Lie Enforcement Institutionalized
The Texas Department of Criminal (In)Justice (TDCJ) maintains what it calls an Ombudsman’s office, whose supposed role is to keep the TDCJ accountable to the public for its treatment of those it imprisons. In theory this means the office exists to investigate and redress complaints by people on the outside about our mistreatment. In reality, this isn’t how it works.
In the real world, the ombudsman operates not as an office of public accountability, but rather as an official protective agency that not only shields the TDCJ’s wrongs from public scrutiny, but it also systematically constructs lies to counter potential exposure of its abuses.
As I addressed in a recent article, most outside people don’t “get” that the nature of law enforcement (especially imprisonment) in Amerika, is inherently pathological and abusive. This because officials deliberately conceal its dysfunctional nature and conditions from the public, and the public generally trusts those in positions of power to exercise it responsibly and justly. Also because officials portray their so-called system of criminal justice as a humane and restrained response to social deviance and crime.
This is why even when people are confronted with blatant instances of contradictions between what officials are supposed to do versus what they actually do, they tend to dismiss it as at worst a deviation from the norm and accidental departure from their usual practices, that can be cured and reformed. When what they’re really seeing is the intrinsic corrupt norm; which is what the TDCJ’s ombudsman, acting in tandem with others of its agencies, actually operates to conceal.
The Abuse, The Complaint
So, let’s look at some specific instances of the ombudsman’s lying dispositions of public complaints, starting with a recent complaint made on my behalf.
During early December 2016 I was threatened by ranking officials here at the William P. Clements Unit in Amarillo, Texas, to take my property in response to my role in exposing abuses at the prison through published articles, and assisting in litigation being brought against officials for the deaths of several prisoners at the prison stemming from official abuse and medical neglect. On Dec 21, 2016 officials made good on their threats.
I was confronted for a staged cell search by the same officials, who had me removed from the cell and placed in a holding area; they then had a large amount of my property taken under the pretext that it was “improperly stored.” Upon being returned to the cell and protesting to speak with the responsible ranking staff, I was sprayed with gas although locked inside the cell and still handcuffed behind my back. In violation of TDCJ policy and the law, I was then denied to have the cell and myself decontaminated of gas and was left for several days with gas-contaminated clothing, bedding, mattress, etc.
The following day I wrote and mailed out a statement and others by prisoner witnesses about the abuse, which were posted online. Also included in the mailing were samples of the gas-contaminated linen, and paint from the cell wall, and a statement from a guard admitting that I was left under these conditions.
Prison officials routinely follow my online postings, and in response to the posting of my statement about the abuses of Dec 21st, I was written an illegal disciplinary infraction under a new TDCJ rule that forbids prisoners from maintaining a social media account. The charge claimed I violated the rule because my statement about the abuse was posted on a general website.
The Web of Official Lies
On February 16, 2017, a friend who is an editor and political science professor, Victor Wallis, made complaint about these abuses on my behalf to the TDCJ ombudsman’s office. TDCJ ombudsman Emma Guerra responded to Mr. Wallis’s complaint on March 3, 2017, under ombudsman complaint record #13-4658-0217. Here’s what her reply said in relevant part:
“On December 21, 2016, offender Johnson was subjected to a use of force (UOF). The UOF was appropriately reported, per guidelines and procedures. If a UOF occurs and chemical agents are utilized, the cells are promptly and thoroughly cleaned.
“Because of the UOF incident, offender Johnson received a major disciplinary offense and due to the severity of the offense, the offender was placed on property restriction. However, offender Johnson filed a Step 1 grievance regarding his property. The grievance department investigated his concerns and provided him a written reply. The offender then filed a Step 2 grievance to appeal the issue to the Central grievance Office. Offender Johnson can expect a written reply from that department at the completion of their investigation. We ask that you allow him the opportunity to complete both steps of the grievance procedure and exhaust his administrative remedies.
“Offender Johnson has not been charged, punished or reprimanded with any infractions or violations regarding a report he wrote concerning staff abuse.” [See attached copy of Emma Guerra’s reply]
Every element of this reply was an outright lie, and is contradicted by official statements and documentation. The evidence clearly showed the cell was never decontaminated, and the statement of the guard that I sent out also confirmed as much. Mr. Wallis read the statement and it was posted online as well.
