evaluators again tried to determine whether Palmer was mentally competent to stand trial and, later, whether he was competent to be sentenced.

In September 2009, a psychologist broke a tie between two other evaluators and said Palmer was fit to be sentenced to prison.

"His mother was at wit's end because of the revolving door — in and out of prison," recalls David Lockhart, his lawyer at the time. "Shannon had major underlying mental-health issues, but he seemed like more of a nuisance than a danger to the community."

A county probation officer reported to the judge what this supposedly competent gentleman had told her before sentencing:

"He [said he] had no control over his actions in the present offense, and it had nothing to do with his mental health issues. He stated that in 1999, the Marines, National Security Agency, and the U.S. Secret Service forcefully inserted a tracking device into his leg designed to follow him and tell him what to do.

"He stated they took control of his brain and made him climb up the tower so he would go back to jail and they would not have to follow him. He stated their intentions are to kill him, and he cannot stop them, as they are above the law.

"He stated they work with the Missing and Exploited Children's Foundation, and let the parents of missing children have this power to torture others, which helps alleviate their pain over losing a child."

The probation officer, Karen Vaniman, recommended a prison term, writing, "Hopefully, the defendant will take advantage of any services available to him while incarcerated and return to the community a law-abiding and productive citizen."

Jack Potts, a Phoenix psychiatrist who was one of many court-appointed mental-health experts in the case, was not as naive. He wrote that Palmer was "incompetent" and needed treatment, not prison.

"He clearly suffers from a major mental illness that needs more intensive treatment," Potts wrote. "He should be civilly committed. He does not belong in the general population of the jail, where he is likely to be in harm's way."

On September 3, 2009, county Judge Connie Contes sentenced Shannon Palmer to three years in prison, with credit for about one year already served in jail.

Palmer would be murdered and mutilated in his prison cell exactly one year and one week later.


Jasper Rushing is asked to describe his upbringing in one sentence.

"Don't need one sentence — just a couple of words," he says, a small grin sneaking up on him.

"It sucked."

He is a small man, this killer of two men in what fairly could be termed cold blood, and is pale as a vampire after so long out of the Arizona sun.

Rushing is articulate and direct, a particularly intense listener, and an improbable bookworm. ("Books have become my life, biographies or whatever I can get my hands on," he says.)

Rushing is heavily tattooed, with some of the visible ink dominated by garish reminders of his former (he says) obsession with all things Nazi. He catches his visitor gaping at a swastika etched into the base of his middle finger.

"I was a skinhead and into a lot of other stupid white power stuff," Rushing volunteers in his matter-of-fact, hyper-controlled tone.

"I don't have those racist beliefs anymore. You realize as you get older, and you learn, that there's just so much propaganda out there, and there's messed-up people in every race, and some people who aren't so bad. You can get rid of the beliefs, but you can't rid of the tattoos."

Another tattoo crosses his upper chest at the T-shirt line.

BROKEN DREAMS, it says.

Jasper Rushing was born in Prescott on May 15, 1980, the product of the brief and unhappy union of Jim and Cheri Rushing.

Rushing would have a slew of half-brothers and sisters from both parents before he reached adulthood. But he didn't meet his father until he was 8, and their relationship was fractured after that.

His mother bounced in and out of dysfunctional relationships, living on the edge in the methamphetamine- and alcohol-soaked rural towns of Chino Valley and Paulden, north of Prescott.

Cheri Rushing sent Jasper to the state of Washington to live with his father when he was 8, but he soon wound up living for a time with his aunt (his dad's sister), uncle, and cousins.

"My parents were prepared to take him on as a son, but [Jim Rushing] stepped in and took him back, not because he wanted him; he just didn't want us to have him." says cousin Misty Shepherd of Deer Park, Washington.

"We rode horses together, and I got to know him. We had a lot of fun together. Jasper was a good guy with potential. He had problems, but he was not at all the cold-blooded type. We thought he was angry underneath because his father is not a good person, and his mother couldn't have cared less about him."

