A quick-tempered man acts foolishly, and a man of wicked intentions is hated.
Part One: What Happened?
It is imperative to recount the details of an event that happened many years ago here at USP Tucson. At about 2:15pm, Thursday, July 21 st, an incident happened which begs this question: Did an officer here at USP Tucson use excessive force against a prisoner?
First, the details At about 2:15-2:30pm: a friend and I were sitting against the fence on the soccer field yard, near the corner of the yard. From where we sat, it was close to the sidewalk, which led into the hallway that was close to Education. We were the closest prisoners to the vantage point.
About that time, it was the Northside Program move, when the prisoners here can leave the dorm and go outside, or go back inside, or go to the Library, Indoor Recreation or other places, so there was movement of the prisoners, but also of staff as well, since it was also shift-change. As my friend and Isat in the shade, we saw volunteers from religious service leaving the building from the door closest to Education. They were coming from the Chapel, which was in the same building as Education. There were also two officers, one being the officer in question. Let’s call him Officer Burt, although Officer Coward could be a better name. The other officer I do not know.
At the same time, there was an elderly prisoner, Mr. Montgomery (his name I would learn later) who came down the walkway and headed towards Education - or that area. Normally prisoners don’t use the sidewalk to go to Education, they are supposed to go through the prison yard; but for whatever reason, he did not.
My friend and I saw Montgomery go in, just as the volunteers were leaving, through the same door. He went in, then we heard some exchange of words: someone was asking Montgomery why he didn’t go through the yard as he was supposed to. He was then told to leave; and as he came out, Officer “Burt” first told him to leave. Then he changed his mind, telling Montgomery to put his hands up, because Burt was going to put cuffs on him.
Montgomery… a 60+ year old man, turned to Officer Burt, and put his hands in front of him. I saw very clearly this action, and perhaps it might took like Montgomery was being aggressive; but he did EXACTLY what Officer Burt told him to do. Montgomery thrusted his two hands up in front of him, much like one would after running their hands through a bowl of water, pulling the hands upwards. But Officer Burt paused for a split second, then immediately went and grabbed Montgomery and slammed him into the fence.
Among the endless profanities Burt spoke - while the volunteers of the religious service looked on - Burt proceeded to roughly put Montgomery on the cement, breaking his glasses and drawing blood from his nose or lips. It was very clear that Montgomery wasn’t resisting, yet Burt roughly forced the prisoner face down on the cement… on a 105+ degree day, while the volunteers looked on.’
Montgomery showed no reasonable signs of resisting; an elderly man (or any man) slammed on the fence, then on a hot cement sidewalk while profanities are spewed over him, while forcing his arms to his back, will naturally resist a LITTLE: it’s a “fight or flight” reaction.
The second officer helped Burt subdue him, as help was called. It was shortly canceled, as Burt told them it was under control. The volunteers were held away by another officer, while Burt and the officer pinned Montgomery down, and put cuffs on him, as a bleeding Montgomery cried.
I then heard Officer Burt say, “He lunged at me”, to which I felt immediate contempt. He told the officers arriving on the scene that Montgomery LUNGED at him, which justified his actions. After cufﬁng him, they picked Montgomery up off the cement, and took him inside, Burt cursing continually.
Later, my friend and I sat there, furious at what Burt did to that old man. From the same doors to Education, a couple of staff members came out, looking at the small area of blood left by Montgomery. My friend and l were still there, in fact moved closer to see the blood spot. I overheard the two staff members talk about the incident, but tried not to be too nosy. One said, “i can’t believe he did that in front of those people”.
Who was he talking about? Montgomery… or Officer Burt?
So, I saw what happened, and was sickened by Officer Burt’s response to the situation. Naturally, when the other prisoners on the yard saw what happened, they came over to see the situation. They asked us what was going on, and I was adamant in saying that Montgomery did NOT lunge at the officer. One of the other prisoners said that the officers told Montgomery to go through the yard, and he refused. He was stubborn about it, and decided to take his own route to Education or Psychology. I heard he was trying to go to Psychology, so he could get his medication.
So—excessive force? Was Officer Burt’s actions necessary, or was this based on a man with a quick—temper? Consider the factors: USP Tucson — although a penitentiary, is almost non-violent. One case manager once said, “this is the softest penitentiary in the country.” Most prisoners are non—violent (at that time, because MUCH has changed in the last few years), or ex gang members trying to leave that life behind. So relaxed is this prison, that during rec move, the softball field, the middle yard, and the soccer field can be full of prisoners, with ZERO guards, because it is not needed. This was not an “active” yard, so aggressive confrontations with officers are minimal; hardly existent at all.
