and White and Dead All Over: The Lucasville Insurrection
In April 1993, an inmate rebellion broke out at the Southern Ohio Correctional Facility (SOCF) in Lucasville, Ohio, near Cincinnati. Nine prisoners and one correctional officer were killed during the 11-day uprising.
In court proceedings following the end of the riot, five inmates were sentenced to death and are presently on death row at Mansfield Correctional Institution. They are: Siddique Abdullah Hasan (formerly known as Carlos Sanders), Namir Abdul Mateen (formerly known as James Were), Keith Lamar, Jason Robb, and George Skatzes. Hasan, Mateen, and Lamar are black. Hasan and Mateen are Sunni Muslims. Robb and Skatzes are white and are members of the Aryan Brotherhood.
On September 5, 1997, a disturbance occurred in DR-4, the area of Ohio's Death Row where the Lucasville Five and thirty-two other condemned men are housed.
The Media Version
Initial Reports of the disturbance told a relatively straightforward story. The incident began at 5 p.m. when inmates overpowered three guards, took their keys, and freed other death- row inmates. Several hours later, a prison tactical squad fired tear gas into the unit and regained control. Three guards and four inmates were said to have been injured, but there were few details. Authorities indicated: "We're not sure what triggered it. Nor do we know the leaders." Cleveland Plain Dealer, Sept. 6, 1997)
Spin control started in Columbus, the state capitol. The Columbus Dispatch began its story: "Those responsible for the deadly 1993 Lucasville prison riot were among Death Row inmates who took control." The Dispatch went on to quote the first of many misleading statements from warden Ralph Coyle: "Some of the injuries may have been afflicted [sic] by other inmates before prison officials regained control, Coyle said." The story added without comment: "Wilford Berry, who has volunteered to become the first inmate executed in the state since 1963, was also housed in the same area." (Columbus Dispatch, Sept. 6, 1997)
Within twenty-four hours Berry's presence in DR-4 had given rise to a full-fledged official theory:
Skatzes' sister Jackie Bowers told the paper that Berry was unpopular but that "her brother isn't among those who dislike Berry. She said he told her feels that Berry doesn't have the mental ability to make decisions about his appeal." Bowers also said that tensions had been mounting on Deat Row because of the conditions thast prompted the summer hunger strike. "They just keep taking things away and punishing them and punishing them," she said, adding that after the fast the Five had lost the right to receive "sundry boxes" from relatives. Warden Coyle denied any connection between the fast and the disturbance, claiming that he had granted the Five more privileges after the hunger strike ended. (Columbus Dispatch, Sept. 7, 1997.) The controversy about the fast and the riot continued elsewhere. Sonny Williams of the Ohio Prisoners Rights Union
As the hours passed it became clear that all injuries to guards had been minor, whereas several inmates had been seriously hurt. Richland County Prosecutor James Mayer, Jr., entered DR-4 shortly after the riot ended. "You had to be careful because there were very few places where there wasn't any blood," he told the local paper. Mayer also confessed puzzlement as to how the state could punish those responsible. "I can't think of anything else we could do to them. They're already facing the worst the state can give them." (Mansfield News Journal, Sept. 7, 1997.) Warden Coyle concurred that if the most dangerous prisoners were involved in the riot, there wasn't much more that could be done to punish them. "You really can't do much more," he stated. (Columbus Dispatch, Sept. 9, 1997)
What George Says
When George Skatzes was interviewed on September 10, his public defender reported visible lacerations over both eyes and on one ear, where guards had banged his head against a wall. By September 16 Skatzes' wounds had healed and he was ready to tell his story. He carefully distinguished between what he had seen, what he had heard from others, and what he inferred to be true.
The disturbance began about 5 p.m. when supper trays were brought in. George was locked in his cell at the time. Abot half an hour later inmates came to George's cell and unlocked it. He told them that he wanted no part of what was going on, and asked to be left alone. He remained in his cell throughout the disturbance.
Inmates were milling around in the public area of the pod. "No one was doing anything," George says. Inmates tried to arrange themselves two or three in a cell in case there should be violence.
At any time the guards could have come in and peacefully regained control, according to Skatzes. He saw no inmate-ro- inmate violence whatsoever. He saw no shanks or clubs. The only object that could be considered a "weapon" was a body chain, after it was unlocked. "All they [the guards] had to do was come in," Skatzes insisted.
Georrge advised others of the Lucasville Five not to get on the phone to negotiate, lest, as in 1993, this cause them to be viewed by the authorities as ringleaders.
