COAL TOWNSHIP RIOT

by Julian Heicklen

This is the story of Duane Ferguson CL­9301 at the State Correctional Institution (SCI) at Rockview. Mr. Ferguson was an inmate at SCI Coal Township at the time of the prison riot on August 14, 1995. Mr. Ferguson was arrested for participating in the riot and beaten by the guards. He was transferred to the Restrictive Housing Unit (RHU), also known as solitary confinement, at SCI Waymart. Thus he had no opportunity to talk to witnesses or prepare a defense for his misconduct hearings. You also should notice that in the Department of Corrections (DOC) the punishment starts before the hearings are held.

Mr. Ferguson was disciplined for participating in the riot at SCI Coal Township on August 14, 1995, although he denies participating in that riot. Mr. Ferguson's testimony is that after the SCI Coal Township riot there was a general lockup in the prisoners' cells on August 15, 1995. On that day Ferguson was sent to RHU and remained in RHU until October 1996. On the way to RHU, Ferguson claims that he was beaten by the guards while he was handcuffed. On the night of August 15, he again was beaten in his cell. (He knows the names of the guards that beat him.). On August 16, he was beaten again outside his cell. On August 17, he was transferred to SCI Waymart, and on April 24, 1996, he was transferred to SCI Rockview.

Mr. Ferguson was charged with: 1) Disobeying an order, 2) Inciting a riot, 3) Beating Officer Stewart, and 4) Beating Officer Easterday. Criminal charges were not filed against either Mr. Ferguson for beating Officers Stewart and Easterday or against the guards for beating Mr. Ferguson. Here is a summary of what happened to Mr. Ferguson:

  1. 1. Mr. Ferguson was charged with 9 offenses relating to the SCI Coal Township riot of August 14, 1995. Three of these charges were dismissed. However the DOC does not care if a charge is dismissed. It just rewrites it and submits it again. Three of the charges were rewritten because earlier charges were dismissed.
  2. 2. Mr. Ferguson was convicted of 6 offenses. Two of these were duplicates. Ferguson was sentenced to 90 days for each offense or a total of 540 days. I have a letter from Kandis Dascani, Corrections Superintendent's Assistant at SCI Coal Township, that states that Ferguson was charged with only 4 offenses. Ferguson wrote repeatedly to prison officials, but they would not listen. Finally I wrote to the Superintendent at SCI Rockview. As a result Mr. Ferguson was released from RHU after 13.5 months, rather than serving the 18 months that he was sentenced. The 13.5 months was still 1.5 months longer than deserved even if Mr. Ferguson was guilty of all charges.
  3. 3. Before the hearings Mr. Ferguson was transferred to SCI Waymart and placed in RHU. Thus his punishment started before the hearing. He was not allowed counsel. He could not interview witnesses nor prepare a defense. Meanwhile the DOC could interview whomever it pleased and bring those witnesses it wished to testify. Two of the three witnesses that testified were Confidential Sources of Information and did not appear at the hearings. Mr. Ferguson did not call any witnesses, because he stated that the climate was such at that time, that no-one would testify for a defendant.
  4. 4. Mr. Ferguson has 4 witnesses that he says could testify to show that he was innocent of all charges. I have talked to one of those witnesses. That witness says that Ferguson is innocent and that he is willing to testify to this.
  5. 5. In addition to the time in RHU, Mr. Ferguson was fined $11,600 to pay for the medical expenses of Officer Stewart and $178 to pay for the medical expenses of Officer Easterday. These fines were being collected by deducting 50% of all money that Mr. Ferguson received in prison from his family. It is a violation of state law for the DOC to assess fines without a court trial as interpreted by the Pennsylvania Commonwealth Court (1996) in Holloway vs. Lehman (Case 671A.2nd 1179 [1996]).

I saw Mr. Ferguson on November 15, 1996. At that time SCI Rockview was no longer deducting money for fines. Mr. Ferguson said that he would request that Francis Dougherty (the Business Manager) send him a statement of how much money has been deducted in the past. Then Mr. Ferguson will write to the Chief Counsel to request return of previous deductions. As of January 14, 1997, none of the previously deducted money was returned.

Amnesty International will be conducting a campaign in 1998 against human rights abuses in the United States. Research is now being conducted by international (no U. S. participants) employees of Amnesty International. There are 4 areas being investigated: 1) Police brutality, 2) Prison conditions, 3) Political asylum, 4) Racism in prison sentencing. I am supplying information to the investigating commission about prisons in Pennsylvania.