DENNIS SOLO MCKEITHAN

by Julian Heicklen

Dennis Solo McKeithan BB­2253, a black male, currently is an inmate at the State Correctional Institution (SCI) in Greene County. He is serving 55­110 years for robbery. He has spent considerable time in Administrative Custody (AC) in the Special Management Units (SMU). Here is his account of those experiences.

He was sent to SMU twice for charges of which he was found not guilty by juries and a judge. The first time it was learned at court that the incident never happened at all. Five staff and 7 prisoners testified on his behalf. Yet he was sent to SMU three days after being found not guilty and kept locked down for 29 months for something that never happened. He is suffering retribution for all of his complaints, lawsuits, and testifying for the Austin suit. He has been placed in SMU three times. Each time he was placed in SMU in retaliation for his legal action and grievances.

1. First visit to SMU

On March 27, 1992, Mr. McKeithan was taken from the SCI Huntingdon population to the Restricted Housing Unit (RHU). The reason was that nurse Clare Sutterlee claimed that he hit her for not letting him see a doctor. He knew this was a lie, so he walked to RHU handcuffed without any resistance. At RHU, he was stripped naked and handcuffed again. At this time Correctional Officer (CO) Adams received a phone call from Deputy Warden James Price. He returned from the phone call and said something to the other guards. Then 10 or 15 guards began swinging clubs at him. Eventually his left eye was totally closed.

Later he received two Misconduct Reports, one for the nurse incident, and the other for an assault on a staff member to cover for his being assaulted by the guards. This second Misconduct Hearing verified that no guard was touched by him, yet he was given 1 year in RHU. In the case of the nurse, he was given another year in RHU, and a criminal charge based only on her word. On November 13, 1992, he was found not guilty of this assault charge by an all white jury in Huntingdon. Four days later he was sent to the SMU at Camp Hill, where he stayed until June 1994. He was not released from the SMU until Federal Judge Jan Dubois ordered a hearing on Mr. McKeithan's claim of retaliation.

On November 9, 1993, Mr. McKeithan was the only SMU prisoner that testified for the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) in the class-action suit against the DOC. He was threatened by SCI Camp Hill officials for doing this and held on phase 3 for six months or more in retaliation. Judge Jan Dubois ordered a hearing on his claim of retaliation. The ACLU represented him. The hearing was ordered in April 1994. The Department of Corrections (DOC) was caught lying. To avoid the hearing, the DOC promised to have him released in 60 days and did so.

2. Second visit to SMU

On December 31, 1994, the day he received briefs from his lawsuit, he went to medical to get treated for an ear infection. Upon his return from medical, a guard told him that his block guards were looking for him. When he got to his block and returned his pass to the sergeant, Mr. McKeithan asked the sergeant if he was looking for him. Then he gave him the pass. The sergeant turned to the guards and asked if this was the guy that they wrote up for being in an unathorized area. They said yeah. The sergeant told them that he was at medical; it was written on the pad, plus CO I Kuhns had handed him the pass. The sergeant said everything was OK. He told CO Kuhns to destroy the Misconduct Report. Mr. McKeithan headed to his cell and was cut off by CO Kuhns who stated "You got away this time." Now get the fuck in your cell. Mr. McKeithan asked CO Kuhns not to disrespect him and walked away from him. Three times CO Kuhns did this. Three times Mr. McKeithan walked away. The last time, CO Kuhns placed his finger in Mr. McKeithan's face. Mr. McKeithan pushed CO Kuhns away. Then CO Kuhns ran at Mr. McKeithan. Mr. McKeithan hit CO Kuhns twice to stop him. Mr. McKeithan was wrestled to isolation for 10 days and then sent to RHU. He was sentenced to 90 days RHU and charged criminally.