Time ticked away. Inmates conjectured that the authorities were hoping "for the body count to pile up," so that inmates could be severely punished. But there was no body count, and unlike 1993, there were no hostages.
About 10 p.m. George looked through the window of his cell into the corridor and saw men in gas masks. Then came a loud banging, followed by a noise like the firing of shotguns. A canniset came through the cell window, shattering the glass, striking George directly, and causing minor cuts on George's arms. At least five cannisters were shot into his cell. One of the cannisters lodged on his top bunk, among his legal papers.
He felt as if gasoline had been poured over him and set afire. The hair on his arms stood straight up, and turned white. He couldn't breathe. He lay down on the floor, thinking he was going to die. He could not see his hand in front of his face.
After about fifteen minutes, as if by miracle the fog of tear gas lifted. George got up and leaned toward the hole in his cell window to get some air. A guard sprayed liguid mace through the hole. George told him, "You don't have to do that. I'm no threat to you."
George put a blanket on the floor, sat down on it, and waited. Everything in the cell was white from the tear gas.
About an hour later "bunches" of masked guards, wearing black ninja suits, came into DR-4. Two of them told George to stand and put his face to the wall. His hearing is not good, and had been affected by the shotgun-like sounds when the teargas was first fired, but as soon as he understood what was wanted, he complied.
The guards went into Jason Robb's cell next door. Hason was told t strip to his underwear. He was then beaten very badly (but did not lose an eye, as the prisoners' grapevine first reported). George could hear beating, screaming, mumbling from the cell next door. A man who was with Jason in the cell told George later that Jason didn't say a wrd to provoke the assault.
When the guards came to George's cell, they told him to get down on his knees, with his hands behind his head. At least three of them then opened the door and stormed in. They asked no questions but "started beating on me." George did not resist, but rolled himself into a tight ball, trying to protect his head. The guards pulled his arms and legs in different directions, trying to make him straighten out, face down. They succeeded.
The guards got his left hand behind his back and put on a plastic handcuff. They bent back his wrist and fingers, trying (George believes) to break the bones. One guard hit George several times with his fist on the left side of the head, causing cuts on his jaw and above his eye. Another put his foot on George's neck.
George's right arm was still under his body. He was told to "get your right arm around here." He told them he was sorry to be angry but they didn't need to do all this. When they took hold of his right arm they tried (he believes) to break his right index finger and right arm.
George was handcuffed behind his back, "ungodly tight." A guard tried to stomp on his private parts. He squeezed his legs together. The guards picked him up by the cuffs and half walked, half dragged him out of the cell. George thought he was walking to his death. He saw thick gobs of blood on the floor.
The guards forced the handcuffs up as high as they could, so that George was bvent over like an old man as he moved. A guard told him, "You are going to stand up and walk out of here." It was impossible for George to stand up. Another guard took him by the hair, and slammed his head against the wall of Jason's cell. George thinks he was "out on his feet" for a time.
The next he knew he was at an exit door from DR-4, a guard on each side, bent over with his arms up high behind him. In front of O17 a guard hit George in the head. He rolled with the punch. There were more punches. They walked him out.
For half an hour he was put in a cell with Hasan and two other inmates who complained they could not breathe because of the tear gas on George. The two officers, one female, the other male, walked George to the warehouse. The female officer who is from Mansfield said, "This man is saturated with that shit." The male guard (who George thinks is from Mansfield) told him, "You're a good man." When the guards cut off the plastic handcuffs to put on an orange jump suit and then recuff George, the female guard remarked on how swollen his hands were.
The inmates from DR-4 lay in rows in the warehouse floor for about three hours. A nurse gave medical attention to the most seriously injured. There was no opportunity to wash off the tear gas and mace, now would there be any shower for five days.
George found himself on the floor next to an inmate named Combs, a man with only one arm--and therefore "totally defenseless"--who had been sprayed with gas and severely beaten. "His head was a mess," George recalls.
At this writing (September 17) George and the others from DR-4 are housed in Security Control Investigation in very burdensome conditions. All their personal property was left behind in the cells, and much appears to be missing. Everybody's commissary is gone. They have been given toothbrushes cut off after the bristles, apparently on the theory that the toothbrush handle could be a weapon. No one has shoes (although George has hospital slippers). Food is even more inadequate than before. Neither coffee nor cigarettes are permitted.
George wants everything to be told 100 per cent truthful. What George saw was totally uncalled for, he says.
from RACE TRAITOR #8, Winter 1998
from RACE TRAITOR #8, Winter 1998