My property was not taken following and as the result of any use of force or disciplinary infraction. The use of force occurred when and because I was protesting the taking of my property. The gassing occurred after my property was taken and I had been replaced in the cell, and while still in handcuffs from having just been returned to the cell from the holding area, where I was held while my things were removed from the cell. Ms. Guerra’s account is contradicted by numerous official statements and records.
Foremost she apparently forgot her office provided Mr. Wallis a prior statement to a previous complaint on the same matter, which told a different story. That statement dated Jan. 10, 2017, under ombudsman complaint record #13-4658-193 stated as follows:
“Property, excluding legal materials, was confiscated from Offender Johnson because the offender was not in compliance with storage requirements and due to the situation creating a fire hazard. Prior to this, Offender Johnson was instructed to comply with storage requirements and dispose of excess property: but he failed to do so.”
This reply came from TDCJ ombudsman, Jane M. Cockerham. [See attached copy of said reply.]
Although this reply is also untrue, in that the storage issue does not apply except when a prisoner voluntarily leaves his assigned living area, and I was specifically instructed by law library staff to have my property out so they could conduct my bi-annual legal storage review, it totally contradicts Emma Guerra’s claim that my property was taken because of a disciplinary infraction.
Furthermore, another professor friend of mine spoke to the Clements Unit warden during Jan. 2017. In an email to others she wrote:
“On Thu, Jan 19, 2017 at 4:50 PM, Azzurra Crispino … wrote: I spoke to the warden on Friday. The warden said Rashid’s property was removed over improper storage.”
Again, nothing about property taken over an infraction.
But the claimed reason for the confiscation of my property was to change yet again. As the ombudsman noted, I filed a grievance about the taking of my things, to which the prison’s assistant warden Darrell Nash gave yet another invented justification for the confiscation of my property. His reply to that grievance (log #2017060660) dated Feb 2, 2017 stated in relevant part: “Your complaint has been investigated and findings reviewed. Records show that all property inventoried and stored in the property room on 12/21/16 was documented on the Offender Property Inventory form. Property that was considered altered or ownership questioned was documented on the Disposition of Confiscated Property per TDCJ policy.”
This reply is yet another fabrication. The stated confiscation form and inventory both indicate the property as taken solely based upon claims of being “improperly stored.” Nowhere is it indicated on either that it was taken because of any claims of it being “altered” nor “ownership questioned.”
These accounts changed and the subsequent lies were invented to speciously justify the taking of my things because the original pretext (the claim of “improper storage”) was not allowed by TDCJ policy, so they had to invent ones that were to make the confiscation seem justified, otherwise the taking would obviously have been based upon the threatened retaliations that I reported; which officials wanted not to redress, but instead to cover up. So we have a web of diverse lying reasons given for the property’s taking, all of which contradict each other.
Then there was Emma Guerra’s claim that I was never “charged, punished or reprimanded with any infractions” for the statement I wrote about the abuses of Dec 21st. Another lie.
Not only did I send out a copy of the actual infraction I received for my statement, but also the guilty disposition and punishment imposed.
In fact another TDCJ agency got caught in the same lie by a PBS reporter that Ms. Guerra tried to pass off. Jason Clark, the director of the TDCJ’s so-called Office of Public Information, was contacted by PBS journalist Kamala Kelkar who was investigating TDCJ’s punishing prisoners for exposing abuses under the new social media rule.
She specifically questioned him about my case. Initially Clark lied claiming I was never given any infractions for my posted statement. Ms. Kelkar, however, had a copy of my infraction and sent it to him. Suddenly, Clark changed his story, and claimed the infraction had been overturned; another lie. [See attached copy of the infraction with guilty disposition and penalties imposed.]