In June 1995 in Centre County, Mr. McKeithan received a trial, and he received a hung jury. In December 1995, the case was dismissed because of evidence of self defense, and the judge's refusing to instruct the jury on self defense when the jury twice requested that the judge do so. Mr. McKeithan was sent back to SMU again for something for which he was found not guilty by an all-white jury. It was the prison guards' testimony that he walked away 3 times and continually told CO Kuhns to let it drop. CO Kuhns followed him, which proved that Mr. McKeithan was provoked and defending himself. Out of 16 inmate witnesses, only 4 testified after being threatened and given phony Misconduct Reports by the SCI Rockview staff once the District Attorney informed the prison that the inmates had spoken to Mr. McKeithan's attorney.

Mr. McKeithan received 90 days DC time. The RHU sentence was from December 31, 1994, to March 31, 1995. After he served his time, instead of being returned to general population, he was sent to SMU at SCI Camp Hill until April 15, 1996, when he was sent to the new SMU at SCI Greene that opened on April 8, 1996. He was held in that SMU until June 1997. After the DOC lost its motion to dismiss Mr. McKeithan's law suit, Mr. McKeithan was sent to general population at SCI Camp Hill.

3. Third visit to SMU

On April 27, 1997, Mr. McKeithan was taken from his cell in general population without cause, and returned to the SMU. There was no Misconduct Report or any reason given. From December 31, 1994, until I received Mr. McKeithan's letter of April 19, 1998, he continued to be misconduct free. Yet he sits in SMU.

4. About the SMU

The SMU was established to circumvent PA state law under title 37 PA code 93.11(6) which prevents or prohibits any punitive element to AC, or the use of AC as punishment, or to continue punishing a prisoner beyond his disciplinary sanction. In Mr. McKeithan's case, he received 90 days DC on December 31, 1994, until March 31, 1995. Yet he was held in SMU for 2 years and 7 months until June 1997. He never had a misconduct nor any infraction from December 31, 1994, and he remained misconduct free until I heard from him on April 19, 1998. The extra 2 years and 4 months were allegedly AC, but they actually were punitive. The inmates are kept in their cells 22­23-1/2 hours per day. There is a 40-watt light in the ceiling of each cell that shines into the cell 24 hours a day, making sleep difficult. Officers in the control bubble sometimes pump cold air into Mr. Mckeithan's cell as a means of harassment. The inmates get three showers per week. They are not allowed to purchase personal hygiene material, such as deodorant, body lotion, hair grease, body soap, etc. DOC policy 6.5.1 states all RHU and SMU prisoners are permitted to purchase and use these items. They do in RHU, but not in SMU.

In SMU, the inmates are not allowed books, phone calls, or contact visits. They can have only one visit per month, one hour, one person. During the visit they are chained and handcuffed. They are given a tooth brush cut all the way off to the brush. You have to hold it between two fingers to try to brush your teeth. In AC RHU there are real toothbrushes. The cut-off brush is used only in SMU at SCI Greene.

The inmates are allowed one small box of legal or religious materials in the cell, just 10 photos and 10 letters. They have a bar of toilet soap that eats up their skin. They get this bar of soap once a week. It must be used to wash their bodies and their underwear. They are given two pairs of underwear that can be exchanged only every 6 months. They are given a wash cloth once a month at Camp Hill SMU and two wash cloths to last a year at SCI Greene SMU. In both cases the washcloths are brown by the time they are exchanged. Prisoners are assaulted with impunity. `

On December 5, 1995, Common Pleas Court in Cumberland County ruled that the inmates are being violated under the 14th Amendment and PA state law, and that the DOC is not enforcing its own policies in reference to 30-day reviews that are supposed to be held by the Program Review Committee (PRC). Instead of two deputy wardens and the unit manager, the PRC consists of the same SMU staff that the inmates interact with every day. The DOC appealed the decision of the Court of Common Pleas, but the appellate court upheld the ruling. The DOC was ordered to provide real 30-day reviews by the real PRC, but the order has been ignored.

Since the opening of the first SMU, there have been 189­195 black prisoners, 26 white prisoners, and 17 Spanish prisoners put in SMU. The staff in the SMU is 99% white. Sergeant Hess stood in the yard calling prisoners niggers, but then the majority of the staff do it, so it is accepted by the prison administration. The DOC does not investigate assaults by the guards, although most of the time the prisoners are handcuffed when assaulted.