Rushing returned to his mother in Arizona, but she soon put him for a few years in Sunshine Acres Children's Home, a Christian-oriented group facility in Mesa.

"No one ever wanted him," says his half-sister Jolene Brown, who lives near Spokane, Washington.

"Neither parent ever gave a fuck about him — my dad or his mom. To me, Jasper was an older brother type, who would tickle my nose with a feather and tell me to do the right thing."

Rushing bounced back and forth between Washington and Arizona as a teen, getting deep into drugs, alcohol, and white supremacy.

He attended Chino Valley High for a few years and wrestled one year for the junior varsity, going undefeated.

But just like Shannon Palmer, he dropped out of school (both later earned their GED diplomas while behind bars) as crime predictably slipped into his mix.

By then, Rushing's mother had hooked up in Chino Valley with Rudy Gutierrez, a onetime sheriff's deputy.

Gutierrez and Jasper Rushing had a mercurial relationship, and local police records show about a dozen responses to the residence in the mid- and late 1990s because of family fighting.

Rushing served about a year in the state prison when he was 20 after violating probation on charges that included stealing a gun.

He wrote to his mother just before his release, telling her that he planned to start an Aryan Warriors chapter with other Prescott-area skinheads after being freed.

Rushing stayed out of trouble for less than six months.

On the evening of January 19, 2001, he took a 20-gauge shotgun and sneaked into Rudy Gutierrez's trailer home in Paulden.

Rushing later told police he had drunk about two dozen beers and six shots of Jack Daniel's in the previous 24 hours or so.

Rudy Gutierrez was asleep there with an ex-wife (not Rushing's mother).

Rushing aimed at Gutierrez's head and fired once.

Gutierrez died instantly.

Rushing told the ex-wife, "I'm not trying to hurt you. He raped Amy five years ago."

Rushing was referring to another half-sister of his, who would have been 11 at the time of the alleged assault.

He then called 911, advising authorities that he had just killed his stepfather after learning about the supposed rape, and surrendered to Yavapai County sheriff's deputies at the scene without incident.

The alleged victim, Amy, insisted to police that Gutierrez never had touched her inappropriately when she lived with him years earlier.

Rushing gave police the name of the girl who had told him about the alleged assault. But no evidence would emerge to suggest that Gutierrez had acted inappropriately with Amy.

Rushing pleaded guilty to first-degree murder and related charges.

A Yavapai County judge sentenced him to 25-to-life — which meant he would not be eligible for parole until serving at least 25 years — and tacked on three more years for good measure.

A probation officer interviewed Rushing before writing a pre-sentence report that sounds eerily like one of Shannon Palmer's.

"This is not to say that he would not have committed the murder had he been under a doctor's care," the officer wrote. "But using 20/20 hindsight, it is apparent he has been in need of psychological/psychiatric treatment and medication for some time."


Arizona Department of Corrections communications director Barrett Marson describes how things are supposed to work.

"Inmates housed together in a cell are screened through a compatibility process and matched together based on crimes, sentence length, and physical characteristics," he says.

"This helps to ensure no inmate has a physical advantage over another."

As for inmates suffering from serious mental illness, he says that "trained staff diagnose inmates with mental-health needs to determine the proper housing. [We] set aside housing areas specifically designed for inmates with mental-health issues."

If those policies actually had been in play in September 2010, Shannon Palmer might still be alive today.

Palmer never knew Jasper Rushing before they met in Cell A-26 on August 19.

Though incarcerated for first-degree murder, Rushing was considered only a medium-risk prisoner after years behind bars and few serious disciplinary dings on his record.

Prison officials saw Palmer as little risk to anyone but possibly to himself and housed him in mid-2010 in a minimum-security protective segregation unit (Eagle Point, also at the Lewis Prison).

Palmer befriended fellow inmate Shannon Clark on the yard at Eagle Point.