But of course my case was no exception. When my outside supporters devised to complain to the ombudsman, they received an email from Ms. Joan Covici, of the Texas CURE (Citizens United for the Rehabilitation of Errants) chapter. Attached to that email was copy of a complaint made to and against the TDCJ ombudsman by one Ms. Joan Kain, concerning lying replies she’d received from the TDCJ ombudsman to complaints she’d made on behalf of another prisoner. In that her complaint speaks for itself, I’ll simply quote Ms. Kain’s complaint here:
“Subject To: Ombudsman Office
“Date: December 28, 2016 at 9:33:56 AM CST
“Re: Rebuttal to Emma Guerra’s response to water quality and living conditions at the Eastham Unit (please see inquiry #11-5229-61)
“Dear Ombudsman and Interested Parties-
“This is a rebuttal and formal complaint in regards to a response I received from Emma Guerra dated December 15, 2016 – Ref #11-5229-61.
“For the record I will state that on December 1, 2016 I submitted a complaint on behalf of my friend Keith H. Washington T.D.C. #1487958 who is currently housed at the Eastham Unit located in Lovelady, Texas.
“In my original complaint I cited contaminated water, peeling paint, roach infestation as well as retaliation against prisoners who file grievances and complaints. After lengthy explanation Ms. Guerra states: ‘There is no evidence of staff misconduct found nor was there evidence to substantiate your allegations.’
“There must be a serious flaw in the manner the Ombudsman Office conducts its investigations because on December 1st, 2016 the very day I submitted my complaint the water was shut off at the Eastham Unit and a boil notice was issued by the Texas Commission of Environmental Quality. A problem was determined to exist in the water supply at Eastham Unit. Prisoners on Eastham, especially those housed in Administrative Segregation, have no way to boil water! Furthermore, Ms. Guerra withheld this information in her response to me. Why is that? Ms. Guerra stated that the ‘Trinity River Authority/Lake Livingston Laboratory recently tested the water on December 2, 2016, ‘but she failed to mention that a boil notice was still in effect!
“This glaring omission is deceptive in nature and quite unacceptable! How can citizens rely on the Ombudsman to provide oversight and accountability when the employees operate in such a manner?
Ms. Kain went on to cite further misrepresentations by the ombudsman, such as claims that the Eastham Unit had painted its cells during July 2016, yet Keith Washington’s still being housed in a cell with peeling paint and black mold; the ombudsman’s denial that Mr. Washington was transferred in retaliation for complaining about arsenic laden water at the Wallace Park Unit where he was previously housed, which later proved untrue, and so on. She concluded her complaint stating:
“I am requesting a thorough review of the Ombudsman Program by the Texas Legislature. There are noticable appearances of a collusion and conspiratorial relationship between the Ombudsman’s Office and the T.D.C.J.-C.I.D. division where valid complaints are not thoroughly or properly investigated.
“More than ever an Independent Oversight Committed is needed!
“Respectfully Submitted – Ms. Joan Kain”
Weavers of Mass Deception
If the reader but look, you will see an interlocking system of TDCJ agencies that serve to inflict the most abusive outrages against a completely powerless population, to block them from every channel of redress while insulating the perpetrators of abuses from public exposure or accountability. I’ve mapped this particular system out in several articles, beginning with showing the systemic abuse that pervades the TDCJ, then the lack of avenues of redress to the prisoners, then the operation of a propaganda office that misinforms the public about goings on within the TDCJ through the media, and now the workings of an ombudsman’s office that crafts evasive and lying replies to individual public complaints.
This offers an example of how all U.S. law enforcement agencies operate (cops, prisons, even the military). They recognize no legal limits on their power nor the rights of others; but rather commit every manner of crime and abuse as an institutional norm targeting especially those without political power; then systematically lie to the public to conceal their wrongs and avert exposure while portraying their victims as villains. They are not only lawless, but have institutions in place specifically to deceive the public and cover up their misdeeds.
So, when protests in communities of the poor and people of color erupt against yet another act of brutality or killing at the hands of law (lie) enforcement officials, and officials claim no wrongdoing and proceed to villainize the victim, you can bet that 99.9 times out of 100 you’re being fed a load of official bullshit by their agents of mass deception.
Dare to Struggle Dare to Win!
All Power to the People!
 A copy of this grievance can be obtained through an open records request.
 See, Kevin “Rashid” Johnson: Op cit, note 1, also, “Life’s A Gas In Texas Prisons: The Frequent Abuse of Chemical Weapons” (2017) http://rashidmod.com/?p=2346; “U.S. Prisons Would Disgrace a Nation of Savages: Texas – A Case on Record” (2013) http://rashidmod.com/?p=1007