Ala. prison commissioner creates task force to 'mitigate' prison violence

The task force will reexamine the need for body cameras, health and wellness interventions for officers and staff

Carol Robinson
Alabama Media Group

MONTGOMERY, Ala. — The deaths of two Alabama prison inmates in just over a week are under investigation, and the commissioner on Monday said he is taking immediate action to “significantly mitigate violence in Alabama’s correctional facilities.”

Willie Leon Scott, a 48-year-old man from Birmingham, was pronounced dead Dec. 6 at a hospital. Michael Smith, a 55-year-old Fairfield man, died Dec. 5 after an alleged use of force incident that happened on Nov. 30.

Alabama Prison Commissioner Jeff Dunn has created a new task force that will investigate a variety of ways to 'mitigate' prison violence, including more resources for corrections officers. (Photo/TNS)
Alabama Prison Commissioner Jeff Dunn has created a new task force that will investigate a variety of ways to 'mitigate' prison violence, including more resources for corrections officers. (Photo/TNS)

Authorities said the Alabama Department of Corrections’ Intelligence and Investigations Division were sent to investigate Smith’s death. Details weren’t released, but Smith was an inmate at Ventress Correctional Facility when he was injured in the undisclosed Nov. 30 incident. He remained on life support until his Dec. 5 death at Dale Medical Center. Smith’s cause of death is pending final autopsy results and the findings from I&I’s ongoing investigation.

Prisons commissioner Jeff Dunn said in a press release that after Smith’s death he ordered two corrections officers to be placed on mandatory leave, effective immediately, while the investigation continues.

Smith was serving a 25-year sentence for attempted murder and first-degree robbery out of Jefferson County.

Scott died Dec. 6 at Baptist Medical Center South in Montgomery. Details of his death also were not released, but prison officials said his injuries occurred Dec. 4 at Holman Correctional Facility.

Scott was serving a sentence of life without parole out of Jefferson County for murder. His victim, Herman Dunklin Jr., was killed in 2001, beaten and dragged from a house and found dead four hours later. Dunklin was the husband of a Birmingham police officer.

The I&I investigation is ongoing in Scott’s death as well.

The U.S. Department of Justice in April released their report from a 2-and-a-half-year investigation of Alabama’s prison system. The report says there is reasonable cause to believe conditions – including horrific accounts of violence and death inside overcrowded and understaffed facilities - in Alabama prisons violate the Constitution. The DOJ also had to fight with Alabama prisons in court to get certain records on reports of excessive force and sexual abuse against inmates by correctional officers.

Dunn on Monday announced an internal task force has been established to examine inmate-on-inmate violence as well as alleged excessive use of force by staff.

The task force to assess measures including “Tactics and Techniques” reinforcement training programs, health and wellness interventions for correctional officers and staff, additional inmate rehabilitation programs and resources, and the reexamination of enhanced surveillance measures such as the possible use of body cameras by on-duty correctional officers, Dunn said.

Dunn has directed the new internal task force to integrate these actions into the ADOC’s three-year strategic plan. “My department is taking swift and substantive action to create safer working and living conditions, better ensure policy adherence, and deter unacceptable behavior by both inmates and ADOC staff,” he said.

“To address use of force concerns, we are implementing an action plan and dispatching ADOC’s Training and Professional Development Division instructors to teach an on-the-job procedure refreshment course within our prisons to our correctional officers,” said Matthew Brand, ADOC Associate Commissioner of Administrative Services. “This action plan also integrates and expands ADOC’s Training, Professional Development, and Leadership Academy.”

“As with any case, we fully are committed to thoroughly and impartially investigating all the facts and allegations surrounding any inmate’s death,” said Arnaldo Mercado, ADOC I&I Director. “Upon completion of these investigations, the I&I Division will refer these matters to the appropriate district attorney’s office for review and consideration. We hold each member of our staff to the highest standards of law enforcement. Any ADOC employee who commits a violation will be prosecuted to the full extent of the law.”

McClatchy-Tribune News Service

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