"He was severely delusional and paranoid in my opinion, probably a schizophrenic," Clark writes to New Times. "It was obvious to anybody who talked to him. He asked me if I could get his story out there."

Clark describes how Palmer "seemed to believe that the U.S. government wanted him dead. He told me that the CIA put an implant in his thigh and there were assassins, wearing 'shimmer suits' that made them invisible at the Eagle Point Unit fence, waiting to kill him. He seemed very scared for his life. He also told me repetitively that he was a good person and would never hurt anybody. He seemed to be a genuine but ill person. Harmless."

Prison officials occasionally moved Palmer into mental-health units for short stints of what passes there as "treatment."

The authorities placed Jasper Rushing into a protective segregation unit (not Eagle Point) in May 2009, for reasons Rushing will not discuss publicly that are not part of the public record.

Ex-prison warden Carl ToersBijns cautions that a protective custody jacket does not ensure an inmate's safety in his or her new "alternative placement" yard.

"You still get your pedigree run by those who run the yard," he says. "The pedigree must be clean of sex offenses, child abuse, and other 'non-acceptable' crimes on the yard in question, as many have their own set of rules or exceptions . . . It depends on the individual's ability to get along with his own race, his money on the books, his willingness to participate in their yard activities — drugs, gambling, store extortion, rent, protection games."

Shannon Palmer had gained protective-segregation status in November 2009, just a few months after his incarceration.

But on August 14, 2010, he "refused to house" — that is, he declined to return to his cell at Eagle Point.

The reason he gave officers was not the CIA or invisible assassins:

"All the inmates on the yard want to assault him because they think he is a sex offender," an internal memo said, repeating Palmer's initial claim.

It later came to light, however, that Palmer apparently had incurred a $42 gambling debt and feared reprisals.

Officials moved Palmer to an "isolation cell" inside the Buckley Unit, Cell A-26. He was in a holding pattern until authorities figured out what to do with him.

The cells are aptly named, as inmates are treated much the same as those in the dreaded supermax unit in Florence. That is, locked up and closely monitored around the clock.

It was solitary confinement that, for Shannon Palmer, wasn't solitary for long.

On August 19, Jasper Rushing also refused to house, claiming extortion by three inmates.

This is where the system — actually several Lewis Prison officials — failed both Shannon Palmer and, in a twisted sense, Jasper Rushing.

For starters,they were putting two inmates instead of one in the small isolation cell at Buckley to handle overflow of so-called "detention inmates."

Corrections officer Kimberly Churchwell later told investigators that her job was to pair two "compatible" inmates who needed to be housed in detention or isolation cells.

She would review the inmates' height, weight, race, gang status (if any), history of institutional violence, and, finally, what they were incarcerated for and for how long.

From the Arizona Department of Corrections internal investigative report:

"Churchwell stated, based upon the policy and procedures in place at the time, [that] the placement of Palmer and Rushing in the same isolation cell was acceptable."

Jasper Rushing moved in with Shannon Palmer last August 19, hoping, he says, to spend a short time there before getting sent to another unit.

Having gotten there first, Palmer got the sole bed in the cell. Rushing was given a roll-up mattress to put on the floor.

Officers allowed Rushing to take one disposable twin-blade razor with him into his new digs, which may or may not have been within policy (depending on which prison official was talking to investigators after the murder).

Investigators later concluded that "there were conflicting descriptions of how the isolation cells were classified, and differences in how the inmates assigned to the isolation cells were managed."

Those "differences" would allow Rushing the opportunity to murder and mutilate his cellmate.


"He wasn't acting weird at first," Jasper Rushing says of Shannon Palmer.

"Then he started acting really goofy. I think he was crazy to start with, and the situation in that cell was making him crazier. And it was doing a number on me, too."

Days passed, and the inmates were forced to endure each other (and themselves) in a setting reminiscent of descriptions of the Guantánamo Bay detention camp.