So was this exessive force? We’ll explore that in the second part.
Part Two: So Was it Exessive Force?
So, what are we looking at? A situation where an elderly man, in his 60s, is taken down by an officer when he “went the wrong way” here at USP Tucson. The officer (let’s call him Officer Burt) told the old prisoner to put his hands up because he was going to cuff him.
The prisoner, named Montgomery, did as he was told, and in the action, he put his hands up straight in the air. Officer Burt paused, then roughly pinned Montgomery to the fence, then took him down to the hot cement… all this while visitors to the prison for the religious service stood mere feet away.
Is this “Rodney King 101”, where an officer can justify rough and excessive treatment of an elderly prisoner, who happens to be on psyche medication? How will the prison justify this action? Normally this is a simple task for the prison to do; they’d just ignore the prisoner complaint and discredit anything we say. After all, nobody believes prisoners: that’s the running theory.
But there’s a problem with that this time: there were witnesses from outside the prison. Those volunteers for religious service came from ministries outside the prison, right here in Tucson. Will the prison say that those people didn’t see what they saw? Or, will those visitors believe Officer Burt’s story, and make Montgomery the villain? I might wager the latter, but it depends on what those people from religious service is willing to believe. I mean, I know what I saw; they saw the same thing.
So now the problems in society; the abuse of authority by officers, now reflects in this prison (which has always been an issue). This isn’t new: officers have been roughing up prisoners for the longest time, but the prison never took accountability, because it’s always our word (the prisoner) vs their word (the prison). But now with about 5—6 visitors from a ministry, looking on while Officer Burt virtually assaults a 60+ year old man, breaking his glasses and drawing blood, the prison has to find a way to spin this.
It was also interesting to note: I saw officers running to the scene when the “deuces” were hit (a call on the hand unit for help). I could be wrong, but when some of them arrived, they were hesitant to physically get involved because they saw the visitors. Had they NOT been there, would they have been more aggressive? Even the second officer with Burt seemed hesitant to assist Burt, possibly having a moral check; was he thinking, “is this the right way to go about this?”
So, what happens now? If I know this prison, they’ll defend the shield and do the wrong thing. An officer with a quick-temper showed poor judgment and excessive force on an elderly man on medication in front of a group of volunteers from outside the prison: witnesses. There is no question that in my eyes, my friend’s eyes, the prison surveillance and the volunteers who saw the incident that all the facts were congruent. It all matches.
So, IF the prison chooses to side with Officer Burt, they are wrong, and no different than abusive police officers who beat people or kill them, then justify it to the victim. Something has to be done to restore respect to these officers, and I fear that this prison may not be capable of doing that.
Proverbs 17:15 says:
“He who justifies the wicked, and he who condemns the just, both of them alike are an abomination to the Lord”.
I don’t expect the prison to do the “right thing”, because it would be an admission that they make mistakes. And they’d never admit that to prisoners. They’d rather cover it up, discredit or forget the valid points of view we give. Yet in doing this, prison abuse flourishes. Just two weeks prior to this incident, a man was murdered in the SHU (Specials Housing Unit) based squarely on prison ignorance and neglect. Officers have been accused of discrimination, yet the prison has been slow to act, if at all.
Bad behavior by officers is ignored, or even rewarded, since many get promotions; but half questionable behavior by prisoners have been met with full frontal condemnation.
Where does it end? Sadly, at this rate, it won’t. Prisons don’t learn from their mistakes, even if it is shown on television shows a hundred times. Prisons believe they can do what they want to prisoners because it’s some given right; and if (when) they do abuse people, it’s like Las Vegas: “What happens in [prison] stays in [prison].” Besides, who believes prisoners anyway?
But I didn’t lose my humanity when I got locked up. I still have values, so I will stand strong on this, regardless of what people say or think. Prisoner or not, people should be treated with a level of respect until something critical changes the situation. Officer Burt is known for having a temper; I had a run in with him before, and I am not a fan of his tactics at all. That doesn’t make me prejudiced against him (from one black prisoner to a black officer). I think he’s a bad officer, and persecutes prisoners because he can get away with it; and nobody working at USP Tucson has the intestinal fortitude to hold him accountable. Lots of officers here are like that: not ALL, because there are a couple of “good” officers here, but people like Officer Burt make prison so much harder than it needs to be.
The punishment is to BE in prison, not the abuse done by any officer. So, this incident which happened several years ago, as I look back at it. Montgomery got his family to sue the prison for abuse, which I helped by documenting what I saw. I hope it got Burt fired. But, years later, not much has changed. Bad officers get promoted, while the good ones leave, going elsewhere.
USP Tucson has gotten worse since then, so, I have to keep writing.