Hotline established for inmates, witnesses amid civil rights probe at FCC Hazelton
Federal authorities seek witness, victim reports of physical assault and employee misconduct at West Virginia correctional complex
By Erin Cleavenger
The Dominion Post
MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — Federal authorities investigating alleged civil rights abuses at Federal Correctional Complex (FCC) Hazelton, have established a hotline for witnesses and victims to report any such crimes.
United States Attorney William Ihlenfeld announced the hotline in a press release this week stating his office is seeking information from anyone who may have witnessed or were victims of physical assault while incarcerated at FCC Hazelton.
In September, West Virginia’s U.S. Sens. Shelley Moore Capito and Joe Manchin, along with Sens. Chuck Grassley of Iowa and Dick Durbin of Illinois, sent a letter regarding the allegations to Attorney General Merrick Garland, Deputy Attorney General Lisa Monaco and Federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP) Director Colette Peters.
In their letter, the senators called on the Department of Justice (DOJ) and BOP to immediately investigate disturbing whistleblower reports of abusive treatment of incarcerated individuals and other employee misconduct at the Bruceton Mills complex, which includes a United States Penitentiary (USP) and a Federal Correctional Institution (FCI).
The senators wrote, “these reports, combined with public reporting on FCC Hazelton’s dire staffing shortages and proliferation of weapons contraband, paint a grim picture of the institution’s inability to ensure a safe environment for those in BOP custody and employees alike.”
Two weeks ago, FCC Hazelton corrections workers held a protest, saying chronic understaffing at the facility has resulted in officers working vast amounts of mandated overtime and other employees, including medical staff and counselors being assigned to work as correctional officers.
At that protest, Justin Tarovisky, president of the American Federation of Government Employees (AFGE) Local 420 union representing the Hazelton workers, told The Dominion Post the FCC workers are finding it increasingly more difficult to do their jobs because those currently working are working mandated extra shifts four to five times a week.
“What leads to homicides? What leads to inmates bringing in contraband or stabbing each other or causing riots or disturbances ?” Tarovisky said at the protest. “It all goes to lack of staffing, safety and security. Simple things. If you don’t have the bodies to monitor it, what happens — you could potentially get away with murder.”
The letter composed by the senators focused on the allegations regarding misconduct and abusive treatment of incarcerated individuals by prison staff. It detailed the allegations that whistleblowers disclosed to their office — some of which they said were corroborated by public reporting.
The whistleblower accusations against Hazelton staff include the attempted cover-up of inmate escapes, falsifying documents, encouraging inmate abuse, urinating on prisoner property, directing racial slurs against minorities, and forcing incarcerated individuals to urinate and defecate on themselves in order to be released from restrictive custody.
The senators’ letter also mentions several assault allegations that resulted in prisoner injuries as well as the alleged existence of an internally organized group comprised of staff at various levels within FCC Hazelton facilities that are partially responsible for the misconduct at the facility, known as the “Good Ol’ Boys Club.” Staff allegedly may be recruited to join the group either by engaging in potentially illegal activities or by witnessing and not reporting illegal activities.
“If these allegations are true and accurate, they reflect a rampant culture of abuse and misconduct at FCC Hazelton, " the senators wrote. “We request that you conduct a full investigation of employee misconduct at FCC Hazelton facilities, including interviews of individuals incarcerated in SHU (Special Housing Units) about these allegations.”
The Dominion Post reached out to Tarovisky for comment from AFGE Local 420, but he was unable to respond in time for this report.
As the investigation into the corrections complex, Ihlenfeld’s office requests that any witness or victim to any such crimes — or attempts to conceal such crimes — directly contact federal prosecutors in the Northern District of West Virginia by calling 855-WVA-FEDS (982-3337) or by sending an email to wvafeds @usdoj.gov. A standardized complaint form can also be found on the justice.gov website.
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