Rushing and Palmer were locked up for all but a half-hour of exercise and a shower every two days. They each could make one 20-minute phone call each week.

The cells have a trap on the thick metal door that officers open from the outside to push through a prisoner's food tray.

A window on the top part of the door looks out onto a stark hallway. That window is all that separates inmates from being encased in a concrete tomb.

Isolation cells are not meant for the claustrophobic. In fact, A-26 is almost as restrictive as any cell on Arizona's death row, located in Florence.

If it wasn't bad enough, the lights went out in the cell on August 24. It was day five of what turned out to be 23 days that Rushing and Palmer were locked up together in A-26.

Work records from the Buckley Unit show that prison officials tried to fix the lights inside the cell, but to no avail.

That left the men literally in a twilight zone, with the barest ambient light from the hallway sneaking in through the cell-door window.

Conversations between the inmates grew tense and increasingly strange, Rushing says.

One day, Rushing says, Palmer mentioned the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children — a centerpiece in Palmer's long-held delusion.

"I thought it was funny he mentioned that organization," Rushing says. "I've been donating $10 to them for several years now — you can look it up. I don't like people who mess with women and children, and this guy was starting to say things about kids. I didn't like his lack of respect."

Both men spoke by phone with their mothers the day before the murder. Neither mentioned the other during their 20-minute chats, recordings of which New Times has heard.

Rushing sounds subdued but focused, saying he doesn't know how much longer he would be in isolation.

"Hopefully not too much longer," Rushing says. "Honestly, I'm starting to formulate my own plan. Do you think we're intelligent enough to know when it's [your] time to call it [a day]?"

Mom says she doesn't know.

"I think that's the road I'm going down," he continues. "But I don't want it to be a great big surprise on your part. Everybody else will get over it."

Rushing says he has asked for psychiatric help, "but there is no hope to be had, and there is no help to be had. It's the same for everyone here."

(Rushing tells New Times, "You can read whatever you want into what I told my mom. I was thinking that I'm not going to live in a bullshit situation for the rest of my life. I was thinking about ending things for myself, not killing Shannon Palmer.")

Palmer's conversation with his mother contains idle talk about family until he interrupts her, a sudden passion in his voice.

"Mom, I can't hold back anymore," he says. "I just don't know how to explain to you what I'm going through. You don't understand. I've got some serious people trying to take my life."

"Well, son," she replies.

"No, no, no," Palmer says loudly. "Don't say nothing, please. Allow me to say something. You don't understand what I got myself into two years ago. Mom, the National Center for Abused and Exploited Children Foundation and the goddamned Central Intelligence Agency — all they do is go coast-to-coast across the United States of America looking for the annual 100 children who come up missing by stranger abduction.

"And they popped something into my leg that you wouldn't understand. It's out of this world, Mom. They've been working on it since World War II. They're going to liquidate my ass. And I don't have no way of telling my mom what I'm going through and, pretty soon, I'm gonna be dead."

"No, you're not," is all Palmer's mother can muster.

Their time is up.

"I love you, Mom," he tells her.

"I love you, son."


Jasper Rushing says it went from bad to worse on the evening before he killed Shannon Palmer.

"The guy literally drank a whole bag of coffee and he was speed-talking all this crazy shit, nonstop," he tells New Times.

Rushing stares hard at his questioner when asked why he didn't just tell authorities that things were moving to a boiling point.

"Shannon already had asked to get out of there because he was fearing for his life, and gave them that 'kite,'" he finally says. "I was right there, and the cops literally laughed at him. When someone says that, it's not a big deal — it's prison."

Rushing and Palmer ate breakfast on the morning of September 10 and settled in for another creepy day in the dark.

Actually, Rushing says, he recently had been allowed to plug a small "inmate's lamp" into an outlet just outside A-26, and it was providing a bit more light — more shadows than anything.

Corrections officer Joel Valdovinos was on his rounds right before 1 p.m., delivering lunch and checking on inmates in the four isolation cells in Building A.

A minute or two before Valdovinos entered the area pushing a lunch cart, inmate Joel Hughes claims to have heard choking and gurgling sounds coming from A-26.

Hughes said in his recent interview that he heard about 20 to 25 loud bangs, as if someone was being "bounced off the wall."

Hughes hollered, "Is everything all right over there?" To which he said Rushing had replied, "Just a minute."

Within seconds, Officer Valdovinos opened up the trap on the door to deliver the lunch trays one at a time.

To his shock, Rushing popped his head out and told him, "I just killed my cellie."

"Are you fucking kidding me?" the officer replied, immediately shining his flashlight into the cell. He didn't see anything for a moment.

"It's pitch-black — you can't see in there," he later told investigators. "[The lights] had been out for a long time."

Then Valdovinos saw Shannon Palmer, unconscious on the bed and bleeding profusely from the neck, his left arm dangling.

Valdovinos didn't immediately notice that Palmer's penis had been ripped from his body and was on the floor.

The officer ordered Rushing to turn around and be cuffed through the trap door.

Rushing, he said, "was calm as day."

Rushing told him that the handcrafted shank was over at the sink, and he allowed Valdovinos to cuff him without resistance as a small army of other officers and medical personnel rushed into the wing.

Sergeant Raymundo Trujillo assumed command and took Rushing out of the cell and into the hallway.

Trujillo later told investigators that Rushing counseled him, saying "If any of you guys are really squeamish, don't go in there."

Captain Ron Lawrence and others started doing CPR on Palmer, who somehow was still alive, but barely.

"Frankly it was so horrific, I didn't want my staff to see that," he told investigators. "The inmate was making that horrible sucking, wheezing sound as he was trying to draw air through the cuts in his throat."

Palmer died soon after that.

Later, Officer Valdovinos said, Rushing had provided him with a motive:

"You fuck with women and children, then you're gonna fuck with a real man."

What Rushing apparently meant were suggestive remarks he claims Palmer made about one of Rushing's young nieces. (Rushing had a photo of the girl in the cell.)


The viciousness and depravity of the murder sent shockwaves through the Arizona Department of Corrections.

Press releases tried to mitigate the horrific incident, noting that Shannon Palmer was a "repeat offender," as if climbing a power pole put him in the same category of criminal as convicted killer Jasper Rushing.

The releases did not mention the mutilation, which became public only after someone tipped off KPHO, a Phoenix television station.

Then the Palmer/Rushing case went away.

But an internal probe continued until lead investigator Curtis Steger submitted his detailed findings last November.

The corrections department then punished three of its employees for their responsibility in approving an inmate match made in hell.

The three were:

• Deputy warden Quency Owens: 40 hours without pay for aggravated neglect of duty and disregarding directives, policies, guidelines, or procedures.

• Corrections officer Kimberly Churchwell (who had brought Rushing and Palmer together): 40 hours without pay for the same reasons.

• Captain Ron Lawrence: 24 hours without pay for inefficiency and failure to exercise proper supervision over employees. Lawrence was the officer who led the heroic efforts to try to save Shannon Palmer.

A few weeks ago, a county judge heard legal motions from defense lawyers representing Jasper Rushing in the capital first-degree murder case.

His lead attorney, assistant public defender Billy Little Jr., told Judge Joseph Kreamer that it shouldn't be a death penalty case because of the extraordinarily ill-fated circumstances that brought the inmates together.

"There's no doubt — everyone knows he's the one who did it," Little Jr. said, gesturing toward his handcuffed and shackled client.

"But there's a shared responsibility here. They put a psychotic individual in a small cell with a guy known to be violent. I'm confident the jury won't give him the death penalty."

Prosecutor Jeanette Gallagher replied, "Mr. Little and I can agree to disagree on this, but this is a poster child for the death penalty."

In the spectator's galley, Shannon Palmer's mother wept.